Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Marra, Kim

First Committee Member

Birrell, Susan

Second Committee Member

Mumford, Kevin

Third Committee Member

Rigal, Laura

Fourth Committee Member

Storrs, Landon


This dissertation describes practices among men who desired men from 1910 to 1945 that combined mobility, eroticized leisure practices, and non-urban spaces in cultivating nascent sexual subcultures. It contains four case studies that detail how vacillations between "productive" labor and recurrent "drifting" allowed men to simultaneously perform normative gender identities while conveying their sense of sexual difference with respect to white bourgeois manhood. Each case study explores institutional linkages between mobility and stigmatized male sexualities, and analyzes autobiographies, correspondence, visual culture, and fictional works in which men who desired other men imagined their ambivalent relationships to labor as a means of expressing their discomfort with the sexual and gender constraints of modern commercial centers. This study suggests that the eroticization of laboring male bodies and "natural" leisure spaces were vital in cultivating subcultures based on non-heterosexual desire. Moreover, while the historiography of male homosexuality prior to World War II has largely focused on urban experience, this discussion illuminates a decidedly anti-modern bristling against city life and commercialism that also motivated the movements of men who desired men in this period.

The first two chapters trace the development of queer "tramp" identities. By the 1920s, socioeconomic changes and American folklore perpetuated tramp nostalgia in which writers portrayed wandering homeless men as romantic dreamers wary of marital confinement, rather than economically marginalized laborers. Analyses of sociological records involving working-class gay men in Chicago and the career of tennis champion Bill Tilden demonstrate that this tramp epistemology enabled white men to cultivate non-heterosexual identities through their desires for mobility and their challenges to prevailing distinctions between work and pleasure. The final two chapters describe the queer spatial and temporal potential of non-urban spaces (specifically waterways and beaches) among artists and working-class men. In fantasies contained in paintings and archived correspondence, sailors embodied mobility, erotic "masculine" physicality, and sentimentalized vulnerability. At the same time, artists and writers saw in their tourist practices the potential to attain queer intimacies. Their depictions of beach leisure allowed them to mobilize fantasies of same-sex relationalities that evaded both the capitalist privileging of "masculine" productivity and modern sexual categorizations.


homosexuality, labor, leisure, masculinity, mobility


vii, 335 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 323-335).


Copyright 2014 Nathan Titman