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What Do Gay Men Want?: An Essay on Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity Hardcover – August 21, 2007
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"Compelling, timely, and provocative. The writing is sleek and exhilarating. It doesn't waste time telling us what it will do or what it has just done - it just does it." - Don Kulick, Professor of Anthropology, New York University"
About the Author
David M. Halperin is W. H. Auden Collegiate Professor of the History and Theory of Sexuality, Professor of English, Professor of Women's Studies, Professor of Comparative Literature, and Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan.
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Top customer reviews
It was just as inspiring as other books I've read from you, including One Hundred Years.
Halperin totally fails to consider this desperation and feeling of powerlessness occurring among "First World" urban gay men, though I think that it occurs with some frequency. The desperation may be more psychological, less economic than for the sub-Saharan African women, but surely exists with some frequency. It was a Scandinavian AIDS researcher who suggested that the prime HIV-transmission risk was love.
While neglecting power imbalances, and not getting into the need to trust and/or the need to appear to trust the lover, Halperin follows Michael Warner in suggesting that sexual union may be an all-important project, that is, that putting other things ahead of one's ego and self-interest is fundamental. (Indeed, a great deal of literature focused on love involves lovers running risks -- particularly in coupling with those forbidden to the lover, such as Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guenivere.) Not only gay men want union when they have sex, rather than to be thinking about potential dangers and what others consider unsuitabilities in liaisons with the partner (the sex, race, class of the other being among the unsuitabilities).
Halperin seems to me reasonable in challenging the death-wish interpretation of seeking sexual abjection and in joining the challenge of the neoliberal conception of humans as hyper-cognitive, ever-calculating. Rather than gay men being uniquely deficient in rationality, the imputations of rationality to sexual conduct of persons of all sexual orientations is erroneous, and much HIV transmission-prevention intervention is deeply flawed (even without getting into the contempt for empirical evidence of much US-government-funded "education").
I think that the short book would have been better without the opening Freud/Foucault binary, and with a less sweeping title that indicates its narrow fous: maybe "What Do Gay Men Who Have Unprotected Intercourse Want?" The answer to that question that some have provided is suicide. Research in Australia, Scandinavia, and northern Europe (where empirical research on sex can be funded) has been that gay men (like others!) don't want to think about risks when "in the moment" and want pleasure and union that are at least interrupted by stopping and putting on a condom.
Before delving into French discourse about the ecstasies of abjection as lauded by some French virtuosi of abjection, Halperin noted that "it is our inflated conception of the intentional, cognitive subject that leads us to exaggerate both the culpable irresponsibility of our risk-taking behavior and the heroic transgressiveness of our defiance of social norms." This is a not-undeserved slap at those of us who romanticize a heritage of challenge to heteronormativity and at cherishing sexual dissidence (of which Genet, or at least Jean-Paul Sartre's "Saint Genet" is the epitome).
I think that Halperin -- building explicitly on work by Barry Adam, Kane Race, Eric Rofes, and others -- provides a sensible critique of much of the hysteria about gay men's irrational self-destructiveness. Way too much of the book is given over to exegesis of a fugitive piece from the Village Voice in 1995 by Michael Warner at a time when there was much hand-wringing about a "second wave" of HIV-infection among gay men. Warner's article is appended.