Margaret Mead Made Me Gay

Personal Essays, Public Ideas

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 23 photographs Published: November 2000

Author: Esther Newton

Contributor: Bill Leap

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies

Margaret Mead Made Me Gay is the intellectual autobiography of cultural anthropologist Esther Newton, a pioneer in gay and lesbian studies. Chronicling the development of her ideas from the excitement of early feminism in the 1960s to friendly critiques of queer theory in the 1990s, this collection covers a range of topics such as why we need more precise sexual vocabularies, why there have been fewer women doing drag than men, and how academia can make itself more hospitable to queers. It brings together such classics as “The Mythic Mannish Lesbian” and “Dick(less) Tracy and the Homecoming Queen” with entirely new work such as “Theater: Gay Anti-Church.”
Newton’s provocative essays detail a queer academic career while offering a behind-the-scenes view of academic homophobia. In four sections that correspond to major periods and interests in her life—”Drag and Camp,” “Lesbian-Feminism,” “Butch,” and “Queer Anthropology”—the volume reflects her successful struggle to create a body of work that uses cultural anthropology to better understand gender oppression, early feminism, theatricality and performance, and the sexual and erotic dimensions of fieldwork. Combining personal, theoretical, and ethnographic perspectives, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay also includes photographs from Newton’s personal and professional life.
With wise and revealing discussions of the complex relations between experience and philosophy, the personal and the political, and identities and practices, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay is important for anyone interested in the birth and growth of gay and lesbian studies.


Mead features fascinating diary entries chronicling Newton’s youthful realization she was gay. And if Newton’s book is academic, this is dream homework. . . . Newton brings a sense of urgency and easy eloquence to a discussion of the disciplinary problems she faces as an anthropologist.” — Heather Findlay , Girlfriends

“[Margaret Mead Made Me Gay] is honest, moving on the personal level and provocative on the academic level.” — Toni McNaron, Women's Review of Books

“[A] collection of highly readable, aways provocative essays.” — Michael Schwartz , Gay & Lesbian Review

“[G]roundbreaking. . . . Newton has contributed a brilliant collection that will enrich and promote the field of gender studies.” — B. Medicine , Choice

“This butch can write! Ranging from the witty and playful to the most seriously analytical, her prose is always precise, rich, felicitous, never marred by postmodern neologisms or other jargon. . . . Not only anthropologists, but historians, sociologists, and psychologists, all thos who value gay studies, will find much to delight and to ponder in this stimulating volume.” — Jeffrey M. Dickemann , CLGH Newsletter

“This collection of essays by cultural anthropologist Esther Newton can be considered an intellectual autobiography. . . . Always thought provoking and interesting, Newton never descends into the dryness of academic writing like many others, which makes it accessible to everyone.” — Lambda Book Report

“A welcome collection of Esther Newton’s research and personal essays . . . . This volume is both provocative and accessible enough to be used successfully in undergraduate courses on field methods, women’s movements, and gay and lesbian studies. It may also be a stimulating resource in a graduate course on professional socialization in anthropology or sociology. This book can serve as a compelling example of the epistemological complexities of feminist memoir projects. . . . Overall this book will be of benefit to anyone who is interested in queer and/or feminist ethnography . . . .” — Jane Ward, Gender & Society

“Courage and defiance are . . . qualities that mark Newton’s life and writing.” — Aaron Hamburger , New York Blade

“Newton takes the reader along as she forges a career; she began studying female impersonators in the mid-’60s, when no one else was, resulting in the book Mother Camp (1972). Margaret Mead Made Me Gay contains enough of that work to make a strong case for Newton as a pioneer of queer studies. It also includes the terrific, previously unpublished 1990s essay ‘Theater: Gay Anti-Church’ which freshly explores the cliché of stage-loving gays.” — Heather Joslyn , City Paper (Baltimore)

“Newton, one of the queer community’s most distinguished scholars and thinkers, has gathered together a wonderful collection of her writings from the past 30 years, fashioning them into an intellectual autobiography.” — , Front Page

“This collection—an intellectual genealogy of Newton’s work from the last 30 years—reveals the prescience and durability of her earliest writings. . . . Her newer pieces prove just as stimulating and vital.” — Publishers Weekly

“This new book contains all [Newton’s] shorter work in a single, knockout volume.” — Bradley Winterton , South China Morning Post

“Esther Newton is, quite simply, a pioneering figure in researching contemporary queer populations, as well as one of the most important voices in post WWII anthropology. We are very fortunate to finally have her essays assembled into an accessible collection. This anthology is an indispensable resource for anyone interested in late twentieth-century anthropology, feminism, gay and lesbian studies, gender and sexuality, and the social science of everyday life.” — Gayle Rubin

“Esther Newton’s work . . . has changed anthropology, feminist studies, and queer studies in remarkable ways. . . . Newton’s methodological innovation has less to do with crafting new empirical tools and more to do with a creative and inspired mode of listening and participating in the cultures she studies.” — from the Foreword by Judith Halberstam

“I was looking for any way out, some Mad Hatter to lead me down a rabbit hole into a world where I didn't have to carry a clutch purse and want to be dominated by some guy with a crew cut and no neck...So that when I read Coming of Age in Samoa, my senior year in college, I was, to put it mildly, receptive."” — from the Introduction by Esther Newton

“This is a wonderful collection. Newton is a powerful intellectual whose reflections on her own work not only illuminate her life but also the relation between the academy and the social movements of the last thirty years.” — Elizabeth L. Kennedy, author of Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Esther Newton is Professor of Anthropology and Kempner Distinguished Professor at State University of New York at Purchase. She is the author of several books, including Mother Camp, a groundbreaking study of American drag queens, and Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town. Among other distinctions, she was Scholarly Advisor for the documentary film Paris Is Burning, a founding member of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center, and member of the Advisory Group for Stonewall History Project.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword: The Butch Anthropologist Out in the Field / Judith Halberstam ix

Foreword: On Being Different: An Appreciation / William L. Leap xix

Acknowledgments xxiii

Introduction 1

Part I: Drag and Camp

From the Appendix to Mother Camp, Field Methods (1972) 11

Role Models (1972) 14

Preface to the Phoenix Edition of Mother Camp (1979) 30

Theater: Gay Anti-Church—More Notes on Camp (1992/1999) 34

Dick(less) Tracy and the Homecoming Queen: Lesbian Power and Representation in Gay Male Cherry Grove (1996) 63

Part II: Lesbian-Feminism

High School Crack-up (1973) 93

Marginal Woman/Marginal Academic (1973) 103

The Personal is Political: Consciousness Raising and Personal Change in the Women's Liberation Movement (Shirley Walton, 1971) 113

Excerpt from Womanfriends (with Shirley Walton, 1976) 142

Will the Real Lesbian Community Please Stand Up? (1982/1998) 155

Part III: Butch

The Misunderstanding: Toward a More Precise Sexual Vocabulary (with Shirley Walton, 1984) 167

The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyffe Hall and the New Woman(1984) 176

Beyond Freud, Ken, and Barbie (1986) 189

My Butch Career: A Memoir (1996) 195

Part IV: Queer Anthropology

DMS: The Outsider's Insider (1995) 215

Too Queer for College: Notes on Homophobia (1987) 219

An Open Letter to "Manda Cesara" (1980) 225

Of Yams, Grinders, and Gays: The Anthropology of Homosexuality (1988) 229

Lesbian and Gay Issues in Anthropology: Some Remarks to the Chairs of Anthropology Departments (1993) 238

My Best Informant’s Dress: The Erotic Equation in Fieldwork (1992) 243

Notes 259

Bibliography 293

Index 311
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Finalist, 2001 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Studies

Winner, 2001 2000, Ruth Benedict Award (SOLGA)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2612-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2604-5
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