Here’s a controversial statement: there is such a thing as a gay lifestyle. In How to be Gay, University of Michigan professor David Halperin (himself a gay man) tries to explain to us why that statement is indeed factual. Gay men tend to be drawn towards beautiful things, melodrama, and tragic glamour — and Halperin suggests that these are hallmarks of a particular gay culture. Be warned: this isn’t an easy read, and it tends to lean heavily towards American culture. But it also forces us to reconcile our mainstream ideology of sameness (LGBTQ+ folks are just like cishet folks) with the undeniable uniqueness of queerness and — gasp — the gay lifestyle. For that reason, we highly recommend this heavy reading.
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.
About the author
David M. Halperin is an American theorist in the fields of gender studies, queer theory, critical theory, material culture and visual culture. He is the cofounder of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.
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