College class on “How to be Gay”!

Below is the class description for a class on How to be Gay being offered at the University of Michigan.  Don’t believe me?  See the U of Michigan site here.

ENGLISH 317. Literature and Culture.

Section 002 — How to be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation.

Credits: (3; 2 in the half-term).

Instructor(s): David M Halperin (

Course Description:

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 male 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; and (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 will examine a number of cultural artifacts 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, taste, style, and political activism. 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 is there about gay identity that explains the gay appropriation of these works? What do we learn about gay male identity by asking not who gay men are but what it is that gay men do or like? 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 subjective 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.

Additional note. This course is not a basic introduction to gay male culture, but an exploration of certain issues arising from it. It assumes some background knowledge. Students wishing to inform themselves about gay men and gay culture in a preliminary way should enroll in an introductory course in lesbian/gay studies.

HT: StandFirm 


4 Responses to College class on “How to be Gay”!

  1. mudpuppy says:

    I live near Ann Arbor and have many friends who work for the U, and I can tell you they desire to be on the cutting edge of homosexuality.

  2. Clinton says:

    What exactly does it mean to be on the cutting edge of homosexuality? I assume since homosexuality (obviously) has not been as permitted in the past as it is now, there are lot of opportunities for research and what not. Is that what you mean? Could you provide some areas your friends are researching? I am just curious. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. mudpuppy says:

    Let’s just say they are aggressively pushing the homosexual lifestyle, whatever the cost. They even require administrators to attend classes and/or seminars on homosexuality.

    I’d say there are four levels to this issue

    1. Trying to push it down at all cost.
    2. Hiding from it. Ambivalence.
    3. Accepting it. Tolerance.
    4. Aggressively advancing it at all cost.

    UM falls into category four.

  4. Hey, cool tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a glass of beer to the man from that chat who told me to visit your blog 🙂

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