by Jane Ward
NYU Press, 2015
Review by Hennie Weiss on Jul 7th 2015
In Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, author Jane Ward examines straight white men's sexual relationships with other men and how these sexual relationships are used to further authenticate and control notions of homosociality, whiteness, privilege, as well as heterosexuality. It is the context in which sexual encounters occur that are important to Ward and the messages about masculinity conveyed in these encounters. Rather than focusing so much on sexual orientation, or trying to unmask the feelings of these men, who position themselves as heterosexual yet engage in same-sex sexual behavior, Ward turns her attention to the ways in which certain organizations use homosexual sex acts to further men's investment in heterosexuality, hypermasculinty and homosociality in order to build lasting, strong bonds and friendships and to reassert white manhood. "I am not concerned with whether the men I describe in this book are "really" straight or gay, and I am not arguing that they (or that all men) are really homosexual or bisexual in their orientation. Instead, what I am arguing is that homosexual sex plays a remarkably central role in the institutions and rituals that produce heterosexual subjectivity, as well as in the broader culture's imagination of what it means for "boys to be boys"" (p. 33-34).
Ward starts with a historical look at the changes and development of homosexual sex between straight men, starting with the normalization of heterosexual sex (with the notion that it is no longer simply for procreation, but also recreation), and the distinctions between the terms fairy (an effeminate man) and trade (strong, masculine men), the hypermasculine bikers reflecting a counter culture in itself, to the white, religious politicians who engaged in same-sex sexual relationships, as well as the language and cultural significance placed on certain acts and descriptions of same-sex sexual encounters. As Ward provides the reader with significant historical descriptions of straight men's sex with other men, she also positions her own research within contemporary notions and theories of sex between men. Wade then digs deeper into how same-sex sexual acts between white men provide these men with notions of bonding, male friendships and how these sexual acts are positioned within these organizations but also within society. Ward therefore examines the casual encounters section on Craigslist and how these men search for a certain type of sex, the idealized subject of these men's desire (surfers, skaters, jocks and fraternity boys) resulting in "…the casual, nostalgic, and adventurous modes of white male bonding that facilitate, rhetorically, if not materially, not-gay homosexual contact" (p. 152). Ward also discusses hazing rituals in the military and on a website that promotes the sexual hazing of fraternity boys. Ward describes these hazing rituals as not purely sexual in manner, but as serving a greater purpose, namely "…the nexus of power and pleasure that undergirds hetero-masculinity more broadly" (p. 166).
Ward concludes the book by both re-capping and discussing the heterosexual/homosexual binary and heterosexual fluidity, what Ward describes as "not-gay homosexuality" (p. 192) and the ways in which "…straight homosexualities lay claim to their ostensibly ephemeral existence -- their presumably inconsequential, circumstantial, and non-identitarian nature -- through contrast with those "other" homosexualities, the "real" homosexualities deemed culturally and politically meaningful, hardwired, and subjectifying" (p. 192). In one sense, Ward argues that straight white men are the ones who classify both the notion of homosexuality and heterosexuality, how these terms apply, and under what circumstances, therefore creating a distinction between what both "not-gay" homosexuality and "real" homosexuality should look and feel like.
Ward writes in a manner that is honest and direct. The intended audience is presumably other scholars in queer studies, ge"nder studies, human sexuality, and men and masculinities, since the book is fairly theoretical and hinges upon many notions and theories related to these disciplines. Due to the fact that there are mature passages as well as mature pictures, the book is perhaps more suited for an adult reader.
© 2015 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.