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Peacocks, Chameleons, Centaurs

Gay Suburbia and the Grammar of Social Identity

What does it mean to be a gay man living in the suburbs? Do you identify primarily as gay, or suburban, or some combination of the two? For that matter, how does anyone decide what his or her identity is?

In this first-ever ethnography of American gay suburbanites, Wayne H. Brekhus demonstrates that who one is depends at least in part on where and when one is. For many urban gay men, being homosexual is key to their identity because they live, work, and socialize in almost exclusively gay circles. Brekhus calls such men "lifestylers" or peacocks. Chameleons or "commuters," on the other hand, live and work in conventional suburban settings, but lead intense gay social and sexual lives outside the suburbs. Centaurs, meanwhile, or "integrators," mix typical suburban jobs and homes with low-key gay social and sexual activities. In other words, lifestylers see homosexuality as something you are, commuters as something you do, and integrators as part of yourself.

Ultimately, Brekhus shows that lifestyling, commuting, and integrating embody competing identity strategies that occur not only among gay men but across a broad range of social categories. What results, then, is an innovative work that will interest sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and students of gay culture.

272 pages | 2 figures | 5 x 8 | © 2003

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Gay and Lesbian Studies

Psychology: Social Psychology

Sociology: Urban and Rural Sociology

Table of Contents

1 Gay Suburbanites: A Case Study in the Grammar and Microecology of Social Identity
2 "Everything about Me Is Gay": Identity Peacocks
3 "You Have to Drive Somewhere Just to Be Gay": Identity Chameleons
4 "Gay Defines Only a Small Part of Me": Identity Centaurs
5 Contested Grammars: Gay Identity Disputes
6 Shifting Grammars: Lifecourse Changes in and Structural Constraints on Identity Management
7 Vegan Peacocks, Christian Chameleons, and Soccer Mom Centaurs: Identity Grammar beyond Gay Identity
8 Duration Disputes: Identity Stability vs. Identity Mobility
9 Density Disputes: Identity Purity vs. Identity Moderation
10 Dominance Disputes: Identity Singularity vs. Identity Balance
11 Conclusion
Appendix: Grounded Theory and Analytic Fieldwork

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