How to Be Gay

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Overview

No one raises an eyebrow if you suggest that a guy who arranges his furniture just so, rolls his eyes in exaggerated disbelief, likes techno music or show tunes, and knows all of Bette Davis's best lines by heart might, just possibly, be gay. But if you assert that male homosexuality is a cultural practice, expressive of a unique subjectivity and a distinctive relation to mainstream society, people will immediately protest. Such an idea, they will say, is just a stereotype-ridiculously simplistic, politically irresponsible, and morally suspect. The world acknowledges gay male culture as a fact but denies it as a truth.

David Halperin, a pioneer of LGBTQ studies, dares to suggest that gayness is a specific way of being that gay men must learn from one another in order to become who they are. Inspired by the notorious undergraduate course of the same title that Halperin taught at the University of Michigan, provoking cries of outrage from both the right-wing media and the gay press, How To Be Gay traces gay men's cultural difference to the social meaning of style.

Far from being deterred by stereotypes, Halperin concludes that the genius of gay culture resides in some of its most despised features: its aestheticism, snobbery, melodrama, adoration of glamour, caricatures of women, and obsession with mothers. The insights, impertinence, and unfazed critical intelligence displayed by gay culture, Halperin argues, have much to offer the heterosexual mainstream.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rather than the how-to guide his title suggests, Halperin (Saint Foucault), a professor of the history and theory of sexuality at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, offers a response to the controversy surrounding a class he taught there in 2000. While conservatives charged Halperin with “initiating” straight students into a new sexual orientation, some gay rights advocates saw him as reinforcing hurtful stereotypes. This long-delayed answer proves to be not a polemic but an attempt to unpack his basic observation that there’s far more to gay male American identity than a same-sex preference. Halperin interprets gayness through traditional pop culture preoccupations like golden age Hollywood, opera, and Broadway musicals, focusing on Joan Crawford (in particular her role in Mildred Pierce) and Faye Dunaway’s notoriously over-the-top portrayal of the star in Mommie Dearest. Identifying the source of the camp appeal exerted by these ostensibly serious films, Halperin asks why gay men continue to be drawn to coded representations of their experience. He arrives at an apologia for such clichéd signposts of gayness in an era of domestic partnerships and Born This Way. Halperin persuasively defuses charges of misogyny lobbed against gay male culture, but may alienate some by too narrowly defining his vision of what that culture should be. Nonetheless, this book should appeal to specialists and general readers alike with its academically rigorous but accessible argument. (Aug.)
Times Higher Education

What is marvelous is Halperin's rich analysis of many aspects of this gay cultural life, showing the distinctive ways it makes use of straight culture… This is not meant to be a coffee-table book, encyclopedia or 'how-to manual': these already exist. It is rather an erudite meditation by one of the world's leading queer theorists. It provokes, sparkles and bristles with ideas, claims, defenses and the kind of epigrams…that would make for great seminar discussions… This is a great book, it will generate heated debate.
— Ken Plummer

Edge

David M. Halperin has written a monumental work… In detail, the book explores the emotional and personalized subjectivity in describing what is at the core of gay culture and the innermost feelings of what it is to be 'gay.' …It is Halperin's intent to create a serious dialogue, though there are many smiles to be had at the same time, while absorbing the process. How To Be Gay is both enlightening and refreshing in the personal discovery of self or for lack of a better phrase, the perfect way to understand the how, what, where and why 'to turn your inner-gay on.'
— Bill Biss

Outlooks

David M. Halperin has written what might be called an archaeological study of gay culture. His excavation is a veritable public service to anyone who's ever wondered why a Lady Gaga—or Judy Garland—holds a place in the LGBT community that isn't quite the same among their heterosexual counterparts. Still, the very specter of 'gay identity' in a world where, for many, integration is viewed as the ultimate civil-rights victory, inevitably sparks controversy… His exhaustive exploration of the icons and idiosyncrasies associated with gay identity holds up a floor-length mirror to an entire subculture.
— Jim Brosseau

Bookforum

How To Be Gay engages many of the foundational questions—and dogmas—of queer studies… What, Halperin wants to know, is gay culture? …Halperin is plying his own twist on the familiar idea that by aligning themselves with certain forms—flamboyance, abject glamour, exaggerated femininity—gay men implicitly challenge the uptight codes of a patriarchal culture… Gay culture, for Halperin, isn't really attached to any given person's experience; rather, it's a set of tactics, adopted behaviors, and strategies imbricated in a much larger social field… Frivolity, irony, superficiality, inauthenticity, flamboyance, snobbishness, exquisite taste: How To Be Gay works hard to unpack the stereotypical characteristics of gay male culture and succeeds in demonstrating how the taint of pathology and the rise of a post-Stonewall ethos of hypermasculine self-determination conspire to shut down a frank inquiry into the persistence of such 'faggy' traits.
— Nathan Lee

Lambda Literary Review

How To Be Gay is not an instruction manual, nor is it a 'learning to love yourself' self-help guide. Rather, Halperin's book is an intervention against those who trumpet the 'death of gay culture' (which he argues has been declared for over 40 years now) now that widening tolerance and greater visibility of gays in the media should make Judy Garland, show tunes, and drag queens obsolete… Halperin's fresh re-evaluation of the theory and practice of camp is one of his most fascinating insights… Halperin makes a case for camp as politically subversive and a case study for the complicated structure of gay identification… One gets the sense that Halperin anticipates his greatest detractors to not be social conservatives (though he has been their pariah in the past), but instead to be other gay men who fear the essentialism of acknowledging the role a distinct gay culture plays in shaping gay identity… Halperin narrates the history of this masculine reaction against gay culture, culling from his own memories in the 70s of how newly 'liberated' gay men appropriated the machismo of biker culture, mustaches, and construction worker clothing to combat the stereotype of the pathetic queens and fairies of the previous generation. This is a valuable history lesson to readers from subsequent generations given that these signifiers of '70s gay masculinity are now considered in the campy light of The Village People, and thus part of the gay culture from which today's champions of machismo and normality try to distance their selves. How To Be Gay deserves a wide audience beyond academia, especially among today's youth generation who come out in a climate more accepting of same-sex coupling, but still very much phobic and censorious of gay culture.
— Chase Dimock

Slate

[A] provocatively titled critical cri de coeur...To summarize Halperin's ambitious book is tricky, but think of it as an exploration of the tension between the official Pride Parade, celebrating post-Stonewall gay identity, and the Drag March, celebrating pre-liberation gay culture...Halperin is at his best when critiquing the current assimilationist model of gay-rights activism, with its denial of any cultural interests or aesthetic points-of-view that hint of femininity or campiness or of the "stereotypically gay." His cultural history of how this attitude emerged in the 1970s will be surprising to those who view the gay-rights movement as a consistently positive progression; Halperin argues convincingly that as butch masculine styles became ever more mandatory, both for attracting sexual/romantic partners (no femmes, no fats!) as well as earning political credibility, the push toward conformity lead to the "euthanasia of traditional gay male culture." ...How To Be Gay is intellectually rigorous [and] entertaining...Halperin demonstrates that those gays who do still identify with Bette and Joan, drag and drapes, Auntie Mame and Annie Lennox have something important to contribute to our ever more homogenous world.
— J. Bryan Lowder

Washington Blade

Filled with thought-provoking ideas and hypotheses. Halperin doesn't shy away from controversy here, nor does he bow to stereotypes.
— Terri Schlichenmeyer

Bay Area Reporter

Halperin rejoices in the growing acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream society, although he's quick to point out that homophobia is still potent. He doesn't want gay culture to be lost as assimilation increases. It's a legitimate concern, and he makes his case forcefully.
— Tavo Amador

Booklist

How To Be Gay posits that 'gayness' is not simply the act of two men having sex but a mode of perception that must be learned from—and shared by—other gay men. Halperin homes in on, among many topics, the yin and yang of gay male existence: the beauty and the camp.
— Chris Keech

Sarah Schulman
Distinguished scholar David Halperin's long-awaited manifesto delivers on its promise. Macho, faggy, queeny, butch diva, opera-swilling, Broadway-loving, gourmet, sex-fascinated, beauty-appreciating, love-desiring, rough trade, high art, race- and class-inflected but not exclusive, generationally situated but not entirely, intellectual, open-hearted, politically minded, leather chaps! Mary!
Lauren Berlant
How To Be Gay is a sheer pleasure to read and utterly thoughtful too: it is pedagogical in the most provocative sense. David Halperin's acute attention to gay male sensibility provides a great case study in how sexuality takes shape as such, finding anchors for the expression of its pleasures and its dramas. A genuinely profound contribution to the scholarship on kitsch, camp, and melodrama, this book is also its own command performance of a gayness it wants to extend to its readers as a kind of friendly and exciting disturbance.
Mark Simpson
I've always been a big fan of Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, and Doris Day. Though it was a secret, shameful love. David Halperin's wonderful, wildly ambitious masterpiece has given me the courage to come out about it. And even tell the golden daffodils. As Halperin eloquently explains, desire into identity will not go, even with plenty of poppers and lube. What's more, the dignified, proper, and very particular gay identity really doesn't deserve the giddy, gushing, world-grabbing gay sensibility. And vice versa.
Heather Love
How To Be Gay, with its teasing title, asks whether there might be such a thing as gay culture that resides neither in our genes nor in our psyches. By insisting on gayness as a social form, the book offers an important provocation to contemporary queer criticism that resists the specification of identity. One could ask for no better guide through the complexities of late twentieth-century American gay male culture.
New York Times - Dwight Garner
[Halperin] provocatively argues that when it comes to defining what it means to be a homosexual man, sex is overrated… Culture matters more… [How To Be Gay] is never a bore… [It] explores a fundamental kind of gay sensibility… Halperin teases an enormous amount out of [a] scene [in Mildred Pierce], including the sense of 'glamour and abjection' gay audiences find in [Joan] Crawford, and how the film packages the 'transgressive spectacle of female strength, autonomy, feistiness and power.' …Halperin works up to an argument (impossible to summarize here) about how the film evokes a 'dissident perspective' on the very idea of romantic love. He is articulate about many other things in this book, including how gay men often find more resonance in straight cultural artifacts than in gay ones. His funny shorthand for this is: 'Why would we want Edmund White, when we still have The Golden Girls?" …He is excellent, too, on how classical tragedy is nearly always about men, or fathers and sons… Dozens of similar arguments are rehearsed in How To Be Gay. Halperin even neatly mows down hipster irony in the face of the kind of gay male irony that defines camp. It's a kaleidoscopic book that at its base breaks with what the author calls 'the Brokeback Mountain crowd.' He urges gay men to take their so-called femininity out of 'homosexuality's newly built closet,' to see it plainly and to give it affirmative interpretations.
Next Magazine - Jameson Fitzpatrick
How To Be Gay makes for as fun a viewing companion [to Mildred Pierce and Mommie Dearest] as it does a rigorously intelligent read… Whether you're well-versed in all things gay or tend to avoid pop divas at all costs, How To Be Gay offers a fresh perspective on what we call gay culture, why so many of us love what we love and why we're afraid to talk about it. Thankfully, as Halperin notes in his conclusion, gay male culture isn't going anywhere—as long as there's a straight culture to appropriate for our own ends.
Times Higher Education - Ken Plummer
What is marvelous is Halperin's rich analysis of many aspects of this gay cultural life, showing the distinctive ways it makes use of straight culture… This is not meant to be a coffee-table book, encyclopedia or 'how-to manual': these already exist. It is rather an erudite meditation by one of the world's leading queer theorists. It provokes, sparkles and bristles with ideas, claims, defenses and the kind of epigrams…that would make for great seminar discussions… This is a great book, it will generate heated debate.
Edge - Bill Biss
David M. Halperin has written a monumental work… In detail, the book explores the emotional and personalized subjectivity in describing what is at the core of gay culture and the innermost feelings of what it is to be 'gay.' …It is Halperin's intent to create a serious dialogue, though there are many smiles to be had at the same time, while absorbing the process. How To Be Gay is both enlightening and refreshing in the personal discovery of self or for lack of a better phrase, the perfect way to understand the how, what, where and why 'to turn your inner-gay on.'
Outlooks - Jim Brosseau
David M. Halperin has written what might be called an archaeological study of gay culture. His excavation is a veritable public service to anyone who's ever wondered why a Lady Gaga—or Judy Garland—holds a place in the LGBT community that isn't quite the same among their heterosexual counterparts. Still, the very specter of 'gay identity' in a world where, for many, integration is viewed as the ultimate civil-rights victory, inevitably sparks controversy… His exhaustive exploration of the icons and idiosyncrasies associated with gay identity holds up a floor-length mirror to an entire subculture.
Bookforum - Nathan Lee
How To Be Gay engages many of the foundational questions—and dogmas—of queer studies… What, Halperin wants to know, is gay culture? …Halperin is plying his own twist on the familiar idea that by aligning themselves with certain forms—flamboyance, abject glamour, exaggerated femininity—gay men implicitly challenge the uptight codes of a patriarchal culture… Gay culture, for Halperin, isn't really attached to any given person's experience; rather, it's a set of tactics, adopted behaviors, and strategies imbricated in a much larger social field… Frivolity, irony, superficiality, inauthenticity, flamboyance, snobbishness, exquisite taste: How To Be Gay works hard to unpack the stereotypical characteristics of gay male culture and succeeds in demonstrating how the taint of pathology and the rise of a post-Stonewall ethos of hypermasculine self-determination conspire to shut down a frank inquiry into the persistence of such 'faggy' traits.
Lambda Literary Review - Chase Dimock
How To Be Gay is not an instruction manual, nor is it a 'learning to love yourself' self-help guide. Rather, Halperin's book is an intervention against those who trumpet the 'death of gay culture' (which he argues has been declared for over 40 years now) now that widening tolerance and greater visibility of gays in the media should make Judy Garland, show tunes, and drag queens obsolete… Halperin's fresh re-evaluation of the theory and practice of camp is one of his most fascinating insights… Halperin makes a case for camp as politically subversive and a case study for the complicated structure of gay identification… One gets the sense that Halperin anticipates his greatest detractors to not be social conservatives (though he has been their pariah in the past), but instead to be other gay men who fear the essentialism of acknowledging the role a distinct gay culture plays in shaping gay identity… Halperin narrates the history of this masculine reaction against gay culture, culling from his own memories in the 70s of how newly 'liberated' gay men appropriated the machismo of biker culture, mustaches, and construction worker clothing to combat the stereotype of the pathetic queens and fairies of the previous generation. This is a valuable history lesson to readers from subsequent generations given that these signifiers of '70s gay masculinity are now considered in the campy light of The Village People, and thus part of the gay culture from which today's champions of machismo and normality try to distance their selves. How To Be Gay deserves a wide audience beyond academia, especially among today's youth generation who come out in a climate more accepting of same-sex coupling, but still very much phobic and censorious of gay culture.
Slate - J. Bryan Lowder
[A] provocatively titled critical cri de coeur...To summarize Halperin's ambitious book is tricky, but think of it as an exploration of the tension between the official Pride Parade, celebrating post-Stonewall gay identity, and the Drag March, celebrating pre-liberation gay culture...Halperin is at his best when critiquing the current assimilationist model of gay-rights activism, with its denial of any cultural interests or aesthetic points-of-view that hint of femininity or campiness or of the "stereotypically gay." His cultural history of how this attitude emerged in the 1970s will be surprising to those who view the gay-rights movement as a consistently positive progression; Halperin argues convincingly that as butch masculine styles became ever more mandatory, both for attracting sexual/romantic partners (no femmes, no fats!) as well as earning political credibility, the push toward conformity lead to the "euthanasia of traditional gay male culture." ...How To Be Gay is intellectually rigorous [and] entertaining...Halperin demonstrates that those gays who do still identify with Bette and Joan, drag and drapes, Auntie Mame and Annie Lennox have something important to contribute to our ever more homogenous world.
Washington Blade - Terri Schlichenmeyer
Filled with thought-provoking ideas and hypotheses. Halperin doesn't shy away from controversy here, nor does he bow to stereotypes.
Bay Area Reporter - Tavo Amador
Halperin rejoices in the growing acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream society, although he's quick to point out that homophobia is still potent. He doesn't want gay culture to be lost as assimilation increases. It's a legitimate concern, and he makes his case forcefully.
Booklist - Chris Keech
How To Be Gay posits that 'gayness' is not simply the act of two men having sex but a mode of perception that must be learned from—and shared by—other gay men. Halperin homes in on, among many topics, the yin and yang of gay male existence: the beauty and the camp.
Out in the City
[A] weighty, thought-provoking tome...Halperin explores notions of gay male identity and stereotypes, wondering what has shaped gay behavior and whether it's a reaction against the hetero-normative society into which we're born.
New Yorker - Alex Ross
How To Be Gay celebrat[es] the sharp-elbowed camp culture that many now consider obsolete... How can someone be gay without having seen Mildred Pierce or The Wizard of Oz? To answer that, you first have to know what such movies have to do with being gay. Halperin observes, as others have before him, that gay boys often display stereotypical tastes long before sex enters the picture. As he points out, sexuality is the area where gay men differ least from straight men...Gay taste is something more singular, probably linked to incipient feelings of dissimilarity from one's peers...Halperin is right to defend the old rituals and the lingo and body language that go with them...So long live camp, and all the other cultural pursuits that gay people have traditionally embraced. Perhaps the historic devotion to theatre, opera, high fashion, and other venerable disciplines will wither away, but it seems likely that many gay kids will still feel the trauma of difference and go on seeking refuge in artier spheres. Halperin speaks of a 'tension between egalitarian ethics and hierarchical aesthetics' in gay taste; he sees it as a snobbery not of class but of knowledge, open to all who can hold their own. It stands in opposition to a society that joins egalitarian aesthetics--the notion that the perfect cultural product appeals to all--to an economic system whose inequalities become more glaring by the day. Gay culture's long memory, its arch sympathy for fading worlds, is a check against the razing of the past.
London Review of Books - Adam Mars-Jones
How To Be Gay is...written by a gifted thinker and writer who has come to see that there is not just a political and sexual gay culture (its foundational event the rioting outside the Stonewall Inn in 1969), based on gay identity rather than sensibility, but also a nonsexual gay culture, based on modes of feeling and expressive artifacts.
New York Times

[Halperin] provocatively argues that when it comes to defining what it means to be a homosexual man, sex is overrated… Culture matters more… [How To Be Gay] is never a bore… [It] explores a fundamental kind of gay sensibility… Halperin teases an enormous amount out of [a] scene [in Mildred Pierce], including the sense of 'glamour and abjection' gay audiences find in [Joan] Crawford, and how the film packages the 'transgressive spectacle of female strength, autonomy, feistiness and power.' …Halperin works up to an argument (impossible to summarize here) about how the film evokes a 'dissident perspective' on the very idea of romantic love. He is articulate about many other things in this book, including how gay men often find more resonance in straight cultural artifacts than in gay ones. His funny shorthand for this is: 'Why would we want Edmund White, when we still have The Golden Girls?" …He is excellent, too, on how classical tragedy is nearly always about men, or fathers and sons… Dozens of similar arguments are rehearsed in How To Be Gay. Halperin even neatly mows down hipster irony in the face of the kind of gay male irony that defines camp. It's a kaleidoscopic book that at its base breaks with what the author calls 'the Brokeback Mountain crowd.' He urges gay men to take their so-called femininity out of 'homosexuality's newly built closet,' to see it plainly and to give it affirmative interpretations.
— Dwight Garner

Next Magazine

How To Be Gay makes for as fun a viewing companion [to Mildred Pierce and Mommie Dearest] as it does a rigorously intelligent read… Whether you're well-versed in all things gay or tend to avoid pop divas at all costs, How To Be Gay offers a fresh perspective on what we call gay culture, why so many of us love what we love and why we're afraid to talk about it. Thankfully, as Halperin notes in his conclusion, gay male culture isn't going anywhere—as long as there's a straight culture to appropriate for our own ends.
— Jameson Fitzpatrick

Library Journal
In 2000, the University of Michigan course catalog listed a class to be taught by Halperin (history & theory of sexuality, Univ. of Michigan; How To Do the History of Homosexuality), titled "How To Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation." Halperin found himself attacked in the press both from the left (for perpetrating unflattering stereotypes) and the right (for attempting to recruit and convert straights to the joys of the gay). In fact, the course did neither, but examined the evolution of the social and cultural (as opposed to sexual) orientation of gay men in modern North American society. This book, with the same provocative title, serves both as an apologia and an amplification of that course. Halperin parses the pop culture of movies, music, style, camp, drag, and those totemic figures known as gay icons, to reveal the dirty little secret that many gay people may not wish to hear: there's a hard little kernel of truth behind the stereotypes. VERDICT Not exactly the light read that the title implies, this thoroughly researched work is nevertheless more accessible than the typical scholarly tome. Recommended for serious readers interested in the sociology and psychology of human sexuality and gender politics.—Richard J. Violette, Greater Victoria P.L., B.C., Canada
Kirkus Reviews
Halperin (History and Theory of Sexuality/Univ. of Michigan; What Do Gay Men Want?, 2010, etc.) attempts to deconstruct various aspects of gay male culture. In 2000, a catalog description of the author's undergraduate English course, "How To Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation," appeared on the National Review website and caused a storm of controversy. The course aimed to "explore gay men's unique, characteristic relation to mainstream culture." Likely due to its provocative title, the course drew fire from across the political spectrum. Conservative critics charged that the university was "promoting" a gay "lifestyle," while others charged that the course was trafficking in and perpetuating gay stereotypes. Halperin wrote this book, he writes, to "make clear the genuineness of the intellectual stakes in [his] inquiry into gay male culture." To that end, the author narrows his focus, perhaps too drastically, by largely concentrating on a few scenes from the Oscar-winning 1945 Joan Crawford film Mildred Pierce and the bizarre 1981 Crawford film bio Mommie Dearest. Along the way, he makes occasionally interesting, if repetitive, points about the roles that melodrama and the pop-cultural portrayal of women play in gay male culture. But he also embarks on unnecessary digressions, as when he criticizes at length a 4-year-old Time Out New York article that implied that some aspects of gay culture might be on the wane. He also oddly spends several pages analyzing Sonic Youth's 1990 song and video "Mildred Pierce" and lambasting "hipsterism." Throughout, Halperin struggles unproductively with many of the questions he raises, while also leaning heavily on academic social-science jargon. An unsatisfying and scattered analysis.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674066793
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 8/21/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 1,390,994
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

David M. Halperin is W. H. Auden Distinguished University Professor of the History and Theory of Sexuality at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Six: The Queen Is Not Dead


We keep being told that gay culture is dead. Traditional gay male culture, or so the story goes, was tied to homophobia, to the regime of the closet, to the Bad Old Days of anti-gay oppression. That is why it is no longer relevant. Now that we have (some) gay rights, and even gay marriage (in half a dozen states, at least, as well as in Canada, several European countries, South Africa, Argentina, and Nepal), the sense of exclusion, and of specialness, that gay men have long felt is out of date. Once upon a time, gay culture was rooted in “the aestheticism of maladjustment,” as Daniel Harris calls it. With those roots in social rejection and marginalization now definitively severed, traditional gay culture is certain to wither away. In fact, it has already withered away. “The grain of sand, our oppression, that irritated the gay imagination to produce the pearl of camp, has been rinsed away,” Harris explains, “and with it, there has been a profound dilution of the once concentrated gay sensibility.”

Similar arguments also used to be made about drag, highlighting its outdatedness and forecasting its imminent disappearance. But since drag continues all too obviously to live on, no doubt to the embarrassment of many, and since it continues to take new forms—from RuPaul’s Drag Race on the Logo Channel to late-night appropriations of deserted Walmarts for drag displays by queer youth—the reports of its demise that continue to be issued seem increasingly to lack confidence and conviction.

In the case of gay culture in general, however, a death knell is continually sounded, often by forty-something gay men projecting their sense of generational difference, as well as their utopian hopes for the future, onto younger guys—or anyone who represents the latest generation of gay men to emerge onto the scene. These kids are said to live in a brave new world of acceptance and freedom, mercifully different from that prison house of oppression, that “cage of exclusion” (albeit “gilded . . . with magnificent ornaments”), which their elders knew.

If you want to gauge just how well younger gay men nowadays are assimilated into American society at large, you only have to look —or so the advocates of this view insist—at how ignorant of gay culture these boys are, how indifferent to it they are, how little need they have of it. That, you are assured over and over again, is a particularly telling sign: it shows that gay kids nowadays are happy and healthy and well-adjusted. “For the first time,” starting apparently in the 1990s, according to Andrew Sullivan, “a cohort of gay children and teens grew up in a world where homosexuality was no longer a taboo subject and where gay figures were regularly featured in the press.” The result of that change in mass-media representation, Sullivan contends, was a complete merging of straight and gay worlds, as well as a new fusion between straight and gay culture, with the latter now losing its edge and distinctiveness:

If the image of gay men for my generation was one gleaned from the movie Cruising or, subsequently, Torch Song Trilogy, the image for the next one was MTV’s “Real World,” Bravo’s “Queer Eye,” and Richard Hatch winning the first “Survivor.” The new emphasis was on the interaction between gays and straights and on the diversity of gay life and lives. Movies featured and integrated gayness. Even more dramatically, gays went from having to find hidden meaning in mainstream films—somehow identifying with the aging, campy female lead in a way the rest of the culture missed—to everyone, gay and straight, recognizing and being in on the joke of a character like “Big Gay Al” from “South Park” or Jack from “Will & Grace.”

Too bad no one bothered to tell my students. Maybe they would have stopped identifying with The Golden Girls and immersed themselves instead in The Swimming-Pool Library. Then I could have taught a successful class on contemporary gay male fiction. And I wouldn’t have had to write this book.

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Table of Contents

Part 1 B+ Could Try Harder

1 Diary of a Scandal 3

2 History of an Error 33

Part 2 American Falsettos

3 Gay Identity and Its Discontents 69

4 Homosexuality's Closet 82

5 What's Gayer Than Gay? 88

6 The Queen Is not Dead 109

Part 3 Why are the Drag Queens Laughing?

7 Culture and Genre 129

8 The Passion of the Crawford 149

9 Suffering in Quotation Marks 186

10 The Beauty and the Camp 201

Part 4 Mommie Queerest

11 Gay Family Romance 223

12 Men Act, Women Appear 242

13 The Sexual Politics of Genre 260

14 Tragedy into Melodrama 282

Part 5 Bitch Baskets

15 Gay Femininity 301

16 Gender and Genre 322

17 The Meaning of Style 355

18 Irony and Misogyny 376

Part 6 What Is Gay Culture?

19 Judy Garland versus Identity Art 401

20 Culture versus Subculture 421

21 Queer Forever 432

Notes 459

Acknowledgments 527

Index 535

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2013

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