A course taught by professor David Halperin at the University of Michigan has been getting some attention recently. “How to be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation” examines “the general topic of the role that initiation plays in the formation of gay male identity” via writing, studying it as a “sub-cultural practice”, and conducting some sort of self-reflective class experiment.
It’s actually a class that has been taught, and has inspired controversy and discussion, for a few years.
“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.”
Then there’s the alternative method: six beers, an off-campus party, and that hot freshman from down the hall you’ve been studying from afar.
How to be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation. [university of michigan]