Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


James Wilson

Subject Categories

American Film Studies | American Literature | American Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Performance Studies | United States History


queer, Times Square, New York City, masculinity, performance, desire


From WWII to the early 1970s, New York City as a port town created a liminal space extending from the piers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard all the way to Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. In Times Square, through interactions on the street, in bars and in hotel rooms, desire and masculinity become a performance between and for men. The queerness of these performances lies in the fact that they fall outside of the norms of society both as same-sex encounters and because sex work is viewed as “deviant.” Further, these interactions eschew traditional labels and limits of desire and sexuality. Male hustlers perform masculinity to both elicit desire in others and as a way to secure power. Desire plays out in this space and time in ways that are unique to itself, allowing sailor and hustler alike to engage in these performances of desire and masculinity while exploring and expanding their sexualities. This thesis examines how such performances of masculinity and desire are represented in films and novels of the era and how they inform notions of queerness at different historical moments from WWII to early Gay Liberation in the 1970s. It includes three separate but interwoven case studies, which are the basis for individual chapters. The first case study examines the MGM musicals Anchors Aweigh (1945) and On the Town (1949) that were released just after the end of World War II; the second is John Rechy’s 1963 novel City of Night; and the third analyzes the art films Pink Narcissus and Flesh which coincide with early years of Gay Liberation in the late 1960s-early 1970s. My thesis also explores how these texts map queer desire in the city and how they are situated historically. By mapping all of these texts onto the city, I show how these histories of queerness persist.