March 10, 1931– John Rechy:
“Gay men should not adopt the sophomoric model of heterosexual dating; gay men should always have sex first.”
In those crazy 1980s, even after I had achieved a degree of success on some of Seattle’s stages, with a great role in a long-running play, and collecting residuals for a national commercial, an international commercial and a national voice-over, I still would not give up my “day job” working in a restaurant. When John Rechy published his first novel, City Of Night, in 1963, he was still earning his living as a prostitute on the mean streets of LA. I suppose he didn’t expect a book that dealt with underground gay life in America to make much money, & it would be foolish to give up the day job, or in Rechy’s case, the night job, just because you got published. I understand.
Nervously purchased at a used bookstore in 1968, City Of Night was my first gay book and I hid my worn paperback edition for years. In 2009, I read his very funny and crazy memoir, About My Life And the Kept Woman, where Rechy writes how by day, he was a successful bestselling writer and a college professor, but by night, he was back on the streets, selling sex to men. Rechy:
“I wanted demarcation between the different areas of my life & I fooled myself that I could keep them separate. I wanted to be treated one way as ‘the writer’, another way as ‘the hustler’, & if they crossed over I got very confused.”
Rechy was raised in El Paso, the son of Mexican immigrants. City Of Night put him on the literary culture map. Jim Morrison references it in his song L.A. Woman. Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, and James Baldwin were all big fans. Artist David Hockney and filmmaker Gus Van Sant have proclaimed Rechy as a major influence.
Famous gay writer Christopher Isherwood once invited Rechy home to talk about writing, but then had his way with Rechy, so did Liberace and George Cukor. Rechy remained confused.
In an era with rampant homophobia his books met with frequent denunciations. The New York Review Of Books panned City Of Night using the headline: Fruit Salad.
Rechy kept writing books though, publishing works in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, detailing the ups and mostly downs of his compulsive sex life: Numbers (1967), Rushes (1979), and The Sexual Outlaw (1977). I have read them all. He taught Creative Writing at UCLA and Occidental College, plus he conducted regular writing workshops, with alumni that includes Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham. Rechy:
“It’s a strange thing that happens when one book comes and takes over. I’ve written 16 books, and the one that continues to be known is the first one.”
Rechy survived his time on the streets, survived his drug problems in the 1970s, survived the plague that killed most of his friends in the 1980s and 1990s, plus he managed to author 15 books. Gore Vidal:
“Rechy is one of the few original American writers of the last century”.
Rechy didn’t change his hustling business right away after his success as a writer:
“The last time I hustled was when I was 55 years old. It was more of a symbolic act than anything, just to prove to myself that I could still do it. I actually gave the guy his money back, much to his astonishment. I didn’t put that story in the book. There’s a limit to how far you can stretch people’s belief.”
Rechy and film producer Michael Ewing his partner of 40 years, now his Husband, are busy living happily ever after in their stylish house in the Hollywood Hills. Rechy:
“I never believed that this could happen to me. Back in the 1970s, when I was having a bad time with drugs and cruising, my friends all thought I’d end up committing suicide, and I thought they were right. But things changed, and that’s all due to Michael.”
Rechy celebrates his 85th birthday on this very day, March 10th, and he still looks very rent-able. His decay from ageing is modest. He wears glasses now, but he has a full head of hair and his pecs and guns are still impressive after daily workouts in his home gym. His still speaks out on his own website and he is working on a new book:
“The novel I’m writing now is a mixture of everything I’ve done before; mystery, horror, romance, everything and anything. I even proclaim comics as a major influence.”
“The autobiographer is the biggest liar for claiming: This is exactly how it happened. The biographer is the next level down for arguing: I am capable of knowing another’s life. The most honest writer is the novelist, who says: This is a lie, a fiction, but I’m going to try like hell to make you believe it’s true.”