Sunday, 19 August 2012

How To Be Gay: Read A Book

Publisher's blurb! 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.

David M Halperin's How To Be Gay is very much the gay book du nos jours.
Fagburn hasn't read it, yet but agrees with its general premise, that being gay is as much cultural as it is sexual, and that gay men should celebrate and embrace... well, being gay. 
There are lengthy reviews by Peter Conrad in The Observer - and by Richard Canning in The Independent.
They're both rather sniffy - and Canning's is hilariously snobby, which arguably misses the point.
Or proves it.
Here's a sympatico one by Dwight Garner from the New York Times.
It's a subject that fascinates Fagburn and I hope to return to it when I've got my hands on a copy...

Update: This book is probably shit - a right-wing upper class twit called Mark Simpson has praised it.


  1. 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.

    Surely a distinction has to be made between "being gay" and being homosexual, then?
    I can understand that the ways we express our sexuality goes through the filter of the culture we inherit, but the reason people protest is precisely because of the conflation that's made in that blurb between the transient nature of what it is to "be gay" and the basic nature of being a hummersexual?
    I could've been raised by wolves in a forest and I'd still want to suck cock (and all the other less sexual stuff that makes me a bender).

    Culture may shape our sexuality but it doesn't create it.

    1. I agree with you.
      Dunno if Halperin would as I haven't read this book, but he has written another book in praise of Foucault so he'd probs beg to differ.

  2. PRINCE OF SNARKNESS19 August 2012 at 18:36

    it all sounds a little suspiciously middle class to me.

    speaking from my own milieu i’ve encountered too many working class slobs in frayed novelty boxer shorts not to conclude the only “gay culture” i experience is the kind that responds to strong antibiotics — and not some universal arty fabulousness.

    but hey what would i know, guv’nor, being wilfully lacking in classical greek objet d’art…and a-subscription-to-the-new-yorker short of an informed opinion.


    1. The gay bourgeoisie tend to slag off gay men/gay culture as they think it's all so terribly, terribly common and vulgar.
      Gay journalists especially...

  3. Since the book is over 500 pages, I suspect your time would probably be better spent reading Maurice Vellekoops’ marvellous comic strip from twenty years ago “The 8 Pillars of Gay Culture” which seems to cover most of the same concerns:

    - matthew davis