And as such, as a document, Mackay’s work, in its social, sexual, psychological, and economic concerns, is quite significant as a portrait of the culture. The Hustler traces the journey of a young country bumpkin, tortured by his indentured servitude, who escapes to the big city, joining hundreds of other youths like him, whose only way of surviving was to walk the streets portrayed in this book—Friedrichstrasse, Under der Linden, and, most importantly, The Passage—or nightly frequenting bars such as the Adonis in order to pick up young and older gentlemen who, after having sex or simply enjoying the company of these young boys, paid them a few marks which allowed the hustlers to survive for another day.
Certainly, we know that thousands of run-away children and young adults on the streets of our larger US cities still survive in this fashion today; but hardly anything except journalistic reports, a few film references (one thinks, particularly of Gus Van Sant’s My Private Idaho, which hints of such incidences), and photographic evidence of artists such as Philippe-Lorca di-Corcia (although his subjects are generally “of age”) have sought to artistically reveal their plight. MacKay’s book, on the other hand, takes us deeply into the culture, hinting at a society, detailed in Robert Beachy’s Gay Berlin (see above), that included all levels of society. Young Gunther is “purchased” for a healthy sum, paid weekly by a Count whose only desire appears to be to look at the naked boy, laying upon a bear fur rug, on evenings. As in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, this voyeur is represented as far more detestable type that those who actually embrace the young boy for one or two nights. At a later point, Gunther joins a group of artists, teachers and other invited bourgeois businessmen in their homes, where several young boys are celebrated and decently paid for their favors. As in Beachy’s book, it appears that nearly everyone in the society is busily pursuing pederastic urges; the only exception seems to be the military, perhaps because so many of them were selling their services to others who preferred older uniformed boys and young men.
And that is the problem in discussing Mackay’s The Hustler. He did not intend his work as merely a “document.” Mackay, an anarchist opposed to a great many of the current German laws, particularly Paragraph 175 (the German law against sodomy), was advocating, like Adolph Brand, for whose magazine he contributed poems, for boy-man love And like the influential spokesmen for gay acceptance in Germany, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Magnus Hirschfeld, he argued that love for young men was something in-born, unchangeable, and therefore, something which a educated populace should be able to accept. Indeed, his views where reiterated, although far more circumspectly, by the American sexual documentarian, Alfred Kinsey, who suggested in the 20th century that instead of judging those who behaved sexually aberrantly, it was perhaps better to try to comprehend why they did so, and how prevalent their behavior was.
Our laws permit us to discuss the ideas of this book only as a creation of words, while having nothing to do with a living being behind them. Today even a psychologist who might suggest that some sexual encounters between adults and juveniles are possibly initiated by the youths themselves, is liable to get him or her censured and even barred from his profession. Near the end of his life, even Mackay surely knew that the growing acceptance of homosexuality within his culture would never embrace his particular manifestation of it. Almost as a mini-manifesto, Mackay agues through the voice of Hermann Graff: