How To Be Gay

How To Be Gay

by David M. Halperin
     
 

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A pioneer of LGBTQ studies dares to suggest that gayness is a way of being that gay men must learn from one another to become who they are. The genius of gay culture resides in some of its most despised stereotypes—aestheticism, snobbery, melodrama, glamour, caricatures of women, and obsession with mothers—and in the social meaning of style.See more details below

Overview

A pioneer of LGBTQ studies dares to suggest that gayness is a way of being that gay men must learn from one another to become who they are. The genius of gay culture resides in some of its most despised stereotypes—aestheticism, snobbery, melodrama, glamour, caricatures of women, and obsession with mothers—and in the social meaning of style.

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.)
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:
9780674283992
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
03/31/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
560
Sales rank:
708,980
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

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