After all, he's comparing a woman's alleged feelings during pregnancy to a man's response to getting fucked (we hear nothing about a woman's sexual pleasure). While Duvert incorporates a nuanced gender critique into many of his readings, he prioritizes male sexuality throughout the book, which ends up thwarting him in his overall mission of subverting the social order by encouraging the sexual freedom of all children.
David Halperin's What Do Gay Men Want? An Essay on Sex, Risk, and Subjectivity has a similar aim of moving conversations about sexuality (and sexual safety) away from standards of "healthy functioning" and "rational" or "irrational" behavior. Halperin seeks to champion queer cultural traditions over the judgments of psychology and the false dichotomy between risk and safety. (In a homophobic culture, what gay sexual behavior, after all, isn't risky?) In searching for a more comprehensive approach to gay male sexual splendor, Halperin revisits a vulnerable and challenging 1995 essay by Michael Warner in the Village Voice, "Unsafe: Why Gay Men Are Having Risky Sex," in which Warner at one point states that "abjection continues to be our dirty secret." If Warner talks about abjection as a sense of "dirtiness" due to societal condemnation, Halperin describes it as "an experiment with the limits of both destruction and survival, social isolation and social solidarity, domination and transcendence." In other words, "the more people despise you, the less you owe them, and the freer and more powerful you are." Halperin proposes, "Instead of worrying about the appeal of abjection to gay men, ... what we really should be doing is trying to think concretely about ... how to make it work for us."
It's a provocative idea, but unfortunately Halperin here departs from his methodical (and meticulously footnoted) analysis of safer sex strategies to endlessly circle around Warner's essay and certain passages from the writing of Jean Genet, resulting in a repetitive rhetorical jumble. To be sure, Halperin provides a few illuminating examples (including the writing of porn star Scott O'Hara and the brilliant and short-lived zine Diseased Pariah News), but What Do Gay Men Want? could certainly have benefited from an analysis of the wealth of queer world-making in the era of AIDS that has centered on the possibilities (and perils) of an embrace of outsider status the work of David Wojnarowicz, Samuel Delany, Derek Jarman, Gregg Bordowitz, Justin Chin, or Essex Hemphill, to name a few among innumerable possibilities. Or, perhaps, an analysis of Christopher Russell's photos, where the messiness of desire becomes landscape.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (www.mattildabernsteinsycamore.com) is the editor, most recently, of Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity.
By Christopher Russell
70 pages, $49.95
GOOD SEX ILLUSTRATED
By Tony Duvert; translated by Bruce Benderson
184 pages, $14.95 paper
WHAT DO GAY MEN WANT? AN ESSAY ON SEX, RISK, AND SUBJECTIVITY
By David M. Halperin
University of Michigan Press
176 pages, $22.95