Skip to Content

Author's Forum Presents: How to Be Gay: A Conversation with David Halperin and Valerie Traub

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
12:00 AM
Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, 913 S. University, Library Gallery

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 Halperin received the PhD in Classics and Humanities from Stanford University in 1980 and has been teaching at the University of Michigan since 1999.  He is the author of Before Pastoral (1983), One Hundred Years of Homosexuality (1990), Saint Foucault (1995), How To Do the History of Homosexuality (2002), What Do Gay Men Want? (2007; 2009), and How To Be Gay (2012).  Additional publications include co-edited collections, such as Before Sexuality (1990), The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (1993), and Gay Shame (2009), as well as the journal GLQ:  A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (co-founded in 1992 and co-edited until 2005), plus articles on Plato, Theocritus, Virgil, Solzhenitsyn, film, sexual politics, and queer theory. Ongoing projects include a study of queer love. Teaching interests in comparative literature include undergraduate courses on “Ancient Greek/Modern Gay Sexuality” and graduate seminars on “Theories of Love:  Plato to Nabokov.”

Valerie Traub's research concerns gender and sexuality in early modern England. She is the author of The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England, which won the best book of 2002 award from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women. Other books include Desire & Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (1992) and two co-edited collections: Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects (1996) and Gay Shame (2009). Her current projects are  Mapping Embodiment in the Early Modern West: A Prehistory of Normality, which analyzes the emergence of new discourses of gender, sexuality, race, and class in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century anatomical and cartographic illustrations; and Making Sexual Knowledge: Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns

The Author's Forum is a collaboration between the U-M Institute for the Humanities, University Library, Great Lakes Literary Arts Center, & Ann Arbor Book Festival.

Additional sponsorship for this event is provided by the departments of English Language and Literature, Comparative Literature, and Women's Studies.

David Halperin and Valerie Traub