N o, this is not a manual — by which I mean that it's not a book that's meant to be read with one hand. Despite its pink wrapper and the cover photograph of a naked young man with a flap-happy wrist, it's a solemn pedagogical production, derived from an undergraduate course taught by Halperin , who is WH Auden distinguished university professor of the theory and history of sexuality at an address somewhere in the American cornbelt. Out there on the dreary plains, Halperin instructs students who could be his grandsons in irony, archness, melodramatic flouncing, the worship of Judy Garland and all the other queeny foibles and fetishes that most of us thought had been discarded when gay men marched out of the closet and asserted their right to respect and acceptance. Imagine Lily Savage conducting an oral exam, or Gok Wan fabulously modelling a mortar board. Bobs, bangs and military buzzcuts probably feature in the curriculum: Halperin has an earnest interpretative interest in "what a hairstyle is 'about'".
How to Be Gay by David M. Halperin (2012, Hardcover)
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How To Be Gay
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.
A student of mine once told me that his favourite film — or, as he put it, "the best film ever" — was Sliding Doors , in which John Hannah woos Gwyneth Paltrow by repeating Monty Python sketches. It was made in On hearing this, I knew immediately that the student was heterosexual. It could not be otherwise.