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The Identity Bug: The Viral Effects of HIV, AIDs, and Gay Men

Robert Lipscomb, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation positions itself against the predominant identity-based discourse found in queer theory and LGBT studies by arguing that what is commonly codified as gay male identity in fact operates like a biological virus. To establish this claim—the significance of which ultimately lies in the argument that men having sex with men need to find ways of resisting their sexual actions’ reduction to an identity category—this dissertation first provides a genealogy of HIV and AIDS to demonstrate that they are separate phenomena. Second, this dissertation traces the history and implications of the terms gay and homosexual as well as engages the works of theorists such as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Bruce Bagemihl, José Esteban Muñoz, Leo Bersani, and David Halperin to illustrate that like AIDS, gay male identity operates in accordance with viral properties such as the ability to infect without the host’s knowledge, to reproduce itself with an utter disregard to the host’s health or well-being, and to thereby transform the host into a vector of transmission. Third, this dissertation turns to the role of literature, especially to works by James Baldwin and Scott Heim, to scrutinize the limitations of gay male identity as a framework or methodology for textual analysis. Next, revisiting Vito Russo’s filmography challenges his conclusions about the pedagogical role of homosexual representation in twentieth century cinema. In addition, an examination of the odd controversy surrounding the film Cruising reveals one instance where gay male identity overtook and obscured any alternate explanation or understanding of one film. Finally, this dissertation explores different genres including the graphic arts to investigate potential permutations of an immune responses to this identity virus. Overall, the significance of this dissertation’s core argument is the disquieting revelation that gay male identity is in fact an infectious “identity bug” that however seemingly benign nevertheless possesses the same harmful and destructive qualities associated with other contagions.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|LGBTQ studies

Recommended Citation

Lipscomb, Robert, "The Identity Bug: The Viral Effects of HIV, AIDs, and Gay Men" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10615420.