Recently, I started reading Wayne Hoffman’s novel, Hard. Since I haven’t finished it yet, I don’t want to review it or even write too much about it now. But it’s raised a couple of issues for me that I thought I’d record and reflect on here.

The novel is (partly) about Moe Pearlman, a New Yorker who is on a crusade to preserve his right/opportunity to engage in promiscuous sex in various venues as a conservative mayor (in league with another crusading gay man) works to shut down all of the bathhouses, sex clubs, and adult theaters where Moe indulges his desires. So, in sum, it’s a book about the ethics of gay sexual freedom in an age where AIDS still exists but in which its power to frighten gay men and restrict their sexual activities seems to have waned.

My first thought about the book is how it obviously responds to Larry Kramer’s Faggots, a 1978 novel that criticizes 1970s gay male promiscuity. Even a cursory search demonstrates that Kramer has a vexed reputation in the gay community. He is often dimissed as simply anti-sex. In reviewing Hard, Christopher Bram explicitly compares these two novels and repeats the usual criticism of Kramer and his novel. I have to admit that I love Faggots and now teach it annually in my GLBT Lit course. It’s definitely not a simple novel, nor is it simply anti-sex, in my opinion.

Thinking about the relationship between these two novels made me think about teaching Hoffman’s novel as a response to Kramer’s. I think these two books would work well together, with Angels in America spliced in between. Teaching these three works together would raise interesting issues about sexual freedom, responsibility, relationships, and AIDS, just to name a few. The biggest drawback might be that each of these works is a little long, so it might become difficult to schedule them without taking time away from the lesbian authors I’d also want to teach in the class. (But that’s not an issue I have to think about now.)

But I also started thinking about the fact that one of my first responses to this novel has been how much I’d like to write about the relationship between it and Faggots. I think I could write an interesting article on this subject, and I’ve already started doing a little research to help me think about it. But then “reality” set in: when would I have time to write this article? I’m supposed to be working on my book project. And when I finish it, I want to get cracking on the next one. When’s the right time to stop writing exclusively about 18th-century topics and start writing about contemporary queer ones?

One of the points/perks of having tenure is that I’m no longer on an institutionally imposed schedule. I don’t have to have another book done in a certain amount of time in order to keep my job, which is how one spends the first portion of one’s career as a professor: publish or perish. Now I have all the time in the world, at least in theory. I can take as long as I want to write the next book and seek promotion to full professor. Any deadline I have is now self-imposed. I want to be able to apply for promotion in 5 years, but, if I don’t finish until after then, it doesn’t really matter all that much. It will affect raises and will limit some other career possibilities, but I’ll still have my job, etc.

“When I get tenure … ” is a lot like “when I grow up ….” One fantasizes about what you’ll do once you have tenure, but now that it’s here, what should you really do? Build on one’s work in your traditional field? Branch out into queer(er) work? Become an administrator? Focus all of your efforts on teaching? I definitely want to write, even though my writing this quarter has been slow and painful. I also want to write the current two book projects. But I also want to take time every now and then to work on contemporary queer lit. At some point, I’m going to have to find some way to balance all of my desires or I’m going to start pulling my hair out (and I don’t have a lot to spare!).

Reading Hard and thinking about its relationship to Faggots has also gotten me thinking about my own sexual politics. Whose side am I on? On the one hand, I get (at least partially) Kramer’s argument that promiscuity for promiscuity’s sake is hollow and unfulfilling. Part of what I like about Faggots is its final call for brotherhood and connection between gay men. It reminds me of E. M. Forster’s call to “only connect” in Howards End. I think the position that sex should be about connecting is convincing in lots of ways. On the other hand, part of being “queer” is a reaction against heterosexual conventions, which reinforce patriarchal domination of women and men, gays and straights. The call to preserve gay men’s freedom to step outside conventional morality is also convincing in lots of ways. I feel like I stand somewhere between these two positions, but I’m not sure. I don’t think I have an articulated sexual politics. I doubt that this blog is exactly the place to make that articulation, but I can see that figuring out what I think about these issues is important for me as a gay man as well as for me as a scholar-teacher.

What do I want to be when I grow up?