Toronto
3 min

A slow torturous death

This rambling mess of a book has some redeeming qualities

I'M MELTING! How fluid is your identity lately? Credit: John Webster

The end of gay is nigh.



In the opening of Bert Archer’s new book, The End Of Gay (And The Death Of Heterosexuality), Archer recounts his run ins with a series of straight men with whom he had sex (or who admitted to being homo curious). These men, in Archer’s opinion, aren’t closeted gay men, or even bi. They are adventurous – adventurous in a way that Archer hopes to be and in way most other homosexuals refuse to be.



Through introspection, Archer discovers that, indeed, he is more adventurous, that his sexuality is fluid and includes women.

Archer then sets out to spread the good news with messianic zeal. Archer states that any homo who thinks they cannot be turned on by the opposite sex is deceiving themselves.



To bolster that claim, Archer presents a number of grand propositions: That our gay identity is a relatively recent social phenomenon, that it’s outlived its usefulness (you know, all that equal rights stuff) and it is now limiting people’s perceptions and desires – especially those of homos.



“Where mainstream sexuality is getting ever broader and diverse,” Archer writes, “gay is getting crystallized, left behind. It’s become sacrosanct, with stickers affixed by gay watchdogs agencies warning not to bend, spindle or molest.”



But we are on a historical cusp, he feels; our monolithic gay identity is beginning to break up. The next millennium will be one where everyone will look at anyone as a potential sexual partner. There will be no more homosexuals nor heterosexuals, just a variety of sex acts.



Now, don’t worry. Fags and dykes are not about to start hanging his and hers towels in their bathrooms anytime soon.



Archer’s curious assemblage of autobiography, history, philosophy and pop culture adds little to the discussion of homosexuality as a social construct or to the notion that people are inherently bisexual.



If, as one historian has said, writing history is like nailing Jell-O to a wall, The End Of Gay shows what happens when you don’t let ideas gel. Without any evident structure, it’s a rambling mess of a book – though not without its redeeming qualities. There are many rewards hidden amongst all the false starts and dead ends.



Archer, a former book columnist with Xtra and Now, a former editor at Quill And Quire (the Canadian literary mag) and, currently, a columnist with Fab, is well versed in literature and pop culture and he has a keen, synthesizing brain. The best bits are when he discusses the mindset behind the film Cruising, for example, or the appeal of Madonna, or how Paul Monette’s writing compares to that of Pu Yi, China’s last emperor.



In addition, his first person accounts – like interviewing a precocious Kate Bornstein in her hotel room – can be evocative and touching.



With many colourful turns of phrases, his writing style is breezy and a welcome break from much cultural theorizing. Problem is, Archer is no historian (he baldly dismisses intellectual and social historian Michel Foucault, seemingly unaware that Foucault and he agree) and even less a philosopher (his “Cartesian” proof of universal bisexuality is laughable).



His survey of gay history attempts comprehensiveness, but there are glaring omissions, especially in the sections on the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, there’s no mention of the increasing influence of Darwin and social biology (used, for example, to justify the second-class status of colonized peoples and women), nor is there any discussion of the professionalization of science, especially medicine, nor is there talk of secularism nor of changing relations between men and women… all crucial in building a case for the construction of homosexuality.



His section on World War II and the post-war era is better. Archer effectively outlines the forces shaping an emerging gay community, where collective repression during and after the war created a collective response, a class consciousness as it were, a gay identity.

There’s also a good stuff on the life and research of Alfred Kinsey, who Archer depicts as a bisexual entomologist and whose 1948 study revolutionized the way the west thought about sex (in ways often diverging from Kinsey’s reported findings).



But these chapters are followed by a rather pedestrian discussion of why biological explanations for homosexuality are bogus and why science, in general, is suspect.



The final section contains all too brief discussions of such intriguing developments as role playing in Internet sex and SM – all much more pertinent to Archer’s laudable objective of getting people to expand their sexual (and other) playing fields.



If this book were half its length or if Archer had stuck to analyzing current pop cultural trends, The End Of Gay would have been much stronger. As it stands, I’d only recommend it to the librarian at the Reading Gaol.

The End Of Gay.
By Bert Archer.
Doubleday Canada.
310 pages. $29.95