In a reading of Samuel R. Delany's underexamined 1984 science fiction novel, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Reid-Pharr uses the work of theorists such as Leo Bersani, Mary Douglas, Orlando Patterson, and Hortense Spillers to question the necessity of gay men's relinquishing a presumably dirty and immature gay past in favor of a newfound respectability. Claiming that this process of cleansing works to create a “deadened subjectivity,” he links the contemporary struggles of gay men and lesbians with that of enslaved Africans by arguing that the ideological structures surrounding the HIV/AIDS pandemic are similar to those surrounding the history of African enslavement. In particular, Reid-Pharr criticizes the all-too-common assumption that the disasters of both slavery and AIDS have been a necessary precursor to the modernization—and maturation—of both blacks and “queers.” Framing this phenomenon as a process of figurative cleansing, he argues that what Delany bemoans in his fine novel is the assumption that the “dirty,” “pre-AIDS” history of gay men must be repressed, deadened, or cleansed away before gay men can become fully established modern subjects. Instead Reid-Pharr utilizes Delany's work to call for gay men to hedge their bets, as it were, to continually challenge the ongoing oppression of sexual minorities while remaining suspicious of the offer of a clean (read “dead”) status within modern society.

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