Gustav-Wrathall, John (Donald) 1963-
GUSTAV-WRATHALL, John (Donald) 1963-
PERSONAL: Born 1963, in Provo, UT; married 1993; partner's name, Goran. Education: Attended Brigham Young University and Northern Michigan University; University of Minnesota, Ph.D.
CAREER: Worked for various nonprofits; currently manager of a law firm.
Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA, University of Chicago (Chicago, IL), 1998.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Angel of Death, a novel.
SIDELIGHTS: John Gustav-Wrathall's Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA is an adaptation of his Ph.D. dissertation, but, as a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, the work "is thankfully free of the academic terminology that mars so much work in the field of gender and sexuality." The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) originated in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada in the mid-nineteenth century. It began by offering bible study and prayer groups for men, but then added body-building and sex education, which greatly increased membership. Male leaders called secretaries, many of whom were single, considered physical exertion necessary for redemption, and so promoted such programs to members. Members were lined up naked for examinations, given manuals that described the perfect body and body-part size, and engaged in discussions about anatomy and masturbation. Ironically, despite the YMCA's publically Christian stance, such practices led to increased homosexual activity among its membership, prompting administrators to adapt less-intimate activities. Despite this shift in program policy, by the mid-twentieth century the YMCA nonetheless had become known as the place to "cruise."
Reviewing Gustav-Wrathall's book Greg S. Rider wrote in the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review that "it seems incredible that these Christian leaders could have been unaware of the men-on-men adventures that they were in fact facilitating." "To Wrathall it is more significant that these men's commitments to one another, and to the organization, offered them an alternative to heterosexual family norms," wrote Mark Tebeau in Journal of Social History. "He finds that same-sex relationships, such as those that flourished in the YMCA, contain both homoerotic and friendship components. To separate these two aspects of same-sex relationships does a disservice to the real historical experiences of many YMCA leaders and employees. Indeed, the men who formed the backbone of the YMCA used the ambiguity of their brotherhood to create lives that deviated sharply from heterosexual norms. These men used their employment in the YMCA to create an alternative family, choosing to live as bachelors within a community of men."
The YMCA attempted to distance itself from the undercurrent of homoeroticism by going coed in 1933, and in 1946 it became integrated. With the increasing social freedoms of the 1970s, and other opportunities for gay socializing, the organization became less necessary as a gay meeting place and increasingly gained a profile as an organization focusing on family values. Library Journal reviewer Richard Violette noted that Take the Young Stranger by the Hand is "highly recommended for all gay studies and human sexuality collections."
In addition to his writing, Gustav-Wrathall has worked as a gay-issues advocate since his student days at the University of Minnesota. It was at Minnesota in the early 1990s that he came out as a gay man and began his activism on behalf of gays, peace, and the pro-choice movement. He helped establish one of the first university programs for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students in the United States.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, summer, 1999, Greg S. Rider, review of Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA, p. 54.
Journal of Social History, summer, 2000, Mark Tebeau, review of Take the Young Stranger by the Hand, p. 998.
Lambda Book Report, October, 1998, Arnie Kantrowitz, review of Take the Young Stranger by the Hand, p. 34.
Library Journal, October 1, 1998, Richard Violette, review of Take the Young Stranger by the Hand, p. 122.
Publishers Weekly, October 5, 1998, review of Take the Young Stranger by the Hand, p. 74.
John Donald Gustav-Wrathall Home Page,http://www.youngstranger.com (July 26, 2003).*