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Writing Desire

Sixty Years of Gay Autobiography

Bertram J. Cohler

Publication Year: 2007

     Exploring nearly sixty years of memoir and autobiography, Writing Desire examines the changing identity of gay men writing within a historical context. Distinguished scholar and psychoanalyst Bertram J. Cohler has carefully selected a diverse group of ten men, including historians, activists, journalists, poets, performance artists, and bloggers, whose life writing evokes the evolution of gay life in twentieth-century America. 
     By contrasting the personal experience of these disparate writers, Cohler illustrates the social transformations that these men helped shape. Among Cohler's diverse subjects is Alan Helms, whose journey from Indiana to New York's gay society represents the passage of men who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, when homosexuality was considered a hidden "disease." The liberating effects of Stonewall's aftermath are chronicled in the life of Arnie Kantrowitz, the prototypical activist for gay rights in the 1970s and the founder the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation. The artistic works of Tim Miller and Mark Doty evoke loss and shock during of the early stages of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Cohler rounds out this collective group portrait by looking at the newest generation of writers in the Internet age via the blog of BrYaN, who did the previously unthinkable: he "outed" himself to millions of people. 
     A compelling mix of social history and personal biography, Writing Desire distills the experience of three generations of gay America.
Finalist, LGBT Studies, Lambda Literary Foundation

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

This is a book about lives and life stories. It is also a book about the times in which lives are lived. It is particularly a book about the lives of ten men seeking sex with other men who were born across six decades, from the 1930s through the 1980s. Men born before World War II do not like to describe...

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Life Writing about Gay Desire

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pp. 3-24

Stories of our lives both reflect and constitute what we call our “self.” As psychologist Jerome Bruner (2002) observes, we strive to maintain a sense of our personal continuity over our lifetime. The very concept of our self is comprised of the story we tell about ourselves and explains our wishes, ...

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Born in the Thirties: Coming of Age in the Fifties

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pp. 25-63

For the cohort of men born in the 1930s, reaching young adulthood in the 1950s meant coming to adulthood at a time of both unprecedented prosperity in the postwar era and also pronounced focus on conventionality in personal and social life. For men and women aware of their homoerotic...

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Born in the Forties: Finding a Voice

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pp. 64-102

The decade of the 1960s marks a turning point in American history. There was a sense of renewed energy and social commitment marked by the Kennedy inauguration and the idealization of Camelot in Washington. Kennedy’s command, “ask what you can do for your country,” fostered a...

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Born in the Fifties: The Gay Revolution

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pp. 103-134

Psychologist Walt Odets has provided a detailed and painful view of life in the 1980s when the generation born in the 1950s had been able to attain some measure of satisfaction with their adult lives as gay men. The ’50s generation may have suffered the most egregious losses from AIDS, and...

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Born in the Sixties: Living Easier with Homosexuality

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pp. 135-157

The early 1980s was a difficult time for the still fragile gay rights movement. Heavily supported by the Religious Right, Ronald Reagan had just been elected president. Reagan himself had none of Jimmy Carter’s ambivalence regarding gay issues. He was a practical man who as governor of...

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Born in the Seventies and Eighties: Postmodern Memoirs

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pp. 158-214

It has never been clear why Bill Clinton chose to make the issue of gays being able to serve in the military one of his first priorities upon assuming office in 1991. What is clear is that the controversy regarding gay life was brought to national attention. Gay life-writer Scott Peck, author of...

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pp. 215-225

Concern with the interplay of life story and historical and social change has assumed a preeminent place in the study of lives. Reviewing the selflife writing of men born across six successive generations or cohorts from the 1930s to the 1980s, it is clear that social change has had a dramatic impact...


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pp. 227-240


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pp. 241-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780299222031
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299222048

Publication Year: 2007