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'American Voyeur,' Benoit Denizet-Lewis 

Go inside the high school hook-up scene and you’ll uncover lots of self-doubt.

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He hangs out at an instructional camp for anti-abortion teenagers. Then he socializes with gay couples who followed up their legal weddings with legal divorces.

In American Voyeur — 16 articles written over the past decade, five of them published in the New York Times Magazine — Benoit Denizet-Lewis practices what he calls “immersion journalism.” Essentially, he spends extended time with unusual sources, gains their trust, then reveals surprising details about what’s really at stake in their lives. (Hence his subtitle: “Dispatches from the Far Reaches of Modern Life.”) A piece about neglect of homeless gay teens in San Francisco’s Castro District insightfully points out how residents of the Castro tend to regard the kids as more homeless than gay. He unpacks the irony of butch lesbians — an already discriminatedagainst group — themselves discriminating against femme-y lipstick lesbians.

In his most celebrated article, “Down Low,” Denizet-Lewis captures the self-loathing of internalized homophobia as black men cruise gay bathhouses, then go home to their wives and girlfriends, leading their lives of masculinity while (often) spreading HIV. The deeper problem is not the men’s duplicity, as Denizet- Lewis notes; the deeper problem is entrenched racism and fear of effeminacy.

“The War on Frat Culture” comes off, however, as Denizet-Lewis’s lament for the good old days of binge drinking and of being clever about staying in the closet.

He’s at his most perceptive in his piece on “The Newlywed Gays!” — pointing out that the dominant culture, in effect, has forbidden gays to make commitments, then criticizes them for… not making commitments. Many gay men live out a “protracted adolescence,” he says, because they were cheated out of their actual adolescence: Dating and courtship were only for the straight kids.

In American Voyeur, Denizet-Lewis calls attention to the disenfranchised — and he reminds us that everyone has a story — but his brand of immersion journalism isn’t all that innovative.

In “Brother’s Keeper,” for example — the sad tale of a teenager who shot himself and was copied a year later by his younger brother, who used the same gun as in the initial suicide — Denizet-Lewis fails to press the parents about their negligence. His journalism, in this case, wasn’t immersive enough.

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