Sun, May 08, 2011 - Page 14 News List

Book review: Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, by Niobe Way

Niobe Way presents an important exploration of how young people’s same-sex relationships affect society

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing Reporter

Her older interviewees, for example, have got into the habit of adding “no homo” to many of their statements about their same-sex friendships, or lamented lack of them, meaning that no gay imputation should be put on their remarks. In their innocence, none of them had felt the need to say this three years earlier.

But she also suggests that US girls may themselves be partly to blame. Is it they, she wonders, who are behind the pressure on their boyfriends to become aggressive fighters, macho sports players, and eventually the wild animals of the money markets? (This last manifestation, I must admit, is mine, not hers).

The wider context of this book is a general move in the academic world to question the aggressiveness of the North American male, and to break the common association of literacy, artistic interests, and sensitivity in human relations in general with concepts of “feminine” and “queer.” The author even quotes her father as having advised her, if she wanted to see the US male adolescent in perspective, to go and take a look at China.

Deep Secrets, then, tells a story of American teenagers in baggy jeans and T-shirts, with a basketball under the arm, expressing extraordinary sensitivity and tenderness about their same-sex friends, and expecting the same in return. The disappearance of this gentle world, it seems, scars them for life, and appears to do extensive damage to the culture at large.

There are many parallels in English literature, largely ignored here. Robert Graves’ account in Good-Bye to All That (1929) of his intense friendship at school with someone he calls “David” is only one. Such friendships were a common theme in late-Victorian and Edwardian UK school stories before consciousness of a possible gay interpretation effectively put a lid on the topic. Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1850) alone shows how the death of an adult same-sex friend could be mourned in ways barely imaginable today.

In short, this is an extremely important book, a revelation in a way, and one of the most absorbing academic publications I’ve ever had the privilege of reading.

This story has been viewed 4823 times.
TOP top