ENGLISH 313 - Topics in Literary Studies
Fall 2018, Section 001 - How To Be Gay: Male Homosexuality as a Cultural Practice
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May be repeated for a maximum of 8 credit(s). May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:


Just because you happen to be a gay man doesn’t mean that you don’t have to learn how to become one.

Gay men do some of that learning on their own, but often we learn how to be gay from others, either because we look to them for instruction or because they simply tell us what they think we need to know, whether we ask for their advice or not. This course examines the specific role that the acquisition of cultural knowledge plays in learning how to be gay. It interrogates the curious notion that male homosexuality is not just a sexual orientation or behavior but also a cultural practice.

Many people nowadays, both gay and straight, seem to believe that what makes gay men different from everyone else is something that goes well beyond matters of sexual preference. Male homosexuality, on this view, is not just a sexuality; it is also a unique sensibility, featuring a set of distinctive tastes in books, music, movies, art, fashion, food, style, and, ultimately, a particular, non-standard way of relating to mainstream culture. Why?

Do cultural forms have a sexuality? Is there a connection between sexuality and culture? Or are all these notions just a bunch of stereotypes, an expression of sexual racism? What is meant when people talk as if there were a right way to be gay, as if being sexually attracted to persons of the same sex were not enough to do the trick, as if there were certain cultural items a gay man needed to know in order to be truly gay?

What do we learn about gay male identity by asking not who gay men are but what it is that gay men do or like? What can an approach to gay identity that emphasizes cultural rather than sexual practices tell us about the sentimental, affective, or subjective dimensions of gay identity, including gay sexuality, that an exclusive focus on gay sexuality cannot? And how does such an approach alter our very understanding of what a social identity is and how other minority identities are formed?

At the core of gay experience there is not only identification but disidentification. Almost as soon as I learn how to be gay, or perhaps even before, I also learn how not to be gay. I say to myself, “Well, I may be gay, but at least I’m not like that!” Rather than attempting to promote one version of gay identity at the expense of others, this course will investigate the stakes in gay identifications and disidentifications, seeking ultimately to create the basis for a wider acceptance of the plurality of ways in which people learn how to be gay.

Class Format:

Enrollment in the course requires attending two 80-minute class meetings on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and one three-hour class meeting on Thursday evenings


ENGLISH 313 - Topics in Literary Studies
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 4:00PM - 5:30PM
002 (LAB)
 In Person
Th 6:00PM - 9:00PM
003 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM
004 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 5:30PM - 7:00PM

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