Outlaw: The Lives And Careers Of John Rechy

By Charles Casillo

(Advocate Books)

John Rechy, author of numerous novels including City Of Night and Numbers, was one of the first gay writers to gain widespread popularity and recognition. A legendarily narcissistic literary figure of the 20th century, most of his writing is an autobiographical recounting of his sex life, which was given tribute in the Village People's "YMCA."

Those who are familiar with his writing won't be surprised by the content of Charles Casillo's biography. It affirms Rechy's long career as a hustler in New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. What it adds is a closer scrutiny behind the butch, cocky image Rechy strove to emanate, armed with a pair of tight dick jeans and an open shirt.

Ultimately, Rechy was something of an imposter on the streets, hustling out of desire and not necessity. Casillo explores Rechy's dynamic of guilt and pleasure, and his use of hustling as an outlet, rarely motivated by the cash. Unlike the colorful, complicated characters that fill his books, Rechy would occasionally escape the hustling world, getting ordinary jobs and attending universities, while his pals on the street had no such option.

Despite the fact that the biography detracts a bit from the hip image of a genius street kid, it also fleshes out the difficulties he encountered as a homosexual, delving deep into the question of why Rechy was incapable of a relationship or even sex acts that he wasn't paid for. It also gives a nice illustration of the underground gay scenes and seedy bars during a pre-Stonewall era, when clubs were raided and being in drag was illegal.

The book also documents the culture of butch hustlers and the pervasive image of them as straight men doing it specifically for the money. Rechy and many others were drawn to it as a way to avoid confronting their homosexuality while simultaneously exercising it.

Basically, if there's an interest in the emotional complications of sexual identity, Outlaw is worth reading. However, if the wild side of Rechy's image is more appealing, his novels give a more animated simulation of his experiences on the street. MARJORIE SKINNER