Social Question

dxs's avatar

What do you think Halperin's opinion on sexuality as a culture?

Asked by dxs (15160points) November 25th, 2013

David Halperin, a professor at the University of Michigan, teaches a class called “How to be Gay”. He also has a book with the same title. It looks like he says that being “gay” is a specific culture that goes with one’s sexuality. You can read the small blurb about the book here. Or if you have time and want to read a longer excerpt, click here.

Do you think that this is a generalization? It seems like the epitome of sexual objectification to me, which is a psychology I despise. I don’t deny that there is a culture that exists based on guys who label themselves as “gay” (I’ve been to Provincetown), but considering the term “gay” as a culture tells people what to do because of their sexuality and forces them into a social norm.

And where do women fall under this category? Does this mean that there is even more of a border between genders? Is this really information to be presented at a post-secondary level? Why is there such a stress on sexuality in society?

I’m just wondering. We read the really long article in my class, and it kind of drove me crazy and I thought it was stupid, but maybe I’m thinking about it the wrong way. Please share your thoughts! Hopefully it’ll help me understand it more.

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12 Answers

SecondHandStoke's avatar

This articulate, poised, very well dressed straight man with fantastic taste rolls his eyes and then sighs.

“That’s Mister Faggot to you sir.”

thorninmud's avatar

From what I read, he seems to make a distinction between homosexuality and gay culture, so that “gay”, in his terms, refers not to a particular sexual orientation but to a lifestyle/culture. He even says that one can be heterosexual and still be gay by culture, and be homosexual but not culturally gay.

The implication, as I understand it, is not that to be a proper homosexual you have to embrace a particular culture, but rather that, like other cultures, gay culture comes with its own orthodoxy.

That various cultures define for themselves what is “in” and what is “out” in terms of style and aesthetic seems evident to me. And that these cultural values get transmitted socially rather than genetically also seems evident. So gay cultural values shouldn’t be expected to come automatically with homosexuality, any more than a love of hip-hop should come with dark skin.

Cultures, by their nature, kind of do force people into social norms. If you want to be integrated into a certain social circle, then adopting the cultural values that reign in that circle can be the best way to do that.

dxs's avatar

@thorninmud Aside from botching the therm “gay”, I feel like he is also making it so that you can prejudice someone based on their interests. He reinstates the idea of a “gaydar”. Still, I see it as limiting. Even assuming things based off of one’s ethnicity (a much more highly objective trait) isn’t always a good thing to do. Does it really represent the majority of the homosexual-identifying population? I know plenty of people who don’t conform to this culture and claim to be attracted to people of the same sex. But I don’t know everyone in the world. Thank you for answering!

zenvelo's avatar

I often listen to the Dan Savage podcast, and he rails against Gay Culture as oppressive towards gay, lesbian, bi, trans, cis, and straights, because it follows a homophobic paradigm of shoehorning people into defined roles. And defining it as a culture is limiting to those who don’t fit into a narrowly structured definition.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I tend to agree with @thorninmud. Yes, it may be putting people in a little box (which I detest) but if a lot of it is true then the purpose is served.

Some of us who have been around the LGBT community a bit, know that there are thing’s you say and don’t say, rumors that are true, etc…so maybe this book is just putting that kind of thing out there.

And since I’m on the Right, I’ll tell you that anything to do with the LGBT community will generally not be approved in any way by the uber-religious, so that’s typical.

Why is there such stress on sexuality? Because people are obsessed by it or abstaining from it or getting it.

thorninmud's avatar

@dxs Right, cultures of all kinds tend to do that. They define in-group traits and out-group traits. It’s a very human thing to do, and it has its good sides and its downsides. It provides a common cultural vocabulary, strengthens the sense of group identity and solidarity. But it also encourages conformity, perpetuates stereotypes, and alienates outliers.

You see a micro version of this in how Fluther has developed its own culture within just a few years. I don’t think anyone set out to make this a hangout for liberal, atheist, well-educated people, but it has certainly trended in that direction. You’ll have an easier time fitting in here if you match that profile, and if not, you’ll meet with pressure. Not many people here would acknowledge wanting to exclude people who don’t fit the profile, but it happens anyway. It’s just this thing people do, for better or for worse.

And we have our own memes here, too, that you need to know to really be in the loop. If you don’t get the references to pancakes or the frizzer or Milo or the mansion, etc., then you’re still a little bit of an outsider. This stuff doesn’t even have anything to do with the dominant values here, but knowing them gives a sense of belonging and identity as a member of the community.

dxs's avatar

@thorninmud True!
And that’s true about Fluther, too. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed here (I’m not as old and experienced as others either) but if we were all dumb then this place wouldn’t last because no one would get answers! I get the memes, though. I’ve been here long enough for that.
@KNOWITALL What I was asking about sexuality was why it’s so black and white in society. You’re either homosexual or heterosexual…or bisexual I guess. But people take themselves to such extremes with it and classify it into gender roles so that there’s only two paths. And this essay just underlines everything that I just said, so that’s why I’m not a fan of it. I’m just denouncing the fine line that’s drawn by gender and sexuality. People should be freer of these norms in my opinion. I am theorizing this based on what I think about society and it comes from someone who barely has any sexuality at all. So I just sit back and laugh at society haha. Who knows? Maybe I’m wrong! It’s just what I think…but this is why I’m here—to get answers from other people who may influence me to correct my erroneous thinking.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@dxs No, no, you’re absolutely correct! We’re all taught or raised to conform to societal norms from birth, and only a few of us are allowed the opportunity to explore ‘other’ ways as they mature.

People in general have this odd compulsion to put all humans into little boxes, they do it here on fluther all the time, and it drives me crazy because it’s so narrow-minded. As a Christian and a Republican, I feel that if anyone should be narrow-minded it’s me- lol, seriously though, it’s not fair to each other or ourselves to think that way.

I’m totally down with people making their own definition of themselves, whatever that may be, because my only job is to love them and seek the good in them, not judge or anything else. Just goes to show you that the hippies were right about some things, since I feel completely comfortable with people in general, the more abnormal, the more interested I become…ha!

*You wouldn’t believe how much I disappointed my mom, even if she denies it now, with my conforming personality and appearance…lol

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Homosexual “culture”?

Gay pride parades are a PR person’s worst nightmare.

On the other hand:

I don’t, and haven’t, needed to be gay to go out there an be a total freak.

I wish the real world could be more like any gay day:

People just loving each other for whatever they happen to be.

Still wearing those black beads on my wrist…

Patton's avatar

@SecondHandStoke Not homosexual culture, gay culture. Halperin is basically playing off of Foucault and saying that homosexuality is different from gayness because gayness is a construct that arises out of categorizing sexuality. We could just say “people have sex with people” and be done with it, but we don’t. We categorize people as straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, etc. And since categories need defining features, we start associating all sorts of things with them. That’s how we get from homosexuality to gayness.

dxs's avatar

@SecondHandStoke What’s a PR person?

SecondHandStoke's avatar


Public Relations.

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