Kirkus Reviews QR Code
GAY CULTURE IN AMERICA by Gilbert Herdt

GAY CULTURE IN AMERICA

Essays From the Field

By Gilbert Herdt

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1992
ISBN: 0-8070-7914-6
Publisher: Beacon

 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).