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Terry Goldie’s queersexlife is a bare-all sex memoir, sort of

Book examines attitudes towards gender and sexuality, with a glimpse of the author's life

Radically compressed into the tiny space of a personals ad, Terry Goldie could appear like this:

“Tall Caucasian male vegetarian, 57, open-minded. Professional scholar, total btm, not butch; occasionally into drag, toys, bathhouse sex, dark-skinned men, fisting, women. Wary of labels, but a 5 3/4 on the Kinsey scale.”

From the autobiography of such a complex individual, readers might expect an entertaining tell-all or a provocative dance of self-revelation. After all, the man’s rich assortment of experiences through the Sexual Liberation and AIDS decades hints at a wealth of material any memoir-hungry audience would value.

An English professor at York University since 1988, Goldie is decidedly not a storyteller for the masses.

Unlike bestselling gay memoirs like Aidan Shaw’s My Undoing and Augusten Burroughs’s Running with Scissors — or, locally, philosophically-inclined efforts from Stan Persky (Then We Take Berlin) and Daniel Gawthrop (The Rice Queen Diaries) — Goldie’s queersexlife: Autobiographical Notes on Sexuality, Gender and Identity (Arsenal Pulp Press $19.95) places snippets of autobiography within a larger context: a vast web of sociology, feminism, psychoanalysis, literary theory and historical research.

So while readers are allowed to glimpse scenes from the author’s life — learning of, for example, Goldie’s childhood in small town Saskatchewan, and his father (a man “at times literally sickened by my appearance”) and mother (a woman possessing a “how-not-to-bring-up-a-gay-son agenda”) — the final emphasis is on making sense of cultural attitudes towards gender and sexuality via a library’s worth of research by eminent scholars.

If the final result cannot be labelled a beach book, it is both stimulating and challenging.

In chapters with shock-value titles like “I Never Took It Up the Ass” and “There is No Such Thing as a Bisexual,” Goldie ably discusses a variety of entwined topics, ranging from bisexuality and effeminacy to racism and anal sex. And despite those daring, in-your-face chapter titles, his ideas provoke thought rather than outrage.

Scanning Goldie’s bibliography — a list of 219 books and articles with such heady titles as “Dildonics, Dykes and the Detachable Masculine” and “Biopia: Bisexuality and the Crisis of Visibility in the Queer Symbolic” — a reader might be tempted to conclude that the author feels greater comfort wrangling with abstract ideas than with bare-all personal exposure. That would be the wrong conclusion.

Speaking from his fog-shrouded summer home in Newfoundland, Goldie explains the origins and goals of his book: “Telling about my own life wasn’t really my starting point. Academics tend to write in a distant fashion, and I’ve always found it frustrating to read sexuality studies and not understand where the authors are coming from. I like to think of my book as an introspective look at sexuality studies.”

It’s also introspective in a secondary way, Goldie notes. “At times I do things or believe things without thinking, and I wanted to explore that.”

The introductory chapter of queersexlife offers another perspective about the book. Goldie writes, “I am under no delusion that my life is sufficiently unusual to justify an autobiography.”

During our interview, Goldie adds, “It’s true, I’ve not lived a terribly interesting life. But it’s been a phenomenally open one.

“Also, it’s hard to write a memoir without including others. I fear that I’d have trouble writing one without being unfair to other people. Even now I cringe at times thinking about what I said of others.”

He concludes slyly, “With this book, though, I can wallow in my own opinion and it seems appropriate. And it’s always interesting to analyze why we do what we do.”

Beyond surveying many years worth of learned opinion about sexuality, gender and identity, in queersexlife Goldie engages in critical assessments, commenting here and there, on racism, homophobia and sexism as well as the widespread human tendency to think in narrow or restrictive categories.

It’s possible in fact to detect in Goldie’s writing a strain of utopianism, or at least the desire to make the world a better, more inclusive place. Goldie agrees, seeing in his survey of academic research a means for readers to interrogate — and possibly reconfigure — their own views about and responses to sexuality, selfhood and gender.

“In just 40 years we have moved far away from being an incredibly homophobic culture in which it was difficult to function as a gay man,” he states. “Within my lifetime gay has transformed from a ‘secret handshake’ existence to a diffuse culture that’s nearly always visible and accessible. Still, we should, I think, recognize more diffusion.

“Maybe we don’t use enough categories; or we let them get too rigid. We certainly have the space for more alternatives. I’d like to see more fluidity and greater diffusion. There are many groups moving us in that direction, the work of transgender activists being a good example.

“I’m not an absolute sexual liberationist, but I’m pretty close,” Goldie observes.

With queersexlife he will encourage readers to broaden their cultural understandings of sexuality and thoroughly question numerous whys and hows that they might have otherwise taken for granted.

And he utilizes his own life’s experiences as evidence to be examined. “I read tons of stuff, and put it through my mental meat grinder,” he says. “I dissected the material, but also dissected myself because I was interested in seeing what makes gay men tick.”