David M. Halperin

David M. Halperin

David M. Halperin (born April 2, 1952) is an American theorist in the fields of gender studies, queer theory, critical theory, material culture and visual culture. He is the cofounder of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.


Early life and education

David Halperin was born on April 2, 1952, in Chicago, Illinois.[1][2] He graduated from Oberlin College and received his PhD in Classics and Humanities from Stanford University in 1980.[1][2][3]


From 1981 to 1996, he served as Professor of Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1][2] From 1996 to 1999, he was a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of New South Wales.[1][2] He is currently W. H. Auden Collegiate Professor of the History and Theory of Sexuality at the University of Michigan, where he is also Professor of English, women’s studies, comparative literature, and classical studies.[2][3] In 1991, he co-founded the academic journal GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and served as its editor until 2006.[2][4]

He has been a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome and a Fellow at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, as well as a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra, and at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University.[2] In 2008-2009, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship.[2] He received the Michael Lynch Service Award from the Gay and Lesbian Caucus at the Modern Language Association, as well as the Distinguished Editor Award from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals.[2] In 2011-2012, he received the Brudner Prize at Yale University.[5]

Halperin is openly gay.[6] In 1990, he launched a campaign to oppose the presence of the ROTC on the MIT campus, on the grounds that it discriminated against gay and lesbian students.[7] That same year, he received death threats for his gay activism.[8][9] In 1992, he was accused of sexually harassing a male assistant professor, Theoharis C. Theoharis, in his department at MIT.[10][11][12] In 2003, the Michigan chapter of the American Family Association tried to ban his course entitled 'How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation.'[13] In 2010, he wrote an open letter to Michigan's 52nd Attorney General Mike Cox to denounce the homophobic harassment of one of his staffer, Andrew Shirvell, towards a student, Chris Armstrong.[14]

Evaluations of Halperin's work

Halperin uses the method of genealogy to study the history of homosexuality. He argues that Aristophanes' speech in Plato's Symposium does not indicate a "taxonomy" of heterosexuals and homosexuals comparable to modern ones.[15] According to Simon LeVay, Halperin believes that "Aristophanes did not recognize a category of homosexual people, but only the separate categories of men-loving men and women-loving women" and that he "divided men-loving men into two independent 'sexualities' - the love of youths for adult men and the love of adult men for youths."[16]

LeVay writes that Halperin's One Hundred Years of Homosexuality, "...encapsulates, in its very title, the notion that homosexuality was brought into existence by the invention, in the late nineteenth century, of the word used to define it." LeVay argues against such views, commenting that "It seems to me quite artificial to make the existence of homosexuality dependent on the coinage of a term to describe it." In his view, people can formulate the concept of homosexuality without the word, and even the ability to formulate the concept is irrelevant to the existence or nonexistence of homosexuality. LeVay concludes that, "Social constructivists, particularly of the 'strong' variety represented by Halperin, seem to want to replace consciousness with self-consciousness, and a highly linguistic self-consciousness at that."[16]

LeVay finds Halperin's interpretation of Aristophanes' speech in the Symposium "strained", since "the two kinds of love are represented by Aristophanes as being different stages of a single life course."[16] John Boswell similarly notes that while Halperin stresses the age differential, "the creatures described by Aristophanes must have been seeking a partner of the same age, since, joined at birth, they were coeval."[15]

Edward Stein writes that Halperin admits that a constructionist view of sexual orientation would be proven false if it could be shown that people's sexual orientations are innate.[17]

Accusations of plagiarism

Didier Eribon demanded that his name be withdrawn as a recipient of the Brudner prize because he did not want to be associated with Halperin, who won the Brudner for his book What Do Gay Men Want? and who Eribon accused of plagiarizing Eribon's work, Une morale du minoritaire.[18][19][20] According to the French newspapers, Halperin has not yet responded to Eribon's claims.


  • Before Pastoral: Theocritus and the Ancient Tradition of Bucolic Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983)
  • Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, edited with John J. Winkler and Froma I. Zeitlin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990)
  • One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and other essays on Greek Love (New York: Routledge, 1990)
  • The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, edited with Henry Abelove and Michele Aina Barale (New York: Routledge, 1993)
  • Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)
  • How to Do the History of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002)
  • What Do Gay Men Want? (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007)
  • Gay Shame, edited with Valerie Traub (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)
  • How To Be Gay (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, forthcoming)


  1. ^ a b c d NNDB profile
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Guggenheim biography
  3. ^ a b Faculty webpage
  4. ^ David M. Halperin, How to Do the History of Homosexuality, paperback, University of Chicago Press, 2004, backcover
  5. ^ Brudner Prize announcements
  6. ^ "International Conference of Asian Queer Studies". http://apq.anu.edu.au/qas/qas-fullprogram.pdf. Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  7. ^ Peter R. Silver, 'MIT Students Criticize ROTC', in The Harvard Crimson, March 17, 1990 [1]
  8. ^ Jeremy Hylton, 'Halperin receives death threats', in The Tech, Volume 110, Issue 54, November 30, 1990 [2]
  9. ^ Samuel Jay Keyser, 'Campus harassment legal but hurtful', Volume 111, Issue 3, February 8, 1991 [3]
  10. ^ Fox Butterfield, 'Suit Depicts Fight on MIT Faculty', in The New York Times, 05-04-92 [4]
  11. ^ Sarah Y. Keightley, 'Wolff Claims Harassment by Literature Professors', in The Tech, Volume 112, Issue 22, April 24, 1992 [5]
  12. ^ Sarah Y. Keightley, 'Wolff Alleges Professional, Sexual Harassment, Settles Out of Court', in The Tech, January 29, 1993, [6]
  13. ^ Gay Class Causes Culture Clash, on Fox News, August 18, 2003 [7]
  14. ^ Dr David Halperin, 'An Open Letter: Dear Attorney General', in The Michigan Daily, September 19, 2010 [8]
  15. ^ a b John Boswell (1991). Duberman, Martin Bauml. ed. Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. London: Penguin Books. pp. 25. ISBN 0-14-014363-7. 
  16. ^ a b c LeVay, Simon (1996). Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. pp. 56, 297. ISBN 0-262-12199-9. 
  17. ^ Stein, Edward (1998). The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 103, 352. 
  18. ^ "Affaire de plagiat: Didier Eribon rend son Brudner Prize" (in French). Le nouvel Observateur. May 26, 2011. http://bibliobs.nouvelobs.com/actualites/20110525.OBS3900/affaire-de-plagiat-didier-eribon-rend-son-brudner-prize.html. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  19. ^ Alfeef, Emmanuelle (May 27, 2011). "Didier Eribon s'estime plagié et ne veut plus de son Brudner Prize" (in French). L'Express. http://www.lexpress.fr/culture/livre/didier-eribon-s-estime-plagie-et-ne-veut-plus-de-son-brudner-prize_996941.html. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  20. ^ Martet, Christophe (May 26, 2011). "Affaire de plagiat: Didier Eribon rend son Brudner Prize de l’université de Yale" (in French). Yagg. http://yagg.com/2011/05/26/affaire-de-plagiat-didier-eribon-rend-son-brudner-prize-de-luniversite-de-yale/. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 

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