It's back-to-school time...

For many years I have wanted to know where it is written in granite that if you are a homosexual (or let's just say you have engaged in homosexual acts), you have to be a socialist. Or, to put it bluntly, if you are a male and you happen to have had oral sex with another male, why must you now love Barbara Streisand?

A University of Michigan professor named David M. Halperin may just have the answer. He teaches a course called "How to be gay." (From the Corner via a link from Instapundit.)

Here's a glimpse into the mind of that tenured academician:

"Let there be no mistake about it: lesbian and gay studies, as it is currently practiced in the U.S., expresses an uncompromising political militancy."
Political militancy. What might that mean?

For starters, Halperin wants to make that founding purveyor of deconstructionist gobbledygook, Michel Foucault, a saint.

What I cannot understand is how Halperin, who concedes that homosexuality is a recent cultural invention, is so hell-bent on perpetuating an ongoing fraud.

I guess that's his job. Lest anyone misunderstand, Halperin claims he is being misunderstood:

"It does not teach students to be homosexual," Halperin told The Washington Times. "Rather, it examines critically the odd notion that there are right and wrong ways to be gay, that homosexuality is not just a sexual practice or desire but a set of specific tastes in music, movies and other cultural forms a notion which is shared by straight and gay people alike."
I'm all for academic freedom, but shouldn't there be a disclaimer here? I mean, there may be a right way or a wrong way to engage in certain types of sex, but how does gay sex cause you to like Barbara Streisand? Or want socialism?

No one can tell me. I guess I should return to school to find out.

But frankly, I think I would fall asleep. Here is what Halperin has to say about an allegedly "gay" postage stamp:

As if by magic, each person who views the stamp -- no matter what his or her social location -- instantly and unreflectively reconfigures the image, constructing the pair of lovebirds not only as male and female but as a heterosexual and, presumably, monogamous couple (the stamp is not taken to depict a one-night stand). The viewer may also perform a number of other, subsidiary operations on this visual text, such as installing the "male" bird on the right-hand side of the field and even magnifying "his" size in relation to that of "his" mate, so as to motivate as well as to justify a heterosexist reading. But nothing in the text itself . . . provides the slightest impetus for such collective hallucinations. Rather, the apparently universal and unconquerable urge to read off gendered, heterosexualized meanings from the innocent surface of this unoffending text springs -- as the text's source in the figural repertory of European-American folk art implies -- from the traditional codes or conventions for "representing" love in European-American culture. These codes, which also govern the culture's visual rhetoric, restrict the use of erotic symbols, such as the valentine-shaped heart, to heterosexual contexts and employ exemplary animals, such as lovebirds, to typify and thereby to naturalize contemporary human social and sexual arrangements, such as monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Common to all those rhetorical practices is a discursive strategy whose effect is to (re)produce "love" as an exclusively heterosexual institution and to convert, under the sign of "love," all pairs of ungendered, identically figured bodies into heterosexual couples. . . .
I think I'll drop Halperin's course. He might try to lick my stamp, but I'll never let him paste it on my envelope.


Just when I thought I had exhausted myself silly with this nonsensical tedium, Brian Stephens (a very articulate Michigan student blogger) came to my rescue, by supplying a description of Halperin's course:

Here is the original course guide description of Prof. David Haleprin's "How to be Gay" class. He sanitized last year, but i guess a lot of these stereotypes were still there.

I don't think he could have packed any more post-modernist bull shit and stereotypes into the paragraph. One question, what exactly are the sentimental, affective, and aesthetic dimensions of gay identity?

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 will examine the general topic of the role that initiation plays in the formation of gay identity. We will approach it from three angles: (1) as a sub-cultural practice subtle, complex, and difficult to theorize which a small but significant body of work in queer studies has begun to explore; (2) as a theme in gay male writing; (3) as a class project, since the course itself will constitute an experiment in the very process of initiation that it hopes to understand. In particular, we'll examine a number of cultural artefacts and activities that seem to play a prominent role in learning how to be gay: Hollywood movies, grand opera, Broadway musicals, and other works of classical and popular music, as well as camp, diva-worship, drag, muscle culture, style, fashion, and interior design. Are there a number of classically "gay" works such that, despite changing tastes and generations, ALL gay men, of whatever class, race, or ethnicity, need to know them, in order to be gay? What roles do such works play in learning how to be gay? What is there about these works that makes them essential parts of a gay male curriculum? Conversely, what is there about gay identity that explains the gay appropriation of these works? One aim of exploring these questions is to approach gay identity from the perspective of social practices and cultural identifications rather than from the perspective of gay sexuality itself. What can such an approach tell us about the sentimental, affective, or aesthetic dimensions of gay identity, including gay sexuality, that an exclusive focus on gay sexuality cannot? 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 determine how to be gay. Work for the class will include short essays, projects, and a mandatory weekly three-hour screening (or other cultural workshop) on Thursday evenings.
Phew! What the kids today have to do to get an "A." And by the way, according to another blogger, Left & Right, this course is offered by the English Department.

Of course, when I was a kid, I took a class called "Sex and Crime" (offered appropriately by UC Berkeley's Department of Criminology) -- taught by the distinguished Dr. Joel Fort. I performed independent field research into male prostitution, and I learned a lot. Without getting into too much detail, I'm pleased to report that I got an "A+" in the course.

So, I try to keep an open mind, and I recognize that many issues can be academic.

But brainwashing and fraud are not.

posted by Eric on 08.20.03 at 10:19 AM


What the hell is happening here? In the pioneering days of both the gay and feminist movements it was all about removing stereotypes, not creating new ones.

Good Lord, when friends came out of the closet in the early 70's, they didn't change their tastes in music (actually, everyone cool hated Barbra) food or literature. They just added a new bit of information about themselves (and, sadly, sometimes learned who their real friends were.)

Rant over.

Debbye   ·  August 20, 2003 2:10 PM

You're absolutely right, of course.

But oh! my! God! did I misspell Barbra?

How utterly mortifying!

(I guess I get an "F.")

Eric Scheie   ·  August 20, 2003 10:12 PM

I think a course like this is the result of the fear on the part of the leaders of the gay ghetto. The new gay generation is coming out earlier in life and starting to find some acceptance or at least tolerance from the straight world. The overseers of the gay plantation need to scare these kids back into the fold or risk watching their power and influence evaporate.

As we integrate into society, we are bound to identify more with the culture in general and less with our narrow subculture. In another generation, one's sexual orientation will probably just be one of many pieces of one's identity.

If we reject Barbara's schmaltzy songs, bad movies, and endless coming out of retirement specials. Rejecting her hypocritical politics won't be far behind.

ray   ·  August 21, 2003 6:38 AM

I suppose I'm obtuse but: Barbra Streisand is a woman. Homosexual men, by definition, are drawn to other men. So, what's the connection? I can see how a lesbian, a homosexual woman, might be drawn to her.
This movement of the Politically Correct "Left" to re-define and de-sexualize homosexuality aids the Christian (or ChristiaNazi) "Right" in suppressing homosexuality. "We have no objection to someone 'being gay'," they say, "We'll let you be kind of 'campy' and 'swishy' and stuff, it's repulsive but amusing. We'll just forbid you to have any sexual gratification or arousal with a person of your own sex." That was, in large part, the rationale used to justify the Texas "sodomy" law.
Christianity is a fundamentally anti-sex (because anti-self) religion, and Political Correctness is merely a secularized version of that, as Nietzsche understood long ago.

Steven Malcolm Anderson   ·  August 22, 2003 7:25 AM

I'm really rather surprised, Eric, that no one has pointed out that if you accept the widespread "being gay is not a choice, it's innate like your sex or your race" argument, that it's entirely genetic, that people are gay from birth, then it's simply not a stretch to suggest that being gay will also carry certain other traits: in males, greater emotional fragility and empathy, for example.

Not that I believe this. But people like Harvey Fierstein are proud of saying, fiercely, that they knew they were gay back as early as the age of 5 or 6, that it's always been who they are.

There are also black people who believe their genetic inheritance gives them greater rhythm--which by the way is a dirty little secret, since white people who say that are pilloried as racists, but in fact a lot of black people believe it about themselves, and not because white people told them to think it either.

Mind you, I am, again, not arguing that this is the correct position. I'm merely arguing that it's not uncommon, and seems to spring from the assumption--now widely accepted--that our genes play about a 50% role in determining who we are.

So should it follow that if you're black, you favor abortion-on-demand as a civil right, you're pro-gay-rights, you're anti-free trade, and want higher taxes? That would seem to be the case given that blacks vote 90% Democratic.

So does the genetic inheritance which makes homosexuality just like race or sex also carry a cluster of traits that make you fear guns and love Liza Minelli and want lots higher taxes on anyone making more than a hundred thousand a year?

Hey. I don't buy it. I'm just not sure why no one else would make that argument, especially since the "it's not a choice" viewpoint is paramount to the thinking of most gay rights advocates these days.

Dean Esmay   ·  August 22, 2003 10:07 PM

Wow, talk about free thinking! These comments are all great.

Dean, thank you for your very thoughtful remarks. I agree with most of what you said -- another reason I get an "F" in Halperin's course. And frankly, regardless of whether or not gays are born that way (I think looking for a single "cause" for certain human sexual desires is preposterous), identity politics is tyrannical and abusive.

All the comments are very much appreciated, and I liked what Ray and Steven said. It is wonderful to realize how many people there are in the blogosphere who know how to think for themselves.

It is very refreshing, although I am not used to it!

Eric   ·  August 23, 2003 10:35 AM

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