David Halperin was born on April 2, 1952, in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1973, having studied abroad at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in 1972-1973. He received his PhD in Classics and Humanities from Stanford University in 1980.
In 1977, he served as Associate Director of the Summer Session of the School of Classical Studies at the American Academy in Rome. From 1981 to 1996, he served as Professor of Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1994, he taught at the University of Queensland, and in 1995 at Monash University. From 1996 to 1999, he was a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of New South Wales. 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.
In 1991, he co-founded the academic journal GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and served as its editor until 2006. His work has been published in the Journal of Bisexuality, Identities: Journal for Politics, Gender and Culture, Journal of Homosexuality, Michigan Feminist Studies, Michigan Quarterly Review, Representations, the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, Ex Aequo, UNSW Tharunka, Australian Humanities Review, Sydney Star Observer, The UTS Review, Salmagundi, Blueboy, History and Theory, Diacritics, American Journal of Philology, Classical Antiquity, Ancient Philosophy, Yale Review, Critical Enquiry, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Notes & Queries, London Review of Books, Journal of Japanese Studies, Partisan Review, and Classical Journal.
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. In 2008-2009, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. 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. In 2011-2012, he received the Brudner Prize at Yale University.
Some of Halperin's work and activism is informed by his own experiences and his (homo)sexuality. 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. That same year, he received death threats for his gay activism. In 2003, the Michigan chapter of the American Family Association tried to ban his course entitled 'How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation.' 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.
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.
Edward Stein writes that Halperin reckons that a constructionist view of sexual orientation would be proven false if it could be shown that people's sexual orientations are innate.
The debate between 'biological determinist' and 'social constructionist' views of gender and sexuality is well documented. And Halperin's work has been praised as an excellent contribution to that debate, from the social construction 'side'. Mark Simpson wrote in Out Magazine in 2009:
'As the brilliant sexual historian David Halperin puts it in his book ‘How To Do the History of Male Homosexuality’ (2002), pre-homosexual discourses referred to only one of the sexual partners: the “active” partner in the case of sodomy, the effeminate male or masculine female in the case of inversion. ‘The hallmark of “homosexuality”…’ he writes, ‘is the refusal to distinguish between same-sex sexual partners or to rank them by treating one of them as more (or less) homosexual than the other.’'
In 2010 the Lambda (LGBT) Literary organisation reviewed Halperin's 2009 publication Gay Shame:
'One of the key strengths of Gay Shame was its awareness and interaction with other forms of marginalization, culture, and history. Entire sections of the book are dedicated to exploring the ways in which pride and shame connected with race, gender and sexuality.'
David M. Halperin, 1992, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1121474)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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