Being gay: politics, identity, pleasure

Winter 1989

Bristow looks at questions of gay identity in relation to the identity politics of other minority and/or oppressed groups, considering works by Jeffrey Weeks, Simon Watney and Stuart Hall. He acknowledges that gay identity is seen primarily as white, middle-class and urban, as well as consumerist. He looks at two core texts: Neil Bartlett’s Who Was That Man?, which compares the lifestyle of Oscar Wilde with a gay man’s experiences in the same location a hundred years later, and Alan Hollinghurst’s novel The Swimming-Pool Library, which he argues deploys gay stereotypes in ways which may be problematic. He considers the extent to which gay identity may be secret and coded rather than overt, and how butch gay identities (involving moustaches and leather jackets, for example) appropriate straight style. Discussing Susan Sontag’s work on camp, Bristow looks at the pleasures of identity play, camp and sado-masochism as aspects of contemporary gay identity.

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