‘Gay Shame’ edited by David M. Halperin & Valerie Traub

David M. Halperin and Valerie Traub’s anthology Gay Shame (University of Chicago Press) is an important new addition to the expanding discipline of Queer Studies and will be of interest to academics, activists, and anyone curious about theoretical analysis of our community.

This body of work grew directly out of a conference by the same name at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor in 2003, and is comprised of work by the academics, artists, and activists whose perspectives made that conference a success. In a way, the book allows readers the unique opportunity of gaining access not only to innovative ideas and theories, but also to the essence of a physical event they may not have attended.

Gay Shame is rooted in the ideas that since the birth of what most consider the modern gay rights movement at the 1969 Stonewall Riots, pride has been the “rallying point” for our community, and a political and academic force. In each of their articles, Halperin and Traub’s contributors question the binary of pride as good, and shame as bad.

Thus, the contributors challenge themselves and us as readers to question and explore the possibility that the modern LGBT rights movement’s push for acceptance, assimilation, and—they would argue—pride, results in a loss of something importantly queer as it attempts to eradicate shame.

Existing within the book are overarching questions that the editors present to readers in the introduction as the guiding premise for their work:

“What are the residual effects of shame on lesbian and gay subjectivity in the era of gay pride? What affirmative uses can be made of shame and related artifices, now that not all queers are condemned to live in shame? Are there important nonhomophobic values related to the experience of shame that gay pride does not or cannot offer us? Can we do things with shame that we cannot do with pride? …How does the possibility of reclaiming gay shame enable us to create new forms of community as well as new opportunities for inquiry into lesbian-gay-queer history and culture?  Is gay shame the new gay pride? Or does the turn to shame represent neither a rejection of pride nor a retooled version of it, but something else.”

Like any good theoretical text, the scholars in Gay Shame leave readers with more questions than answers.

One of the key strengths of Gay Shame was its awareness and interaction with other forms of marginalization, culture, and history.  Entire sections of the book are dedicated to exploring the ways in which pride and shame connected with race, gender and sexuality.  The book further explores queerness and disability as it intersects with discussions of shame, which as a reader I found particularly compelling.

In addition to the text itself, Gay Shame is accompanied by a DVD, which includes short films, performances, and ephemera from artists and community activism that brilliantly offers visual touchstones for readers as they make their way through the text.
Edited by David M. Halperin and Valerie Traub
The University of Chicago Press
9780226314389, $29.00, 408 pages.