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How to Be Gay


David Halperin
Faculty Info


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.

All recent publications by David Halperin

  • San Foucault. Verso un'agiografia gay
  • Essere gay. Identit√†, stereotipi, cultura
  • How to Be Gay
  • Que Veulent les Gays? Essai sur le Sexe, le Risque et la Subjectivit√©
  • Gay Shame

All publications by David Halperin

The War on Sex, edited with Trevor Hoppe (Durham, NC:  Duke University Press, 2017); How To Be Gay (Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012); Gay Shame, edited with Valerie Traub (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2009); What Do Gay Men WantAn Essay on Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 2007; rev. ed. 2009);  How to Do the History of Homosexuality (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2002); Saint Foucault:  Towards a Gay Hagiography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, edited with Henry Abelove and Michèle Aina Barale (New York:  Routledge, 1993); Before Sexuality:  The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, edited with John J. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1990); One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and other essays on Greek Love (New York:  Routledge, 1990); Before Pastoral:  Theocritus and the Ancient Tradition of Bucolic Poetry (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1983).

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