Openly gay author and professor David Halperin was the keynote speaker at a forum entitled "Long Live The Queen: The Persistence Of Gay Culture" Oct. 30 at Elmhurst College.
The author of a number of LGBT booksincluding What Do Gay Men Want?, How To Do the History of Homosexuality and How To Be GayHalperin is also the W.H. Auden collegiate professor of the history and theory of sexuality as well as a professor of English, women's studies, comparative literature and classical studies at the University of Michigan.
Following words of welcome by S. Alan Ray, president of Elmhurst College, and an introduction by Mary Walsh, assistant professor of political science, Halperin spoke to a crowd of about 50 people about gay culture and the topic of his last book, How To Be Gay.
"When I claimed that the usefulness of Joan Crawford to gay male culture isn't yet exhausted, I didn't mean to imply somehow that I thought young gay men nowadays are still besotted with Joan Crawford nor that Crawford is the essence of gay male culture. That would be archaic," said Halperin.
Critics and others, Halperin noted, have accused him of being nostalgic and not in tune with the way modern gay men live and relate to culture.
Halperin explained that his book, How To Be Gay, is not a nostalgic trip down memory lane; instead, it's about the relationship between sexuality and culture.
"What connects sexual desire, sexual orientation, the ways in which we express our sexuality with things like the music we listen to, the furniture we choose and the jokes we tell? That, to me, is something very mysterious," said Halperin.
"My interest is what is behind the stereotypes that are associated with gay men," said Halperin. Halperin explained that what concerns him with these stereotypes is that he isn't the type of gay man who is interested in Crawford, Judy Garland or musicals.
Halperin explained that he grew up in Chicago in the 1960s liking rock music. While living in San Francisco in the 1970s, Halperin shared that he came out and for him gay life was all about sex and being politically active.
When Halperin came to teach at the University of Michigan in 1999, he taught a class on contemporary gay male literature. Halperin noted that there was a disconnect in that class between his perceptions and what his students were interested in studying. His students weren't interested in studying the out gay men that they were reading about in class, Halperin remarked. They were more interested in culture that expressed a feeling, emotion, and/or pleasure associated with their gay male identity like the Golden Girls, said Halperin.
Learning what interested his gay male students caused Halperin to switch gears and teach a class, How to be gay, which focuses on representations of things that gay men have liked such as Crawford.
"The availability of out explicit representations of gay men haven't put an end to the appeal of non-gay images that gay men somehow connect with," said Halperin. "The notion that there are certain kinds of culture that gay men instinctively like seems like a stereotype but it's a stereotype that's accepted by a lot of people and permeates a lot of American humor."
"Sexuality has to do with form because sexuality and especially gender pervade the cultural landscape," said Halperin. "I think that as long as LGBT people grow up in a heterosexual culture then heterosexual culture will always be their first culture and what that means is LGBT people will have to find ways of constructing our own non-standard relations to the artifacts of heterosexual culture that are proposed to us."
A Q&A session followed Halperin's lecture.