Authors Explore Shame Within the Gay Movement

The narrative of the gay rights movement has been captured by literature as it has evolved through American history. Early on, the focus was on how the gay population has been physically beaten and ostracized by their families and friends. Gore Vidal’s book, The City and the Pillar, placed homosexuality as a sin that must be hidden from society. Such was the narrative for the Gay Rights movement during the majority of the 20th century. 

Literature is beginning to take another turn in the realm of gay fiction. Instead of focusing on the struggle between the homosexual human and society, authors are focusing on their personal struggle with themselves. This form of literature is often associated with the Gay Shame movement.

What Belongs to You By Garth Greenwell


The Gay Shame movement is meant to include homosexuals who have been left behind by the Gay Pride movement. Gay Shame, a book edited by Valerie Traub and David M. Halperin, points out that the movement is specific to “people with wrong bodies, sadomasochists, sex works, butch dykes, people of color, [and] boy-lovers.” They talk about how the Gay Pride movement has an informal rule to not discuss these individuals, but the Shame movement intends to reverse that.

As scholars of the Shame movement, Traub and Halperin, contributed to the movement with their series of essays’ called Beyond Gay Pride. The essays are critical to the gay pride movement because they argue that it focuses too much on pride and not enough on shame. Halperin and Traub write, “For the growing numbers of people who have come to feel alienated from gay pride…Gay Shame offers a refuge.”

Emphasis is placed on the amount of care that must go into handling issues of shame. Traub and Halperin claim that the “inquiry into the inner life of homosexuality will disclose elements they don’t like.” Going into these topics without fear of society’s reaction is what is important about this work. And that is exactly what these writers are achieving by “exploring any aspect of queer life, no matter how embarrassing or discreditable.”

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