Mullane Literary Associates

Indecent Advances by James Polchin

Indecent Advances James Polchin

Praise for James Polchin’s Indecent Advances

“It’s impossible to understand gay life in twentieth-century America without reckoning with the dark stories. Gay men were unable to shake free of them until they figured out how to tell the stories themselves, in a new way.....a grisly, sobering, comprehensively researched new history.

Caleb Cain, The New Yorker

[A] fascinating new book on the treatment of gay men in true crime and crime fiction reexamines the violence that people at the Stonewall Inn had faced every day, and the rage crackling up underneath.”

Alexander Chee, New Republic

Polchin’s extraordinarily well-researched account offers a valuable contribution to both social and previously neglected gay history.


[A] harrowing account of the history of violence against queer men... It’s perfect timing for a book that dives deep into these never-before-told true crimes, and looks at the power mainstream messaging had on both the violence and the mounting resistance.... Polchin masterfully weaves brutal true crime research with critical analysis of the social history, exploring the way the media and nascent psychological theories were weaponizing prejudice and perpetuating a deviant stereotype of gay men.”

CrimeReads, One of the Most Anticipated Crime Books of the Summer

Thoughtful, accessible and well-researched, Polchin’s book offers useful insight into some of the lesser-known cultural currents that gave rise to the gay rights movement. An enlighteningly provocative cultural history.

Kirkus Reviews

A reflective, thoughtful book that perfectly blends true crime and the history of discrimination against gay men in the 20th century...essential for social history fans. Readers who enjoy well-researched, deliberate social commentary will appreciate Polchin’s enlightening and descriptive style.”

Library Journal (starred review)

Resurrecting a forgotten era of queer history, Polchin masterfully weaves brutal true crime research with critical analysis of the social history, exploring the way the media and nascent psychological theories were weaponizing prejudice and perpetuating a deviant stereotype of gay men.”

LitHub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Summer

A chilling, relentless catalog of murders of gay men in the decades of repression, when their killers could get off by alleging the titular phrase. James Polchin has done remarkable work in extracting their stories from the newspapers where they lay hidden in plain sight.

Luc Sante, author of Low Life

Formidably researched....a significant contribution to queer history and to understanding the forces that shape contemporary queer important book not least of all because, as the Stonewall celebrations begin, it reminds us that queer identity has been shaped as much by trauma as by courage.”

Los Angeles Review of Books

“[This] fascinating, vivid, case-by-case survey of violent crimes committed against gay men reads like a page turning clash of tabloid headlines and pulp fiction…. a beautifully written, deeply researched examination of how this violence has been institutionalized, accepted, and excused.... This is a history that has been waiting to be written, a splendid narrative that grips the reader as it illuminates its subject.

Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States

A vital, masterful corrective.... Polchin skewers the triumphalist narrative of LGBT+ rights—the notion of a long march to freedom—by excavating a lost record of atrocities.... This book reveals, existentially, why queer Americans had to rise up.”

Robert W. Fieseler, author of Tinderbox

Breathtaking and compelling...a history book that reads like a novel written by a historian who uncovers evidence like a detective.... For too long, these harrowing accounts have appeared as fragments set against the backdrop of larger narratives of progress. Indecent Advances dares to say their names and to tell their stories, and refuses for them to be left dead and alone.”

Jim Downs, author of Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation

Indecent Advances collects and rescues significant gay history and goes a long way toward clarifying why we fight, what we fight for and how prejudice is an historically institutional force.”

Lambda Literary

“James Polchin’s “Indecent Advances” tells the grim focuses on what it meant to be a gay man in the first half of the 20th century: A target.

New York Daily News

A fast-paced, meticulously researched, thoroughly engaging (and often infuriating) look-see into the systematic criminalization of gay men and widespread condemnation of homosexuality post-World War I.”

San Francisco Chronicle

Digs deeply into individual high-profile cases, often quoting the most lurid details from the original reporting, which will likely delight true crime fans and satisfy academics.

Publishers Weekly

Polchin recounts the cases as a series of short thrillers.... Polchin pays scholarly attention to the politics of each era, and tales that were once grisly exploitation of murder victims become tense examinations of journalism and detective work.

Chicago Reader

“A bevy of books were published timed for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall but few as fascinating and maddening.... James Polchin uncovers queer stories from the crime pages, sensationalized, lurid, euphemistic—that show how violence against gay and bisexual men was often blamed on the victim’s gender and sexual “deviance,” letting the killers off scot-free.”


“Polchin’s deep dive into the history leading up to the riots underscores the difficulty of telling a story that’s so bound up in myth—and the importance of doing it anyway... Polchin pulls the lives out of the archives with relentless precision.... The particularity of Polchin’s accounts restores some honor to the memory of the men whose brutal stories he tells.”

Electric Literature

An important book about a critical chapter of LGBT history, carefully documenting the victimization and discrimination that gay men suffered before Stonewall.”

Gay and Lesbian Review

“It’s almost unbearable to see this pattern of shame and violence so clearly laid out....An act of witnessing that will reconfigure anyone who came of age after Stonewall. Once we know all this, we have to reckon differently with our country...”

The Blotter

In his revelatory and meticulously researched book, James Polchin has discovered a forgotten chapter of queer history hiding in plain sight: in sensationalistic newspaper articles documenting decades of antigay violence, often in coded terms. Looking at gay life through this novel lens offers an entirely fresh take on what previous generations endured. Like the best true crime stories, Indecent Advances is both brutal to read and impossible to put down.

Wayne Hoffman, author of An Older Man

[A] fascinating rediscovered history that reads like the best true crime... But, in fact, the stories it tells reveal a community under siege, a brutal era of violence against queer men in which society and the law often looked the other way.”

William J. Mann, author of
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

About the Author

James Polchin is a writer, cultural historian, and a Clinical Professor in Liberal Studies at New York University and an Instructor at the Creative Nonfiction Foundation. He teaches in areas of creative nonfiction, LGBTQ history, visual culture studies, and crime narratives. His previous faculty appointments include the Princeton Writing Program, the Parsons School of Design, and the New School, as well as at NYU programs in London, Paris, and Florence. His work has appeared in Slate, TIME, Huffington Post, Paris Review, Rolling Stone, The New Inquiry, Lambda Literary, and The Smart Set, among other media, and he is a contributing writer to the Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide.