The Monk and the Skeptic: Dialogues
on Sex, Faith and Religion
by Frank Browning
Soft Skull Press. 208 pages, $16.95
A LONGTIME CORRESPONDENT for National Public Radio, Frank Browning is the author of two widely discussed books in the field of gay studies: The Culture of Desire (1993) and A Queer Geography (1996). His explorations of gay history and gay identity have been praised as expansive and provocative, engaging and readable. His latest work, The Monk and the Skeptic: Dialogues on Sex, Faith, and Religion, is all of those things.
While his subject is a sprawling one, Browning’s prose is accessible and concise. This is due in part to his decision to employ the convention of the philosophical dialogue. Like the Socratic dialogues of Plato, Browning’s are lively exchanges of ideas on a series of themes. But unlike Plato’s descriptions of Socrates at work with his students, Browning’s colloquies are framed by encounters between the monk and the skeptic of the book’s title, and they have a homoerotic element. They begin when the narrator cruises a distinguished-looking gentleman at a Pierre et Gilles exhibit in Paris’s Place de la Concorde. The gentleman turns out to be a Dominican monk, dubbed Brother Peter, who’s happy to share his body, as well as his thoughts, with his curious admirer, “the skeptic.” Their relationship, such as it is, progresses along with their intellectual explorations.