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What Is Gay Style?


The 'New York Times' highlights the continual importance of gay culture and 'style' in our society's critiques and self-consideration.

Image Courtesy of Xander Gaines

In the swaths of pride-related reporting by mainstream media, the Timesweighed in yesterday on the question of gay male culture: Why so many people want to declare it dead, and, essentially what gay culture means in a society that is rapidly on its way to accepting queer people as "normal."

"Does the possibility of a distinct gay culture express the notion, now scandalous, that gay men might be different from other people? Does it challenge the myths of gay assimilation and gay ordinariness?" asks University of Michigan professor David M. Halperin, author of the forthcoming How to Be Gay.

Halperin's answer is yes, and that culture is more than " just a superficial affectation," but "an expression of difference through style."

The good professor goes on to quote Susan Songtag, "Whenever speech or movement or behavior or objects exhibit a certain deviation from the most direct, useful, insensible mode of expression or being in the world, we may look at them as having a 'style."

The question we should therrfore ask about gay style, says Halperin, is "what its refusal of canonical masculinity achieves and what it enables its practitioners, straight or gay, to do."

Breaking down the heady stuff behind understand what "style" is -- different from the content of a partiuclar meme -- is no easy task, but Halperin makes a valienty effort to show how it is the "intervention gay culture makes in the world it is given." In other words, we take in all aspects of our society, often ahead of those more settled and comfortable with the status quo, and process them a way that challenges and questions all of what we're seeing. In Halperin's words, we "perform a sly and profound critique of what passes for normal." Amen to that.

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