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How To Be Gay Hardcover – 14 Aug 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 472 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Sew edition (14 Aug. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674066790
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674066793
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 17.1 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 808,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"[Halperin] provocatively argues that when it comes to defining what it means to be a homosexual man, sex is overrated...Culture matters more...[How To Be Gay] is never a bore...[It] explores a fundamental kind of gay sensibility...Halperin teases an enormous amount out of [a] scene [in Mildred Pierce], including the sense of "glamour and abjection" gay audiences find in [Joan] Crawford, and how the film packages the "transgressive spectacle of female strength, autonomy, feistiness and power." ...Halperin works up to an argument (impossible to summarize here) about how the film evokes a "dissident perspective" on the very idea of romantic love. He is articulate about many other things in this book, including how gay men often find more resonance in straight cultural artifacts than in gay ones. His funny shorthand for this is: "Why would we want Edmund White, when we still have The Golden Girls?" ...He is excellent, too, on how classical tragedy is nearly always about men, or fathers and sons...Dozens of similar arguments are rehearsed in How To Be Gay. Halperin even neatly mows down hipster irony in the face of the kind of gay male irony that defines camp. It's a kaleidoscopic book that at its base breaks with what the author calls "the Brokeback Mountain crowd." He urges gay men to take their so-called femininity out of "homosexuality's newly built closet," to see it plainly and to give it affirmative interpretations." --Dwight Garner, New York Times, 7 August 2012

"This is a delightfully puzzling book...Halperin makes it clear from the outset that gay culture is not at all the same thing as gay sex, gay identity, or even homosexuality...What is marvelous is Halperin's rich analysis of many aspects of this gay cultural life, showing the distinctive ways it makes use of straight culture." --Ken Plummer, THE, Thursday 23 August 2012

"An arresting thesis, and Halperin has revealing insights. 'How to be Gay' ranges spiritedly across broad terrain - from Eldward Albee to Annie Proulx, from 'Desperate Housewives' to 'La Cage aux Folles'." --Richard Canning, The Independent, Saturday 18 Augst 2012

"We're sure none of you need lessons on How to be Gay, so fortunately, that's not quite the straightforward premise of this weighty, thought-provoking tome from David M. Halperin… [He] explores notions of gay male identity and stereotypes, wondering what has shaped gay behaviour and whether it's a reaction again the hetero-normative society into which we're born." --Out in the City, 1 November 2012

"An arresting thesis, and Halperin has revealing insights. 'How to be Gay' ranges spiritedly across broad terrain - from Eldward Albee to Annie Proulx, from 'Desperate Housewives' to 'La Cage aux Folles'." --Richard Canning, The Independent, Saturday 18 Augst 2012

"David Halperin's new book, 'How to Be Gay', addresses the mysterious persistence of discredited elements of pre-Stonewall gay male culture. In theory, camp should have been rendered obsolete by the arrival of models of gay behaviour not driven by the old toxic blend of shame and defiance, but there are still careers to be made from the man-sized frock and the killer putdown. Halperin's argument is that these oddly resilient practices need to be looked at closely rather than swept under the carpet (relegated to gay liberation's own closet, as he sees it)." --Adam Mars-Jones, London Review of Books, Thursday 22 November 2012

"An arresting thesis, and Halperin has revealing insights. 'How to be Gay' ranges spiritedly across broad terrain - from Eldward Albee to Annie Proulx, from 'Desperate Housewives' to 'La Cage aux Folles'." --Richard Canning, The Independent, Saturday 18 Augst 2012

About the Author

David M. Halperin is W. H. Auden Distinguished University Professor of the History and Theory of Sexuality at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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Format: Paperback
This is the first book that I read in relation to queer theory

For the non-initiated its a fantastic book, and would definitively recommend.(bought it from the wellcome collection)
This book verses on many intuitions that many gay men might have experienced or thought of, in a sometimes more, sometimes less concise way. Nevertheless the book quite succinctly explains cultural assimilation in a rather nice way, although you wouldn't think of it to be the main topic of the book, since there are a lot of ideas covered.

Many times when I read a book I think of cultural relevance, and many disappoint. This one however feels contemporary relevant and in-need not for any specific audience, but for that which might want to engage in a personal deconstruction of sorts.
Thanks for putting this publication together!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By D. Waldock on 20 Feb. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If being gay is simply about who one gets into bed with, then why do so many gay men enjoy musicals, quite particular films or have flamboyant taste in clothing? Yes, those are stereotypes but there's more than a grain of truth in them. Talking this as his starting point, David Halperin explores the meanings and connotations of gay cultural icons, and uses it to explore what being gay means beyond the simply sexual.

A fascinating view; it's unlikely to convert anyone though ;-)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 20 reviews
22 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A new classic in queer/lesbigay studies 8 Sept. 2012
By J. Michael Denton - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Halperin's book is a tour de force. He's making an important contribution to new ways of thinking about what it means to be gay in America. In this book, Halperin works from the premise that there is a recognizable gay male culture (e.g., Broadway, drag, camp, love of certain female icons, architectural restoration) that was created initially to provide a means of self-expression when no explicit representations, at least no stigmatizing ones, were available. Although the details change over time, and post-Stonewall liberation has afforded a bevvy of positive gay male cultural objects, Halperin argues this practice of appropriating straight cultural objects still continues. His question is: if this practice continues, then why? What might it say about the experience of being gay in a society that is still culturally straight (i.e., heteronormative), no matter what political or legislative inroads have been made? He also wants to know how we can describe and account for the way it feels to be gay without resorting to psychology or essentialist ideas (i.e., that we are "born this way."). Halperin isn't interested in whether or not people are born this way, or how they get gay, but how they engage with gay culture (which may be to not engage it) and why. Some gays aren't very gay, to say it differently.

Halperin is clear that the gay culture he describes in this book is American, white gay male culture. Beyond the scope of this book, he encourages others to pick up this project, if they are so inclined, and use it for other aspects of gay culture (e.g., while he uses a scene from _Mildred Pierce_, and discusses the cult of Joan Crawford, he acknowledges that examining the interest gay men have of Bette Davis may produce different insights) and with other gay populations (e.g., gay men of color, non-American gays, lesbians, trans people). He is not making totalizing claims about gay experience--or positing that gay men have some kind of inherently superior experience or existence. In fact, he notes that many gay men, or men who are attracted to other men, don't "do" gay as well as some straight men and women. Gay, in the way Halperin discusses it, is a cultural practice, not a sex-object choice, and so anybody can do or not do gay, regardless of their sexuality.

Halperin asserts that, if it's true that being gay in a straight dominated world produces a certain kind of subjectivity,then gay people do themselves a disservice by denying and underplaying that difference. Gay culture makes a contribution--understanding the world differently, gay-ly (whether one is homosexual or heterosexual), provides a way of undoing limiting and harmful norms that will stay in place (and are still in place) no matter how many equality gains are made on a political or legal level. Understanding gay subjectivity through cultural appropriation may open up freedoms not available through the lens of identity.

I find this work masterful and a necessary intervention in queer studies. As a gay man (and a gay nerd), I find it compelling and a welcome response to modern gay identity politics. This is an inventive, rigorous piece of academic work, although Halperin's language is very accessible. Readers will benefit, however, from some familiarity with lesbigay or queer studies, particularly Michael Warner's _The Trouble with Normal_. I strongly recommend this to anyone who has ever felt queer, or different (regardless of your sexuality), from the rest of society. Halperin's methodology doesn't have to be limited to gay men, but following his lead, one can think differently about the cultural objects one picks up and what they might say about how you feel to be queer.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Level-Headed 23 April 2015
By Duncan Armstrong - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'd love to have had a course like this in my 20's - level-headed, amusing, detailed without being overly academic or polemical - a great handbook for may one wondering what it's like to be gay -
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Thought Provocing 2 Nov. 2013
By K. Clarke - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Admittedly, there is quite a lot of repetition in this very thick book. But if you can overlook that (or simply fast forward every now and then) you will be rewarded with many thought provoking observations. For me, personally, a direct result of reading this book was to embrace to 'camp' and 'gay' side of my personality more, instead of trying to look/appear 'normal' and 'fit in' with the rest of society. Because, as Halperine describes, just wanting to be 'normal' throws away the unique gift that is given to many gay people. His account of a lesbian activist who wants to get married to her girlfriend, only so she can dress up for the wedding like everyone else and enjoy the normal joys of run-of-the-mill-heteros, was truly shocking. (Is that what the LGBT community is fighting for: boring normality?) You certainly come out of reading this book wanting to watch your old Joan Crwaford movies again! Instead of being ashamed of liking such films, Broadway musicals etc., one should celebrate the fact that different things speak to gay men, or men with a gay sensitity (which heteors can also have). Hughly enjoyable, on the whole.
19 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Hopefully someone else will use it as a point of departure 15 Oct. 2012
By Richard A. Jenkins - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I was tempted to give this book 3 stars because of the strength of much of its beginning and end, and because those parts might be a useful point of departure for someone else. However, the long march though the midsection of the book and its recycled nature made me think 2 stars was about right. The very beginning of the book sets a rather problematic tone--Halperin recounts the stir caused when he taught a course called "How to Be Gay". I dimly remembered the controversy, but Halperin writes as though his readers would recall all of the details. There seems to be an assumption that the reader knows all the details. There also is a lecturing tone where one is forced to read the same points reiterated in often tedious prose.

The strength of the book is Halperin's effort to locate elements of a gay culture that is largely independent of sexual desire and that has continuity over time, although some of the specific outward manifestations of it may change. He puts this out as a challenge to those who say "gay culture" is dying but really mean that their own generation's cultural references are not being adopted or fully appreciated by the next generation. These are points that make sense to me and are fairly easy to illustrate. Unfortunately, the follow-up to this is an analysis of gay culture where examples that are mostly located in Halperin's generation (people who came of age in the early 70s) and the generation before, often drawn from the films, "Mildred Pierce" and "Mommie Dearest" which have Joan Crawford (as well as camp and melodrama) in common. He later suggests that these two films provided what he thought was an enormous base of material for thinking about gay culture, which simplified the process of presenting his ideas. In the after notes, it becomes apparent that he already had a book chapter that concerned the two films, which makes the use of these films as lazy as it is tedious. When it comes to dealing with younger generations' gay culture, there are mentions of Lady Gaga, the tv series "Desperate Housewives" and "Golden Girls" and not much else. Given that a college professor has ample access to youth culture, particularly in a course about culture, the relative lack of attention to generational change seems puzzling as well as lazy.

Halperin starts out talking about the need to go beyond stereotypes, but the "Mildred Pierce"/Mommie Dearest" material seems to wallow in stereotype and go on and on in crushing detail as he mines these films and the Crawford persona for explanations of gay culture. For me, the effect was a bit like being trapped in a conversation that started out interestingly enough but quickly became a dissertation on arcania from which one could not politely remove oneself. Just when it seemed safe and the conversation had turned to something else, Mildred, Mommie, and Joan were back, in full force. Along the way, Halperin also makes rather arbitrary distinctions about elite culture (backpedaling in the case of Shakespeare) and making claims that heterosexual camp cannot exist. There are interesting points here and there, but Halperin often misses the obvious. He notes the decline of gay interest in musical theater in the "clone era" after Stonewall, but fails to mention the obvious--that musical theater was already in decline before Stonewall and that young gay men often were caught up in their own version of youth culture. He also seems to miss how the post-hippie culture had a fairly strong gay components (consider disco and reedy-voiced singers like Olivia Newton-John). One consequence of many waves of "coming out" has been the inclusion of men whose interests may or may not closely resemble those of men who came out first, particularly those men for whom passing in straight society was at best, difficult. Halperin, instead, gives perhaps too much attention to heteronormative assimilation which he places in a rather simplistic set of contingencies. The argument that gay culture endures despite social change needs a more complex conception of culture than Halperin provides. Assimilation became possible, in part, because gay culture began to crossover without the cover of "code" and the people who came out in later times or generations may have had sensibilities that differed in degree or breadth from those of more pioneering gays.

Ironically, despite Halperin's criticism of assimilation, he drops a few examples of his own apparent denial of gay culture. For example, he claims to have not understood Judy Garland's appeal to gay men as a young man. It would not have been difficult to find people who would provide that information in tedious detail in his generation or even among much younger gay men. Why he has chosen to claim ignorance of such a classic gay icon is one of the things that makes the book sometimes as intriguing as it can be tedious.

Halperin closes the book by returning to his initial theme. Sadly, it becomes evident that he has missed much more promising themes and questions. For example, he neglects the enduring appeal of fantasy forms among gay men, which often have changed over generations and sometimes had much crossover with straight culture (as in the case of gaming among young gay men today). Perhaps the need to exist within a heterosexual milieu, knowing one is different makes many fantasy forms more attractive. Perhaps, it is the solitary nature of these activities. He neglects the disproportionate participation of gays in certain sports and other pursuits, although he does provide some attention to the seeming gay interest in collecting and connoisseurship. The intense dissection of "Mildred Pierce" combined with Halperin`s obvious snobbishness makes one wonder what kitsch or tackiness is hiding in his closet along with his denial of Garland knowledge.

The book will appeal to those who can't get enough cultural meaning from Joan Crawford (and I know those people are totally serious about it), but it will be a long slog for many others ,
But this does have some good points to make and should be enlightening to anyone ... 1 Dec. 2014
By Rex - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Sociological study, therefore wordy. In true professorial style every major point is repeated at least four different ways, sometimes seven. But this does have some good points to make and should be enlightening to anyone curious about "those people" and their different take on culture. Perhaps a little much for those of us who are just people.
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