"JOCKERS" AND "PUNKS" IN THE EARLY 20TH-CENTURY NORTH-WESTERN USA
From the first and second chapters of Same-Sex Affairs: Constructing and Controlling Homosexuality in the Pacific Northwest by Peter Boag (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).
Early-twentieth-century studies and anecdotal evidence confirm that homosexual activities were common in and around logging districts on the North Pacific coast. A 1914 investigation of a northern California camp determined that “sex perversion within the entire group is as developed and recognized as the well known similar practices in prisons and reformatories.” Various regional sources attest that, as in the case of Ted Gladden, same-sex relationships in logging and milling areas often paired an adult with a youth or even a boy (figure 2). For example, Ernest Seavy, a thirty-three-year-old lumber mill worker originally from Wisconsin but working in Whatcom County, Washington, landed in prison in 1911 on charges of sodomizing an eleven-year-old boy. According to legal documents, this was only one of a series of such affairs that Seavy had engaged in. Similarly, in 1919 in the forested district east of Portland, the forty-three-year-old logger Charles Brown hired teenage boys to help him clear land and then “after a few days would insist that they have sodomist relations with him.” In mining camps and in bustling seaports as well, the typical scenario was an adult having sex with a youth. In 1916, witnesses “caught in the act” a forty-one-year-old Oregon miner with a fourteen-year-old youth. In Victoria in 1907, a forty-five-year-old Scottish seaman faced charges of gross indecency with a thirteen-year-old whom records described as “incorrigible”; the boy previously had affairs with several other men in the port.
Observers were in no more agreement about the sexualities that one could find on the road than about the number of peripatetic laborers involved in same-sex acts. Josiah Flynt and Nels Anderson, the two most prominent and prolific turn-of-the-century investigators of transient men, maintained that the migrants who had relations with each other could be divided into three categories. One consisted of transients who temporarily substituted males for females simply because the latter were scarce, although Flynt believed that few such individuals existed. In another grouping, Flynt included “sexual inverts.” Anderson proposed a third category, “congenital” homosexuals. Moreover, Flynt and Anderson were not always precise about whom they would include in or exclude from these groups. This uncertainly in part reflected the tremendous changes that notions about sexuality were undergoing when Anderson and Flynt were making their judgments. It also arose because the men Flynt and Anderson studied in fact harbored an assortment of desires.
At the beginning of the jocker-punk relationship, the younger male was commonly in the middle of adolescence. The adult male, if we take at face value contemporary reports, preferred sexual relations with teenage boys to those with men. Observers of the time believed that men who might under other social circumstances be attracted to females found that boys became desirable because they lacked certain masculine characteristics of older males. Apparently the “maleness” of the adult and the “femaleness” of the boy played such a critical role in some of these relationships that the former called the latter by feminine names or endearments. Nels Anderson asserted that jockers might sometimes dub their boys “Mabel,” “Dollie,” “Susan,” “sweetie,” or “the old lady,” and even apply the prefix “Miss” to their names. Donald Roy discovered one inhabitant of Seattle’s 1930s Hooverville who referred to a youthful sex partner as his “wife.”
In studying working-class statutory rape “victims” and “criminals” in 1910s California, Mary Odem has found that about three-quarters of the teenage girls in these sexual encounters described themselves as willing partners. Many actually encouraged their unions with older men. And like youths in relationships with men, teenage working-class girls entered into these sexual relationships for a wide variety of reasons, including economic rewards, romance, love, and sexual pleasure. Like Odem’s female subjects, youths benefited from their relationships with jockers. Boys received much needed advice and information about life on the road. They also gained warmth and compassion—something particularly needed, as a broken home was the leading cause of boys’ transience. Additionally, observers remarked that jockers guarded their punks jealously. Traveling alone, without a jocker’s protection, could be far more dangerous for a boy. For example, while in company with eight hoboes on a slowly moving train, Flynt witnessed a young lad scramble into the freight car, where he was then “tripped up and ‘seduced’...by each of the tramps.”
Although some of these examples bespeak child molestation and an unwillingness on the part of boys to engage in some sexual relations with men, many youths sought out men for sexual pleasure. Flynt reported that some of the punks he encountered in the 1890s told him that “they get as much pleasure out of the affair as the jocker does....[L]ittle fellows under ten...describe it as a delightful tickling sensation in the parts involved....Those who have passed the age of puberty seem to be satisfied pretty much the same way that the men are.” Alfred Kinsey’s research for roughly the same period corroborates Flynt’s observations. The sexologist found that homosexual play was an essential part of boy culture and that the children of the lower levels of American society were the least restrained, usually becoming involved in such activities at an early age.
Flynt even encountered punks whom he described as “willfully tempt[ing] their jockers to intercourse.” The motive of some was undoubtedly their own sexual satisfaction; of others, more basic needs of daily survival; and of yet others, a complex blend of the two. In the transient-labor world, compliant boys could make money and receive food, clothing, and shelter. Donald Roy, a university student at the time he surveyed Seattle’s Hooverville, was offered “chickens, pork chops, oranges” as well as money, a job, and “a happy home life” if he would submit to the passions of the men who propositioned him. Nels Anderson noted that boys often became sexually active in their relationships on the road and “even commercialize[d] themselves.” Such was the case of a boy who, on the outskirts of the western railroad town of Ogden, Utah, in 1921, promised transient men that “he would ‘do business’ with anyone in the crowd for fifty cents.” The young entrepreneur furthermore claimed this as “his method of ‘getting by,’” rendering other work unnecessary. Many boys on the road probably found that having sex with men enabled them to make the best of an unfortunate situation. For example, legal documents describe how while riding on a boxcar through Kennewick, Washington, in 1911, Charles Smith “was practically caught in the act” of committing sodomy on a sixteen-year-old youth “with the consent of the boy, for the price of a meal.”
Historical evidence and past studies of sexual practices demonstrate that the jocker-punk relationship was not necessarily one-sided. The adolescent boy could and often did have his own emotional and sexual as well as economic reasons for forming relationships with men. Such evidence also supports Nels Anderson’s theory that in the jocker-punk relationship, force might not have been “so extensively employed as sometimes believed.”
A variety of factors beyond the sexual affected the adult-adolescent male relationships so prevalent in the transient world of the Northwest. The youthfulness of the punk proved imperative for certain domestic and economic aspects of the partnership to operate smoothly. The emotional rewards of the teacher-apprentice relationship or even basic warmth and compassion could also be gained by both jocker and punk. Such relationships provided safety and protection as well, giving boys themselves significant reasons unrelated to sex to submit to or even initiate these alliances. While the jocker might expect the boy to play a specific sexual role, the punk’s background and sexual desires also seem to have shaped the sexuality of the adult. Such considerations help distinguish the punk from the urban fairy. The punk thus adds a significant dimension to our understanding of past working-class sexualities. ...
The same-sex sexual dangers that amusement parks and movie theaters posed to local youth confounded local officials in the Northwest. In the early 1910s Portland’s Juvenile Court Judge William Gatens despaired over a ten-year-old “truant” who met a man at a theater, accompanied him to his room for money, and subsequently engaged in sex with him on nine or ten occasions before authorities found out. In another case, a man approached a fifteen-year-old in front of a movie house, “talked to him awhile, took him to a theater, and later to his room.” And in still another incident, “men” picked up two boys “at an amusement park . . . and later accompanied them to moving picture shows, the city park, and other places. The men gave them money. Things [i]nconceivably vile followed.” In Seattle, the social worker Lilburn Merrill condemned five youths who regularly had sex with men and “voluntarily frequented low-grade amusement resorts and the water front to solicit men with whom they consorted for financial consideration.”
Intent on issues of morality, early-twentieth-century Portland authorities and reformers regularly patrolled the working-class North End. As a result of this surveillance we know that male-male sexual activities commonly occurred there. Because authorities and reformers concentrated on the “imperiled” youth in the North End, documents pertaining to adult-juvenile male relations are the most abundant. Boys who had sex with men were common in other North American cities at the time. Typically, they maintained their relationships in working-class neighborhoods. Yet it should be stressed that in the cities of the Pacific Northwest, a preponderance of intergenerational same-sex relationships had links to the sexual culture of migratory workers. It is impossible to say just how many boys in Northwest urban centers who had sex with men were also transients themselves. Some seem to have had no direct links to life on the road, born and sometimes living with their families in the city where they were sexually active. For example, sixteen-year-old Dan Davis was one of the youths who hung about the Monte Carlo. Police arrested him at his mother’s home, located on Portland’s lower-middle-class eastside. In Seattle, Lilburn Merrill found that “Case H,” a nine-year-old boy, “was involved with vagrant men,” but resided with his mother in the city. [...]
Working-class adult-juvenile sexual contacts in “vice” districts of the Northwest had important links to the jocker-punk relationship. They were especially influenced by the transmutation of this relationship when it entered the city. Once in the urban setting, economic considerations typically led jockers to end their partnerships with boys. “Whereas, out of town the pair can travel as companions aiding each other,” Nels Anderson noted, “in the city they can get along better alone. It is difficult for partners to remain together long in the city, especially if one has money and the other none....Living in a metropolis is a problem the tramp can solve better alone.” Indeed, migratory laborers found economic opportunities particularly limited in Northwest urban areas. Unlike the industrial cities of the East and Midwest, Portland had few year-round jobs in manufacturing; its economy relied principally on commerce, which in itself fluctuated with the seasons. Thus when casual laborers looked to Portland, and even Seattle and Vancouver, as seasonal havens, they hoped that with their last paycheck in hand, these city’s inexpensive lodgings, meals, and amusements would sustain them until the work season started up again in the spring. They likely found it difficult in this atmosphere to maintain their on-the-road relationships, and had less desire to do so. In these circumstances, according to Anderson, the punks became “promiscuous in their relations and many of them even commercialize themselves” when in the city. Indeed, the punk, now on his own, had good reason to turn to sex work for survival. Still, not all jocker-punk alliances foundered in the city. Even Nels Anderson reported that in the urban setting transient men and youths sometimes sustained longer relationships. An example from Portland supports this claim. In April 1917, authorities arrested the Italian immigrant and transient worker Tony Lagallo at the St. Helens Hotel on Second Street. They charged him with attempting to commit sodomy on Albert Ambrose, an eleven-year-old boy. Reportedly the two had maintained a relationship in the city for “nearly a year.” ...
To be sure, not all boys in cities who willingly had sex with transient men did so for financial gain. Others sought men out for all the emotional and sexual reasons that pertained when they were on the road, as set forth in the previous chapter. But urban legal records tend to concentrate on the more mundane considerations of the adult-juvenile male sex exchange. For example, in Spokane in early 1912, a twelve-year-old newsboy became sexually involved with a forty-six-year-old Norwegian-born laborer in exchange for a trip to the theater and a meal at a restaurant.
That many boys received admission to the show, or a meal at a restaurant, or even clothing in return for sex with their patrons suggests a certain parallel to the “charity girls” or female “chippies” of the early twentieth-century American city who, in the words of the historian Kathy Peiss, traded “sexual favors of varying degrees for male attention, gifts, and a good time.”