The Soul Beneath the Skin The Unseen Hearts and Habits of Gay Men

David Nimmons

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

276 Pages



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A 2002 Lambda Literary Award Finalist for GLBT Studies
A Publishers Weekly Best Nonfiction Book of 2002

This surprising and thought-provoking book begins with the obvious fact that Stonewall happened thirty years ago, and the perhaps less obvious fact that in the thirty years since an enormous number of social science studies have been done on gay men. Dave Nimmons synthesizes that information to reveal a number of unseen patterns of gay male behavior, truths about the lives of gay men that are often instinctively felt but have not been named. He looks at seven patterns of behavior widely practiced by gay men but rarely acknowledged: non-violent public culture; enormous rates of altruism; high levels of volunteerism; diffuse and communal intimacies; elaborate erotic celebrations; friendship with women; and diverse forms of sexual play.

For example, countless studies show that gay men have developed a culture in which public violence is almost non-existent, which is notable when one considers that violence in this society is almost entirely a male phenomenon. Even in intensely over-crowded gay bars and discos, with alcohol and testosterone saturating the atmosphere, fist fights are virtually unheard of. In the area of volunteerism, study after study shows that gay men volunteer at a much higher level than any other segment of the population (and, very interestingly, that volunteerism is about evenly divided between gay and non-gay causes, as are charitable contributions). Homosexual patterns of intimacy and friendship are much more diffuse and extended than heterosexual patterns; sexual jealousy and exclusiveness are extremely different, as are relationships with women and pursuit of playfulness and sexual bliss.

Altogether, these gay social innovations have no parallel in modern American culture; they describe a new kind of public ethic, one with deep implications for gay men and for the larger society.


Praise for The Soul Beneath the Skin

"Provocative and sure to be controversial . . . An exhilarating ride."—The Washington Post

"Breathtaking in its scope and originality, this book offers a radical reassessment of the moral character of contemporary gay male life. Imaginatively researched and forcefully argued, its optimistic conclusions are bound to provoke controversy and a vitally important debate about the state of Gay America. The Soul Beneath the Skin immediately establishes Nimmons as a major new voice in the culture."—George Chauncey, University of Chicago, author of Gay New York, 1890-1940

"This book is at once a 'must read' for gay men and for those who want to understand us and our culture."—Dr. Jack Doren, former Chairperson, National Association of Lesbian and Gay Psychologists

"This is an important book. David Nimmons is telling the truth about us, provoking both laughter and tears as he puts that truth into clear perspective so that everyone can see not only where we've been and where we are but also who we are and what well may be our essential role in the evolving human world."—Don Clark, Ph. D., author of Loving Someone Gay

"The Soul Beneath the Skin is a revelation. Dave Nimmons deftly draws on literature, philosophy, social science and most important, the gay male experience to show us how we know how to build the beloved community for which every gay man longs. This is a sacred text for the individual journeyer looking to come home, and it's a practical guide for the community organizer gathering gay men into new and liberating relationships. The Soul Beneath the Skin unites spirit and body and intellect, healing the hurt and inspiring us to new ways of being gay men with each other, with women, and with the world around us. Nimmons helps us see that we are holy, and that we are whole."—Rev. Jim Mitulski

"In this fascinating and provocative study of the gay male experience in America, Nimmons, a writer and past president of the New York Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, boldly challenges the libidinous, body-conscious stereotype of the typical gay American male. With an irreverent, almost conversational tone that belies an embarrassment of statistical riches, Nimmons redefines gay men's contributions to a newly evolving public ethos revolving around the central theme of care and service to the community. Academic studies and the author's own research indicate that gays have the lowest crime rates of any demographic, that they most often choose occupations in the health and public service fields, and that they maintain higher levels of community volunteerism. More interesting, and perhaps more daring, is Nimmons's argument that gays, America's only openly polyandric tribe, may offer constructive new paradigms for the institution of heterosexual marriage now suffering from high divorce rates and the destructive breakup of the family in order to create a happier, more stable environment in which to raise children. This may well be one of the most important books on gay culture for the new millennium and certainly one of the most daring and original."—Jeff Ingram, Newport Public Library, Oregon, Library Journal

"Gay men are mindlessly hypersexual, unethically promiscuous and ceaselessly narcissistic or so the worst stereotypes would have it. Rather than refute these charges by painting a portrait of male homosexuals as just like heterosexuals (except for one small detail), Nimmons, [past] president of New York's Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, radically reinterprets gay sexuality, intimate relationships, and self-image. Using a wide range of scientific surveys, anthropological studies, philosophical inquiries and personal observation and anecdotes, Nimmons argues that gay male culture is arranged around highly ethical behaviors that value the needs and health of both the individual and community. These values, he argues, are enacted through a wide range of sexual practices and unconventional couplings (from one-hour tricks to open long-term relationships), and are manifested in the community-building that has accompanied the AIDS epidemic, as well as the broad range of mentoring relationships between gay men. Noting that 'gay relationships are distinct from heterosexual relationships in that they are frequently based on expectations of equality, reciprocity, and autonomy,' Nimmons also examines how gay men's relationships with women could present a model for heterosexual men as well. While 'the bitchy queen and her cousin once removed, cynicism' are endemic to some realms of gay culture, Nimmons is careful to place these effects in a context of socially generated self-hating. The book is at its best, and most challenging, when Nimmons makes his case with statistical data . . . His survey of the lack of violence in gay male public spaces and relationships (as opposed to heterosexual male spaces) is a model of social science, [and] these segments dovetail nicely with his original and powerful sociological and philosophical arguments."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Dave Nimmons, founder of Manifest Love, has been a gay leader in New York since 1983. He served as President of New York's Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center for six years, for three years directed HIV prevention and education at Gay Men's Health Crisis, and is an internationally-known HIV prevention theorist.
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  • David Nimmons

  • Dave Nimmons, founder of Manifest Love, has been a gay leader in New York since 1983. He served as president of New York's Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center for six years, for three years directed HIV prevention and education at Gay Men's Health Crisis, and is an internationally known HIV prevention theorist.