Books by Gilbert Herdt

Released: June 30, 1993

A sure-to-be controversial volume on inducting self-professed homosexual teenagers into the gay and lesbian culture of the 1990's. Hackles rise merely at the idea that teenagers can know whether they prefer the same sex or the opposite. Adolescence is the age of experimentation, most people contend, one in which no decisions have been made. But Herdt (Human Development/University of Chicago; ed., Gay Culture in America, 1992, etc.) and Boxer (Psychiatry/University of Chicago), both of whom are gay, disagree, their findings based on two years spent interviewing teenagers at the Chicago-based Horizons center, which offers refuge for teens troubled about their sexual identities. The authors' interviews and questionnaires show that, in some cases, children as young as nine years old have the beginnings of a same-sex preference. As puberty arrives, some of these kids accept their homosexuality, while others deny it and struggle against their feelings. Horizons offers the support of peers and of gay and lesbian counselors, as well as an introduction to the gay and lesbian community. Herdt and Boxer describe that community in often tedious detail, including the geography of Chicago's gay neighborhoods; the history of homosexuals in the US; and the rituals and organizations—from political groups to choruses and sports teams—that help define a gay/lesbian culture. Most of the children who come to Horizons have kept their sexual orientation a secret except from a close friend or two, and they use the confidence they develop there to ``come out'' to families and at school. As the authors describe it, though, ``coming out'' is a continuing process, about ``the death and rebirth of a new self.'' Repetitious and sometimes academic-sounding, but still useful information about a new generation of gays who are coming out in the daylight and not in a closet or a dark and dangerous bar. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 10, 1992

Dedicated to ``the gay men and lesbians of American intellectual life''—a collection of generally scholarly essays that examine the status, behavior, and values of some segments of the gay community, emphasizing changes that have occurred since 1969's Stonewall Riot. Editor Herdt (Psychology/Univ. of Chicago) opens with a heavily documented essay, co-authored by Andrew Baxter, surveying the history of the gay community and the challenges it faces now that it is emancipated from the connotations of homosexuality as furtive and diseased. Using the anthropological perspective of his Guardians of the Flute (1980), Herdt describes in a follow-up essay the rites of passage of adolescent gays at Horizon Community Center in Chicago. Focusing on an older group in ``The Life and Death of Gay Clones,'' Martin P. Levine tests ``constructionist theories'' of ``social types,'' attributing the disappearance of the ``doped- up, sexed-out Marlboro Man'' of the 70's to the ``ethics of constraint and commitment'' that altered the rest of society. Assimilation as a theme appears in all the essays—in studies of subcultures in Los Angeles (E. Michael Gorman) and San Francisco (Stephen O. Murray), even in the sexual history of a Mexican- American (Joseph Carrier). Lamenting the lack of data, John L. Peterson avoids the use of the term ``gay'' in his study of black men with ``same sex desires,'' claiming that many black men act them out without becoming gay. And effeminate men are of little interest to any of the essayists, who find that bars, gay parades, coming-out, and AIDS are among the few distinguishing features of a once highly adversarial counterculture—one that, Herdt says, is as diverse as the rest of the population, responding to the same economic and political pressures, including the decline of casual sex. Overall, ponderous and dry (though Carrier's ``Miguel: Sexual Life History of a Gay Mexican American'' proves a notable exception). Read full book review >