Among recent books by gay men, defining gay male identity under the shadow of AIDS, these hard-edged essays stand out for their persisting faith in the redemptive power of self-determined sexual expressiveness. Hardy, a much published journalist and essayist in the gay community, died in a mountain-climbing accident before he could complete the seven essays assembled here. His friend, David Groff (formerly an editor with Crown), finished the book and edited it for publication. Hardy's unargued premise is that ‘' ‘gay' is the construction of identity through sexual relations." Out of this beginning, the themes of the essays unfold and the tone that characterizes them, reminiscent of Nietzsche, of tragic, iconoclastic heroism. For if gay identity is liberated homosexual desire, then AIDS has all but squashed it; hence the crisis of desire—really of identity—that supplies the title. How should gay men behave, especially the HIV-positive among them (which included Hardy), when a viral accident of nature undermines their identity? They can: protest and subvert the slow response of medical science to their plight (this response comes in the longest and least persuasive chapter); practice imaginatively reconceived safer sex; opt to die—if the virus has advanced too painfully far within them—as Hardy touchingly shows a friend do in Holland, where physician-assisted suicide is legal; work to memorialize themselves across time (the model for which, in Hardy's eyes, is not the AIDS quilt but annihilated, medieval French heretics, the Albigensians, whose memory still survives in southern France). What Hardy commends in all these choices is the free and self-determining spirit in which they are made. What does not pass muster is capitulations to ideas foreign and false to gay male identity, as Hardy conceives it, such as long-term relations patterned on heterosexual marriage or resigned acceptances of death. Readers should not be misled by the surface stridency of these essays, which plumb depths of vulnerability as universally human as they are distinctly gay.
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