Last updated on: 2/3/2012 | Author:

David M. Halperin, PhD Biography

W.H. Auden Distinguished University Professor of the History and Theory of Sexuality at the University of Michigan
Not Clearly Pro or Con to the question "Is Sexual Orientation Determined at Birth?"

“As a cultural practice and an identity, being gay is a social experience in the same way that being American, or middle class, or Chicano is a social experience. It’s neither a natural condition nor an individual peculiarity, but a collective phenomenon, a consequence of social belonging. But that doesn’t mean it’s a choice. I could even say it’s the way you’re born—in the sense that if you’re born and raised in America, you inevitably become an American, of one sort or another, whether you want to become an American or not. And your subjective life, your instincts and intuitions, will necessarily be shaped by your being an American, by your connectedness to American culture. But this doesn’t mean there’s a gene that causes you to have an American subjectivity, or a gland in your brain that makes you American…

By insisting that homosexuality is a social form of being, I do not mean to imply that homosexuality is something learned, or that people acquire a homosexual orientation because they are taught to be gay by others—’recruited,’ as it were, into the ‘gay lifestyle.’ I am not talking here about what causes either homosexuality or heterosexuality, any more than I am talking about the European discovery and colonization of America—the process that eventually produced an American national identity. I’m speaking about the way males who already are homosexual, like people who are already born and raised in America, come to acquire a particular social identity, with a distinctive consciousness, a set of cultural practices, and a resulting subjectivity. The process by which people become American is pretty well known, even if the details merit further study. The process by which people become gay is less well known, which is why it’s worth investigating.”

How to Be Gay, 2012

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • W.H. Auden Distinguished University Professor of the History and Theory of Sexuality, University of Michigan
  • Recipient, Brudner Prize, Yale University, 2011
  • Fellow, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 2008
  • Former Fellow, Society for the Humanities, Cornell University
  • Former Fellow, Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University (Canberra)
  • Former Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center
  • Former Rome Prize Fellow, American Academy in Rome
  • Former Fellow, University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities, 2002-2003
  • Honorary Professor of Sociology, University of New South Wales, 1996-2006
  • Lecturer, Sociology, University of New South Wales (Canberra, Australia), 1996-1999
  • Cofounding Editor, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 1991-2006
  • Professor of Literature, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 1979-1996
  • PhD, Classics and Humanities, Stanford University, 1980
  • BA, Oberlin College, 1973
  • In 2011, French author Didier Eribon returned his 2008 Brudner Prize to Yale University in protest of David Halperin being given the 2011 prize. Eribon stated in his letter to the Brudner Prize committee that Halperin “shamefully plagiarized my work.”
  • In 2000, Halperin’s “How to Be Gay” class helped spur a movement by the Michigan legislature to reduce state funding to the University of Michigan if it offered classes that promoted a lifestyle besides heterosexual monogamy. The vote failed by four votes.
  • In 1992, a literature professor at MIT alleged in a lawsuit against the university that Halperin had demanded that a professor be hired because he was in love with him. In a news story by the New York Times News Service, Halperin acknowledged that he did say that he was in love with the professor, but he did not mean “we should hire him because I was in love with him.”
  • In 1990, Halperin received death threats related to his involvement in gay and lesbian issues.