A Taste for Brown Bodies

Gay Modernity and Cosmopolitan Desire

192 pages

October, 2015

ISBN: 9781479845866



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Hiram Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English at Vassar College.

All books by Hiram Pérez

Winner, LGBT Studies Lammy Award presented by Lambda Literary

Neither queer theory nor queer activism has fully reckoned with the role of race in the emergence of the modern gay subject. In A Taste for Brown Bodies, Hiram Pérez traces the development  of gay modernity and its continued romanticization of the brown body. Focusing in particular on three figures with elusive queer histories—the sailor, the soldier, and the cowboy— Pérez unpacks how each has been memorialized and desired for their heroic masculinity while at the same time functioning as agents for the expansion of the US borders and neocolonial zones of influence. 

Describing an enduring homonationalism dating to the “birth” of the homosexual in the late 19th century, Pérez considers not only how US imperialist expansion was realized, but also how it was visualized for and through gay men. By means of an analysis of literature, film, and photographs from the 19th to the 21st  centuries—including Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Anne Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain,” and photos of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison—Pérez proposes that modern gay male identity, often traced to late Victorian constructions of “invert” and “homosexual,” occupies not the periphery of the nation but rather a cosmopolitan position, instrumental to projects of war, colonialism, and neoliberalism. A Taste for Brown Bodies argues that practices and subjectivities that we understand historically as forms of homosexuality have been regulated and normalized as an extension of the US nation-state, laying bare the tacit, if complex, participation of gay modernity within US imperialism. 


  • “Perez offers a provocative study that identifies connections between modern gay identity, sexual desire, US imperialism, and national identity.”


  • “Perez’s highly sophisticated study gives nuance not only to queer studies but also to critical race theory and American studies. Surely, A Taste for Brown Bodies will transform our reading methods to redefine future scholarship in our field.”

    Men and Masculinities

  • “Tracing the homoerotic archetypes of sailor, cowboy, and soldier, he offers close readings of Billy Budd and Brokeback Mountain and uses James Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man to parse images from Abu Ghraib, prodding readers toward a deeper, sometimes uncomfortable understanding of cultural context, colonialism, and complicity.”

    Chronogram Magazine

  • “A compelling contribution to the pivotal turn in queer studies toward a critique of still-emergent forms of homo-normativities. With dazzling close readings of diverse texts, such as James Baldwin’s 'Going to Meet the Man,' alongside an equally bracing collection of visual texts, Hiram Pérez’s book is an impressive critical and analytical performance. Absorbingly written, it never loses sight of the urgency of its core claims and the work that a critically committed queer studies must continue to do.”

    —Ricardo L. Ortiz, author of Cultural Erotics in Cuban America

  • A Taste for Brown Bodies is a crucial and groundbreaking study that throws new light on the interplay of cosmopolitanism and homosexuality. Its stunning historical depth and engagement with the promises and limitations of queer theory make it essential reading for scholars of critical ethnic and queer studies. With gorgeous prose and unflinching arguments, this book is sure to incite intense debate, ruffle the right feathers, and move us beyond the impasse that equates race politics with knee-jerk identity politics.”

    —Richard T. Rodriguez, author of Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics