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March 18th 2016 print

Roger Franklin

The Bottom Line on Gay Studies

LaTrobe University's Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society has been in the headlines for the Safe Schools program it developed. Deputy Director Gary Dowsett also keeps himself busy with what might strike some as rather arcane research topics and large grant applications

quentin crispNot to skite of brushes with the famous, or begin with the old line that some of my best friends are homosexuals, which they are, but the current outcry about the Safe Schools program brings to mind the late Quentin Crisp (left), with whom I enjoyed a number of convivial breakfasts. He was a charming, fey old queen who found acceptance and acclaim in celebrity’s second tier after re-locating from London to New York, where his final years were spent revelling in the attention he had always sought. Revered as the pioneer and patron saint of the out-and-uncloseted, his dismissal of latter-day gay-libbers came as a surprise.

By his reckoning, there were two things to remember about “the modern gay lifestyle”, a term Crisp uttered with the indulgent sneer of a man who had reacted to the outbreak of World War Two by stocking up on henna hair dye, lest it be rationed. His first advice was to dismiss younger gays as less than honest in their attempts to emphasise “the romantic side of  sodomy”. Sympathetic film directors who depicted gay trysts, he said, were obliged to use as much Vaseline on their lens as elsewhere in order to present as tender and romantic what he had found to be a deeply painful experience.

LaTrobe University’s Gary Dowsett brings the second of Crisp’s observations to mind: The world had become a better place for the openly homosexual being able, finally, to live and work without the need to masquerade as straight for fear of a beating or the sack. Indeed, if Dowsett’s CV and list of funded research is any guide, some gays now do very well indeed by being out and proud. Below, just a few of the research topics and remarkable sums that have underwritten the career of the deputy director and chair at the university’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, which produced the Safe Schools curriculum.

Male Sex Work as Cultural Practice: An examination of the structure, workforce and practices of Melbourne’s male sex work industry, Large ARC, AU$100,000

HIV/AIDS and Vulnerable Populations in Papua New Guinea: Developing a research and capacity-building collaboration to investigate homosexual subcultures, risk and Intervention development, Faculty of Health Sciences Research Grant, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, 2010, AU$19,866.

Mental Health, Resilience and Sexual Recovery among Gay Men with Prostate Cancer, beyondblue National Priority Driven Research Program – Men’s Stream, 2013–14, AU$243,500

Sexual Wellbeing and Quality of Life after Prostate Cancer for Gay and Bisexual Men and their Partners, Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, Movember New Concept Grant, AU$288,013

Muscling Up: Australian Men, Sexualisation and Body Enhancement, ARC Discovery Projects grant, AU$240,133

Helpfully, at the foot of his 41-page CV, Dowsett tots up what these and many, many other academic explorations of gay themes have cost various funding bodies and the public purse:

Career Research Total: AU$ 7,345,677; US $2,494,898

Alas, no specific funding figures are made available for three of the more striking among Dowsett’s many published papers. It would be interesting to know the price tags on ‘I Type, Therefore I Cum: Technologies of the Body-in-Sex‘, ‘The Ethics of Barebacking‘ and the intriguing ‘De-Centring the Penis: The New Masculinities and Men’s Sexual Subjectivity‘.

Poor old Quentin Crisp, who was tickled pink to receive free drinks and small appearance fees for being his flamboyant self at New York soirees. If only he had made a career in academia.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online