The Roaring 20s and the Blossoming of Gay Culture

The Roaring 20s and the Blossoming of Gay Culture

We’ve gone through some exciting times over the years and we’ve also witnessed some serious downfalls regarding the rights of the LGBT community. Today, gay marriage is legal and dating opportunities abound. But it wasn’t always like that.

Do you remember when Craigslist Personals ruled the dating scene? Suddenly, that era was over and we were all looking for a Craigslist Personals alternative. Going even further back in time, do you remember the birth of gay clubs and gay rights? Were you an activist at the forefront of the LGBT revolution?

Let’s rewind even further to a distant time – the 20s of the past century.

As surprising as this may seem, the 20s were quite a liberal time in a sense. In fact, gay culture was blossoming during the decade before various restrictions came in effect.

It Didn’t Start with Stonewall

Many believe that the Stonewall riots of 1969 are the ones that contributed to the commencement of the gay liberation and rights movement.

This belief is inaccurate.

In fact, gay issues and culture were both brought to the spotlight nearly 50 years earlier, during the roaring 20s.

At that time, Harlem was famous for its drag balls that were an important part of the New York City nightlife.

The balls were just one element of the flourishing LGBT culture that was loud, proud and clearly visible. In fact, gay culture was so integrated into mainstream society that few can imagine the regression that followed.

Gay Culture in the 1920s

The so-called Pansy Craze commenced in the 1920s and it continued until 1933. At the time, drag queens who were called pansy performers experienced a massive surge in popularity and a transition from the underground to mainstream society.

The movement was exceptionally pronounced in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

New York City set the tone with its bohemian and highly artistic sub-cultures. The Broadway cabarets, the Harlem nightclubs, and the city’s speakeasies made LGBT performers much more visible than they ever were in the past. 

Not only did members of the LGBT community become sought-after performers, but many of them also established their own nightclubs and speakeasies that furthered the Pansy Craze.

An interesting dichotomy was marking for that time period. While the overall American society was largely disapproving of the LGBT lifestyle, people thoroughly enjoyed the parties thrown by gay performers and drag queens. Eventually, these parties became the norm, regardless of the somewhat conservative views held by society.

Historians like Chad Heap who studied the era have found extensive evidence suggesting just how popular such parties were in the 1920s. According to Heap (as documented in a book he published on the topic), almost every newspaper article that documented pansy parties listed the names of 20 to 30 public figures and celebrities who attended such festivities.

With time, the Pansy Craze spread to smaller towns and other parts of the US. Media from such smaller urban centers often featured reports about female impersonators and pansy performers attending special celebrations and providing the entertainment for such events.

How Was the Pansy Craze Born?

According to many historians and analysts, the 1920s are a time that shouldn’t have existed. Much more restrictive lifestyles and cultural norms are typical for the periods before and after the Pansy Craze. So, what exactly happened in the roaring 20s to contribute to such widespread acceptance and visibility?

The period after the end of World War I was characterized by an economic boom.

The prosperity contributed to the formation of large, wealthier cities where morals started loosening up. A new spirit of sexual freedom and experimentation was born. 

In time, the search for a good party brought the LGBT performers to numerous mainstream events across America. Not only were straight individuals looking for a great entertainment option, but they were also eager to find out more about gay culture.

Media contributed to the wildfire spread of the phenomenon.

See Also
Save Your Family's Monthly Budget With These 3 Habits

While New York was the epicenter of the pansy craze, information about the drag performers was distributed via wire services and newspapers. There have even been radio reports about the extravagant parties.

The news quickly reached smaller towns across the country, getting local populations curious and eager to experience the bright urban entertainment opportunities for themselves.

The End of the Pansy Craze 

All good things come to an end and the Pansy Craze was no exception.

Several historic events contributed to LGBT performers and personalities going back to the closet. The rapidly approaching World War II and the associated economic changes are probably two of the biggest contributing factors.

The depression-era brought on the massive backlash against the opulent parties of the 1920s and the early 1930s. Many blamed the cultural experimentation of the 1920s for the wider financial and societal collapse that followed in the coming decades.

In the 1930s, new laws came into existence. These prohibited restaurants and bars from employing gay entertainers. In some of the instances, these venues were even prohibited from serving openly gay patrons.

There was an added factor that sped up the introduction of prohibitory measures.

In the late 1930s, media published an array of highly sensational reports about sex crimes in the US. In the mind of authorities and the general public, the sex criminals were often equated with members of the LGBT community. 

Homosexuality started being perceived as a deviation, as something dangerous. Gay men were quickly pushed into the closet and the general American population lost its curiosity. It was replaced with fear.

By the time World War II ended, the large cultural shift was complete. Earlier marriage became the norm. Individuals like Republican senator Joseph McCarthy spoke openly against gay culture and pushed it to the underground once again.

Drag balls and the exuberant past decades they represented never disappeared. For many decades, however, they remained a hidden phenomenon that a chosen few had access would take many long years and the brave efforts of many LGBT activists to make them public, open and largely visible once again. 

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Scroll To Top