The University of Wisconsin Press


Autobiography / Gay & Lesbian Studies / American Studies


Writing Desire
Sixty Years of Gay Autobiography
Bertram J. Cohler

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor



"A fascinating exploration of how time and place have shaped both the writing and the reading of six generations of gay men's life stories."
—Henry L. Minton, author of Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America

Exploring nearly sixty years of memoir and autobiography, Writing Desire examines the changing identity of gay men writing within a historical context. Distinguished scholar and psychoanalyst Bertram J. Cohler has carefully selected a diverse group of ten men, including historians, activists, journalists, poets, performance artists, and bloggers, whose life writing evokes the evolution of gay life in twentieth-century America.

By contrasting the personal experience of these disparate writers, Cohler illustrates the social transformations that these men helped shape. Among Cohler's diverse subjects is Alan Helms, whose journey from Indiana to New York's gay society represents the passage of men who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, when homosexuality was considered a hidden "disease." The liberating effects of Stonewall's aftermath are chronicled in the life of Arnie Kantrowitz, the prototypical activist for gay rights in the 1970s and the founder of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation. The artistic works of Tim Miller and Mark Doty evoke loss and shock during the early stages of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Cohler rounds out this collective group portrait by looking at the newest generation of writers in the Internet age via the blog of BrYaN, who did the previously unthinkable: he "outed" himself to millions of people.

A compelling mix of social history and personal biography, Writing Desire distills the experience of three generations of gay America.


Bertram J. Cohler (1938-2012) was the William Rainey Harper Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Cohler has published widely on gay life in America and is coauthor of The Course of Gay and Lesbian Lives: Social and Psychoanalytic Perspectives.

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The cover of Writing Desire is dark, with photo of two men walking through a tunnel in a park.

May 2007

LC: 2006031470 CT
264 pp.   6 x 9

Book icon Paper $24.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-22204-8
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ISBN 978-0-299-22203-1
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The cloth edition, ISBN 978-0-299-22200-0, is out of print.


"Illuminates the challenges of successive generations of gay men and also explores more broadly how people experience, understand, and write about their lives. Empathic and analytic, it is also a gripping read."
—Ruthellen Josselson, author of The Space between Us

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