Scholar looks at what it means to be a gay man

David M. Halperin examines what gay is and what gay is not

Scholar looks at what it means to be a gay man
12 August 2012

Approximately ten years ago, University of Michigan professor David M. Halperin was in the cross hairs of conservatives. They were shocked, and appalled, at his course ‘How to be Gay.’

‘The University of Michigan and the professor are perpetrating a fraud on Michigan tax payers,’ Gary Glenn, president of the Michigan affiliate of the American Family Association, said to Fox News. ‘For all of the PC rhetoric coming out of the university about cultural studies and academic freedom, the purpose of this class is to promote homosexuality.’

The course is now  book and conservatives will continue to be miserable. Published by Harvard University Press, ‘How to be Gay’ is a primer in gay male identity. However, as Dwight Garner argues in a  New York Times review, the book stands against current political trends. From the call for marriage rights to the demand of open service, the gay political movement, at least in the US, has maintained that except for sex, there is no difference between gay  and straight.

For Halperin this thinking needs questioning because gay male culture’s strength ‘resides in some of its most despised and repudiated features: gay male femininity, diva worship, aestheticism, snobbery, drama, adoration of glamour, caricature of women and obsession with the figure of the mother.’

This is not the world of all gay males, but Garner’s review makes a critical point about the professor’s work from his class to the book. 

‘But his class examined why Madonna, midcentury modern furniture and Mini Coopers, to name merely three things, came to matter so much to so many gay men.’



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