Q5 (#7): Jen Manion


Jen Manion is Associate Professor of History at Amherst College. Jen’s research and teaching focuses on gender and sexual nonconformity, race, and the carceral state in the early United States. Manion received the 2016 Mary Kelly Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic for Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). Jen is currently at work on a new project, “Born in the Wrong Time: Transgender Archives & the History of Possibility, 1770-1870.”

Q1. How do you go about exploring archives for materials relating to gender nonconformity when the materials are likely not classified or advertised in ways that would immediately imply relevance to these topics? How do you begin to construct a picture when the language and discourses surrounding these ideas were so different during your period of study from those of today?

When you read 18th and 19th century newspapers, you find a surprising number of references to people who are crossing gender in some way. Often they are small blurbs or ‘anecdotes’ copied and reprinted widely – as was generally common in newspapers in the early period. By later in the nineteenth century, these references are more likely to be listed in the police blotter. Most historians and archivists of the period have seen them but we generally don’t know what to make of them. Broadly speaking, I’m interested in any discourses about sexual difference, which are quite abundant of course because people were always working through, defining, debating, and sometimes changing what they viewed as key distinctions between men and women.

Q2. Could you talk about some of the types of sources and repositories, particularly in New England, that you’ve consulted for your research?

I spent a considerable chunk of time doing research at The American Antiquarian Society on an NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] fellowship in 2013. The biggest surprise for me was the abundance of relevant sources in the children’s literature collection. One of my favorites was published in 1859 by the McGloughlin Brothers entitled “The Tom-Boy who was changed into a real boy.” They also have a one-of-a-kind rare newspaper collection for the period that gave me access to a very wide range of references. Some of this is digitized and so research that previously would have taken over a decade could be done in a matter of months. Once I identified keywords that were commonly used in the kinds of sources I was interested in, I could do sweeping searches. Some of those phrases include “male attire” or “female husband” or “female soldier” just to give you some idea. I also worked at the Massachusetts Historical Society with a rather different set of materials. I studied records of the 19th century women’s rights movement, which were filled with exchanges about the sameness or differences between men and women. I also focused on their materials on women’s education, which had some really interesting references to physical education for women. By learning about the proscribed borders for physicality, I could create the context for my analysis of gender crossing during the period.

Q3. You’ve written about the reasons why you seek “to understand the function of ‘transgender’ as an analytical category; to explore the meanings given to representation of transgender experiences – or gender crossings – in history.” What are some of the benefits and challenges of using this approach, and how does it influence your upcoming work, “Born in the Wrong Time: Transgender Archives and the History of Possibility, 1770-1870?”

One type of primary source that is full of amazing content are the many different narratives of so-called “passing women.” I don’t necessarily think that is the most useful or even accurate way to refer to these people from the past. Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to ask them their preferred pronouns or gender identity – a concept that was not formally defined until very late in the nineteenth century. Did they understand themselves in a way that is familiarly transgender to us? Perhaps. In most of these cases, the records are extremely limited and we will never know. But what seems like a barrier — this inability to understand individual subjectivity – is also an opportunity for us to focus more intently on structures and norms that commonly facilitated or obstructed gender crossings.  I think commonly used concepts such as “cross-dressing” or “passing women” impose limitations on our ability to imagine a more nuanced experience of gender. Terms such as “transgender” and “queer” challenge us to open up our conceptual framework and blur conventional barriers and binaries.

Q4. You “see knowledge of the past as a very powerful tool that can help us achieve social justice in the present,” and you have noted the connection between scholarly work and activism. What does this look like to you in practice? How can your work on gender in the early United States inform queer and trans activism today?

I think knowledge of our own past is very important for contemporary social justice movements. LGBTQ history has been one of the most exciting and fresh historical fields in the past few decades. We still have considerable work to do in getting it integrated into US History textbooks and convincing teachers and professors that it is vital information for everyone to learn about – it humanizes us. Transgender history today is where gay history was thirty years ago. Path-breaking scholarship by Susan Stryker, Leslie Feinberg, and Joanne Meyerowitz has charted the course while more recent work by Bambi L. Lobdell, Clare Sears, Finn Enke, Peter Boag, and Trystan Cotton is advancing the conversation. But we still know very little about life in the past between or beyond the gender binary and I am very committed to contributing to this important body of scholarship. I think when a community has a history, it helps us to understand ourselves differently. We know we are not alone or even unique. We can learn from the organizing successes and failures of those who came before us.

Q5. What are some exciting developments and possibilities within queer and trans early-American history that are emerging right now? How can archivists facilitate this scholarship?

Students love learning about the possibly transgender, possibly intersex person Thomas/ine Hall who lived as a servant in 17th century Virginia. Kathleen Brown wrote definitively about Hall in the Journal of the History of Sexuality in 1995. A 2014 special issue of Early American Studies on “Beyond the Binaries” edited by Rachel Hope Cleves highlights the most recent work in the field, including a revisit to the Hall case by Kathryn Wichelns as well as interesting work on “the Publick Universal Friend” by Scott Larson and “The Man Who Thought Himself a Woman” by Lizzie Reis. One of the new trends, marked by several essays in the issue as well as my own work, is the turn from sexuality to gender as a productive site of knowing. Sociologist Clare Sears also made an important contribution to this field with their 2014 book Arresting Dress which examines the increased regulation of cross-dressers in San Francisco in the late nineteenth century.

I think archivists have a tremendous role to play in facilitating this scholarship because sources are so difficult to find or identify in the first place. It’s important to have an open mind about what constitutes a “good” source for queer or transgender history. You often have to read between the lines. Sources that seem anecdotal or comical or even mocking of people challenging gender or sex roles are really important for us in piecing together widely held assumptions. So much of the archive of the history of sexuality and gender nonconformity is hostile to its subject but that is just as important for us to know about as records of agency, community, and progress.

Q5 (#4): Ryan Conrad


Ryan ConradRyan Conrad

Ryan Conrad is an Interdisciplinary Humanities PhD candidate at Concordia University’s Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Society and Culture, and he teaches in the university’s Interdisciplinary Sexuality Studies program. Conrad has written for a variety of publications, and has edited several anthologies for Against Equality, “a digital archive and publishing collective” that he co-founded.

Q1. This summer, you are digitizing a variety of LGBTQ newspapers at the University of Southern Maine in the Special Collections’ Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. Could you talk a bit about your inspiration and goals for this project, as well as anything interesting you’ve come across while working on it?

I am digitizing a collection of LGBTQ newspapers from the 1990s because I am interested in researching the parallel histories of the AIDS crisis and the battles over non-discrimination laws in Maine. The AIDS crisis arrived a bit later to Maine thanks to its geographic isolation from the rest of the US and it’s largely dispersed rural population. The battle over non-discrimination laws begins in earnest in the early 1990s and doesn’t conclude until the passage of a state-wide law by referendum in 2005. So there is this interesting and devastating overlap between the loss of life during the AIDS crisis and the massively public homophobia resulting in resounding legislative defeats over the most basic rights to housing and employment. Maine is unique in that it is relatively easy to overturn laws passed by the legislature by gathering signatures and putting a law to referendum. This is known as the people’s veto in Maine, and has largely been used by social conservatives to overturn laws they disagree with. This happened with many non-discrimination laws in Maine, but also more recently with gay marriage in 2009. My goal with this project is to do a discourse analysis of the ways in which LGBT community-based journalists talked about the political mood of the decade. I’m really interested in the work of Raymond Williams (structure of feelings), Jonathan Flatley (affective mapping; counter-moods), and Deborah Gould (emotional habitus) in thinking about the ways emotions and collective mood shape the realm of what is politically imaginable/possible. I’m trying to wrap my head around the conservative turn in gay and lesbian politics in the 1990s and thinking about affect and emotion is a useful place to look for clues beyond the obvious impacts of economics and financialization which queer and feminist theorists like Lisa Duggan, Yasmin Nair, Silvia Federici, Samuel Delany and others have already done quite successfully.

Q2: In “Against Equality, In Maine and Everywhere,” you talk about the gap between the needs identified by working-class queer and trans Mainers and the goals of larger political groups leading up to the 2009 marriage referendum in Maine. Similarly, you recently wrote on your website, regarding your current project in Maine, that you are “excited to be thinking about affect & trauma as it relates to the pre-protease inhibitor AIDS crisis days outside of major urban north american gay centers and how Maine’s multi-year failed non-discrimination ordinances intersect with this history.” How can greater access to materials such as newspapers aid the push against dominant political narratives and movements that are disconnected from the material needs of marginalized queer and trans people?

The newspapers I’m digitizing vary in form and content, and surprisingly there were a lot in circulation in Maine. 10%, Apex [now available on the USM website], Community Pride Reporter, Fast Times, Our Paper, and The Gay & Lesbian Times are amongst the serials I’ve been looking at and what’s wonderful about them is that there is constant criticism amongst the different papers as to how issues should be framed and which issues should be prioritized. The “Letters to the Editor” sections of these papers are treasure troves of internal community dialogs. Whether it’s the exchange between lesbian feminists and the police chief over how to support a LGBT non-discrimination campaign, or whether or not seeking inclusion for LGBTs within the boy scouts should be a movement goal or not because the boy scouts are inherently militaristic and misogynist. I don’t see a lot of these kinds of conversations happening today, as most internal dialogs are lost on insular Facebook comment threads that contain more sniping than thoughtful criticism—not to mention how difficult it is to track and archive online content in this form. Plus, large multi-million dollar non-profit LGBT rights organizations largely dismiss and disregard dissent, if not downright muzzle it.

I think what these papers offer is a recent historical example of how we used to have more valuable public conversations about movement priorities than we do now because we leave that to the so-called experts that run these high profile well-funded non-profits that are more accountable to funders than any semblance of community. In digging through these papers, I’ve also uncovered a more radical political LGBT history than the one we are told by the media and pop-historians who rehash superficial queer histories every June. Queers in Maine have been fighting against our murder, rape, violence, misogyny, rural poverty, isolation, access to reproductive health, universal health care, safer sex education for young people, and the list goes on. This local history is there, but somehow the story we are told as queer Mainers is both urbancentric and false. We go from Stonewall (our liberation), to AIDS (our downfall), to gay marriage (our redemption) in a linear progress narrative that is being told by the mainstream gay media and liberal LGBTs alike. I hope to be able to provide a more localized and more accurate depiction of our collective recent past that tells a more complex and inspiring account of how we arrived where we are today.

“Dykes Against the Klan,” Annette Dragon Papers, Courtesy of the LGBT Collection, Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, University of Southern Maine Libraries.

Q3: The Sampson Center at USM holds a collection of materials that were donated by you. Some of these materials seem to predate Against Equality. How did you initially become interested in queer activism and archives?

In 2005 I assembled a ‘zine called Out of the Closets and Into the Libraries that I made for a workshop at the Gulf of Maine Social Forum, which took place in my hometown of Lewiston. The ‘zine and workshop began because I had just graduated from undergrad and lamented that I barely learned anything about queer people or politics. I never learned my history and felt a bit lost. I grew up in a small, socially conservative town in Rhode Island and didn’t know a single out gay person until I was in college in Maine. So for me this early LGBT history project began as a way for me to figure out how to reconcile my hard-line anarchist anti-capitalist politics (thanks to reading Emma Goldman as a punk rock teenager) with my sexuality, which to me at that time only seemed to exist as a commercial niche market that I was decidedly not interested in. I was looking for proof that others like me had come before and with a bit of persistence, I found them, lots of them! So my interest in queer history began as a need for affirmation and proof that you can be both queer and radical. Today I deeply value queer history, because without it, pride is just a shitty commercialized parade.

Q4: You have edited several anthologies for Against Equality, which are now available in one volume as Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion. You’ve also written and spoken about access to digital resources and the desire to complement digital archives with print publications.1 How have these initiatives with Against Equality been successful so far? Considering that the number of digitization projects, such as the one that you are currently completing, is increasing, how could archivists and those interested in expanding access to information benefit from keeping these ideas in mind?

The Against Equality archives are unique because we are solely a digital archive, meaning we only exist online. Creating print publications for that project is sort of doing the reverse of what most archives are doing today. In fact, we are pretty much running in the opposite direction, archiving digital work and then creating print publications from this previously published web-based material. Most archives today, and projects like the one I am doing at the Jean Byers Sampson Center, are trying to figure out best practices for digitizing print material that is not available publicly online yet. It has been interesting working with Against Equality because we are really doing something that feels quite unique and our publications have been incredibly successful, distributing over ten thousand books over the last five years including nearly 1000 to incarcerated LGBTQ folks that have no access to the digital world. But the problem of digitizing work is something I think about a lot as I imagine a lot of others do. When I was doing research in 2009 at the New York Public Library it was rather difficult to get my hands on the physical objects from Gran Fury that I was researching because I was told that the material was all scanned and available online. The archivists were sympathetic to my requests as I argued that seeing, touching, smelling, and engaging with physical objects, especially large ones like broadsheets and posters, was important to my understanding of said object. But I think this is something many of us that work for and with archives are thinking about these days: how to best share information and cultural objects digitally in order to make them more accessible, without decontextualizing these things from their thing-ness.

“Front page, Apex Vol 2 No 9,” Courtesy of the LGBT Collection, Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, University of Southern Maine Libraries.

Q5: Gay marriage is legal all throughout the United States now. As this has been the primary focus of mainstream LGBTQ activism for so long, there is now talk about what the “next” struggle should be. Why is it imperative that we continue to have an understanding of a variety of queer histories if we are to challenge these current developments and narratives?

I understand why people would talk about the “next” struggle, but in that way of framing the issue we actually lose sight of the fact that gay marriage has failed to provide much-needed comprehensive family law reform for many different combinations of families (gay and straight) that are left behind by the couple form. Feminists have been making this argument for a century, but this history has been ignored and usurped by today’s gay and lesbian marriage activists. A lot of people can easily see why gay marriage was not necessarily the most urgent priority, but I think it is important to push it further and actually make it clear that gay marriage itself was a bad goal and fails many of us by retrenching a model of privatization where all material needs should be met through a closed family unit headed by a conjugal couple. Sure there are lots of other battles today on which we need to be fighting in addition to family law reform, but I think the rhetoric of the gay marriage campaigns has been so successful in marginalizing other forms of family and kinship networks that it will actually be more difficult now to make those demands of our governments and social institutions. In passing gay marriage we did nothing to dislodge the ideology of family, and today we need to continue the fight to make family law support our families as they exist, and not the other way around by forcing our kinships to match the confines of the law. The battle for gay marriage has been ahistorical, anti-feminist, and extremely conservative. We must not let the present moment of gay marriage jubilation, or the coming moment of trans jubilation over the imminent admittance of trans people to the US Military, rewrite our much messier and hard fought histories of struggle against heterosexism, imperialism, oppression, and hierarchy.


1 Ryan Conrad, Karma Chávez, Yasmin Nair, and Deena Loeffler, “Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion,” in Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion, ed. Ryan Conrad (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2014), 9-11.

Q5 (#2): Greta LaFleur

Greta LaFleur's picture
Greta LaFleur

Greta LaFleur is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Yale University. Her interests include North American literary and cultural studies, the history and historiography of sexuality, the history of science, and queer studies. Her current book project is tentatively titled Conditional Desires: Histories of Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century, British Colonial North America.

Q1. In your dissertation, “American Insides: Popular Narrative and the Historiography of Sexuality 1674-1815,” you “theorize and argue for the use of a presentist, affective historicism as an alternative methodology for producing histories of sex.” How does your work challenge the existing historiography of sexuality?

G. L. My dissertation (which I finished in 2011) has now become a book manuscript, tentatively titled Conditional Desires: Histories of Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century, British Colonial North America. It’s a pretty different project, at this point, than what it was in dissertation form, but the way that it engages the historiography of sexuality remains fairly consistent with its earlier iteration. The biggest and most important way that it challenges conventional historiographic approaches to sexuality is that it does not assume sexuality to bear a privileged relationship to interiority; the book, in fact, argues that in eighteenth-century studies, we need to move to a framework for thinking about sexual behavior that does not privilege the subjective, or the human. More simply put, I argue that during the eighteenth century, people understood sexual impulses– behaviors, inclinations, etc– to derive from a wide variety of sources, but primarily understood sexual behavior as the result of the dynamic interaction between bodies and environments. In other words, people understood sexual behavior as situational during the eighteenth century, an idea that historians of nineteenth-century sexuality such as Regina Kunzel, and scholars of late-nineteenth-century (and early twentieth century) sexuality such as Benjamin Kahan have also explored. Sexual behavior, during the eighteenth-century, was less about individual expression than environmental circumstance; one’s social, physical, climatic, or natural environment was understood to have the potential to shape one’s sexual behaviors and even desires. This argument re-orients the way that we think about sexuality away from the human (or the ‘subject’) and centers it more in the environment, which is a significant historiographic shift.

Q2. How did you get into early American sexuality studies (as opposed to 19th, 20th, etc. centuries)? 

I arrived at early American sexuality studies via the emergence of institutionalized psychology in the 19th century. As I began my dissertation project, which I initially imagined would be a study of early psychology (Benjamin Rush, etc), I found myself asking a lot of questions about how residents of colonial and early national North America understood the experience of desire, in all of its many forms (sexual and otherwise). I wanted to know how these people made sense of wanting and of pleasure. Did they understand these experiences as feelings? Emotions? Lack? Were these feelings important to them, or incidental? Did they experience these feelings as unique expressions of their own particular social, spiritual or community positionalities? These questions are all bound up in a larger set of inquiries pertaining to the history of the subject (or the history of consciousness, or of certain forms of consciousness), and at the time, were animated by my interest in the long history of identity politics, and in how or whether identity could be conceived of before the modern period (roughly the turn of the twentieth century, in this case). As I continued work on what I thought would become the dissertation project, I ended up tarrying in earlier and earlier parts of the eighteenth century, and ended up thinking about historically-specific, large-scale categories of experience (“venery,” for example, which in many C18 colonial communities could have included forms of sexual immoderation such as fornication, but also the act of taking too much pleasure in eating– gluttony– or immoderation in drinking). So, I really arrived at sexuality via the category of venery, but what has always been most interesting to me is the historiographic challenges of characterizing forms of behavior that look, to us, like “sexuality,” but that existed in an era before there was any framework for understanding them this way.

How do the developments you study contribute to a broader understanding of sexuality and its construction over time?

One of the central arguments of the book is that emergent knowledge frameworks that people used to make sense of sexual behavior were borrowed from, and also contributed to, extant frameworks that were initially developed to explain and theorize racial difference. As scholars of the history of race have long known, before the early- to mid-nineteenth century (when racial definition became very firmly attached to skin color and bodily morphology), environmental diversity was understood as a major, if not a primary, source of racial differences. Roxann Wheeler (among others!) has done some very important writing on this. A great example of how this worked can be seen in environmental determinism, a series of ideas that are at least as old as the medieval period, and which argued that one’s skin color was determined by the region in which one lived, usually due to differential exposure to the sun. So, if you lived in what was called the “Aethiops” climate, for example, you would be likely to have darker skin, but natural philosophers also imagined that if a dark-skinned person moved to a cooler and less sunny climate, in several generations, his or her progeny would become light-skinned. What we would now call “race,” then, was understood to be at least partially determined by environment during the eighteenth century. The interesting thing about theories of environmental determinism is that they were never just about skin color– they were also about temperament. Being hardworking, quick to anger, lazy, amative or lascivious, somber or melancholy, and many more traits that we would now call “emotional” or “sexual,” were also linked to particular climates or regions. Warmer climates, for example, typically produced more “lusty” individuals, an idea that we can still see circulating today, and also an ideology that was conveniently engineered to support missionary colonialism (among other things). I’m interested in the way that sexuality and racial differentiation emerged as modern human “sciences” at around the same time (“science,” of course, being nothing more than the Latin word for ‘knowledge,’ scientia) and in the way that both “sciences” drew from a common intellectual framework around humans’ inherent vulnerability to environment. I want people who read or listen to my work to understand that when we talk about sexual behavior, even in our own time, we are almost always also talking about race. Raising historical consciousness about the ineluctable embeddedness of racial and sexual politics is incredibly important to me, and it is one of the central political stakes of my work.

Q3. It seems like you draw from a variety of disciplines in your work. Could you talk a little about the types of sources you have consulted for your book project, or any interesting items/collections you found along the way?

My work is incredibly interdisciplinary. In terms of primary sources, I look at widely-circulating texts, mostly print– but I also look at manuscripts in my first chapter on Barbary captivity narratives. I’m primarily interested in popular narrative, so I mostly look at forms of print culture, usually cheap print culture, that were being read by the widest swath of readers in any one moment. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of library catalogues and subscription lists from the late eighteenth century, to understand what people had access to, what they were reading, what was popular, and what kinds of ideas had the largest reach. Because I’m interested in the popular, a lot of the texts at the heart of my book project are cheap print culture (the equivalent in our time might be a grocery-store tabloid) telling “true histories” of individuals, many of which are fictionalized or entirely fictional. Most of the texts at the heart of my book project invoke or aspire to a kind of “truthiness,” and many are first-person accounts (but again, many of them are fictionalized or downright fictional, such as a series of short narratives I examine in the last chapter of my book, entitled The Female Marine, printed and reprinted between 1815 and 1818). In terms of secondary, critical, or theoretical materials, I read a lot of excellent work on the history of sexuality, the history of race (Roxann Wheeler, Jennifer Morgan, Felicity Nussbaum), queer theory, critical ethnic studies, and increasingly, work on the history of the environment. Recently, I have been reading Mark Rivkin’s When Did Indians Become Straight?: Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty and have been very inspired by that.

Q4. What are some of the challenges posed by studying cultural understandings of sexuality when looking at a period so culturally different from our own?

Well, there are many. First, there’s the archive problem: sexual behaviors were not frequently the object of archival interest unless they were considered aberrant in their own time (so, criminalized forms of sexual behavior appear in archives because court records were saved, but socially-supported or secret sexual behaviors are not typically prioritized in archival collections); for this reason, some people think it’s easier to write histories of, say, man-to-man sexual interactions than it is to write a history of heterosexuality (I am not one of those people, but this idea exists). Also, institutional archives have historically been, and frequently continue to be, tied to or supportive of the state, so we need to always understand them as working in the service of a particular narrative of state organization and dominance, so sexual practices or ways of thinking about sexuality that were dominant in communities that were not prioritized by the state (or that were targets of eradication, such as many indigenous American communities) were not initially saved in many archives. Anjali Arondekar does a great job of thinking through this problem in her book (For the Record). Beyond the archive problem, there’s also the “modernity” problem, or the inherent impossibility of talking or even thinking about sexuality in the same terms that were used by the eighteenth-century subjects of our inquiry. Because the epistemological framework that we have to even think about the history of sexuality is radically, perhaps fundamentally different than the frameworks that were available to the cultures we study, it’s as if we are speaking two different languages– our twenty-first century language for sexual behavior, steeped as it is in the identity paradigm, and the eighteenth-century, suspiciously and simultaneously pre-modern and modern language for sexual behavior. Scott Larson, another early American studies scholar, has defined the work of the historian as the work of translation, and that definitely resonates with me. And there is actually no possibility for translation. Some scholars think that we need to approach the past on its own terms; I actually believe that this is impossible. But I see a lot of potential in that impossibility; it means we have to develop new methods for thinking about the history of sexuality, and it also means that we can be more imaginative and speculative about what sexuality might have been. Pete Coviello talks a bit about this in the introduction to his recent great book, Tomorrow’s Parties. So, for me, the challenges of working on the history of sexuality during a period both distant from and also, in my opinion, uncomfortably close to our own is actually the best part of the work I am doing.

Q5. What does your research mean for LGBTQ populations today? How does your work not only inform scholarly discussions of sexuality, but also general discussions of sexuality outside of academia?

I think of my work as relevant to not only queer people today, but also to anyone invested in the importance of feminist and otherwise anti-oppressive sexual politics. I think of my work as contributing to the project of building historical consciousness about the history of sexuality, and particularly about the way that the state has demonstrated an investment in both controlling the meaning of sexual behavior as well as controlling specific practices of sexual behavior more generally, and about the way that the state learned or borrowed its strategies for controlling specific sexual populations from its older strategies for controlling poor populations and populations of people of color. I want to be clear, here, that I am not creating an analogy between racist oppression and sexual oppression; these two forms of state and social intervention work differently and have distinct, if at times related, histories. I think of my work as in part trying to write the history of how each of these forms of social specificity (racial difference and sexual aberrance) became targets of state intervention, in the form of criminalization, control, and other forms of management, and how the logic of sexual oppression was frequently invoked to develop strategies for the subjugation of non-white people, and alternately, how the logic of racial oppression contributed to the formation of an idea of a homogenous state that could then justify criminalizing sexual minorities (sex workers, people who participated in same-sex liaisons, etc). To me, this feels like a critical form of consciousness for LGBTQ and queer people everywhere. A wider acknowledgment of the centrality of the overlap between these histories of state intervention would support the project of developing better solidarity politics among people especially vulnerable to state oppression.

I also think of my work as contributing to a longer history of “queerness,” as distinct from a more identity-based LGBTQ positionality. I love the way that people in the eighteenth century seem to have understood sexual behavior as, at least in part, contingent on one’s situation; as someone living in the twenty-first century, reading warnings that merely walking the streets in certain parts of town might have the capacity to morally corrupt a person feels like a wonderfully proleptic account of the way that we now broadly understand queerness: as an unstable, unpredictable, dynamic form of being and desiring, that often (to me) seems simply more fun than the idea of waking up every day with a solid, unchanging sense of who we are and what we want, because those things also inevitably determine what we can do. Personally, I believe that dynamism supports individual growth, and understanding ourselves less as moored to or mired in a particular identity pattern, and instead as eminently vulnerable to the impressions of the world around us, feels exciting and like it harbors a ton of possibilities.

cfp: archives journal – radical archives issue


via Archives & Archivists listserv:

Archive Journal

Special issue: Radical Archives

Deadline: April 15, 2015

“Radical archives” and “radical archiving” are concepts that continue to gain currency among archivists, artists and cultural theorists alike, but to date, discussions of “radical archives” and “radical archiving” often appear to rest on an assumed rather than articulated understanding of what these concepts mean. For this special issue of Archive Journal (scheduled for Fall 2015), we seek essays (3000 to 5000 words), reviews, and/or interviews (text, image, audio and video formats welcome) that address one or more of the following questions with the aim of bringing greater clarity to the “radical” in discussions of archives and archiving:

  • What do we mean when we talk about “radical archives” and “radical archiving”? Does the “radical” point to a specific politic, to types of content, or to a set of practices that challenge archival standards?
  • How might we define “radical content” and “radical practice” in relation to archives?
  • Are radical practices necessarily opposed to archival standards?
  • To what extent are archival standards responsive to change? Why do cultural theorists’ accounts of archives so often rest on the assumption that archives are by definition resistant to change? Is there an investment in understanding archives as sites of inflexibility and stagnation?
  • Is radical content (e.g., the archives of activist collectives, social movements, or avant-garde artists) best served by practices that eschew archival standards? What are the short and long-term consequences of such decisions?
  • How might community-based archives support the work of institutional collections and vice-versa? Furthermore, what questions, anxieties and/or possibilities are opened up when we begin to think about preservation across these spaces?
  • What, in fact, do we mean by “archives”? For many outside of libraries and institutional archives, the term has come simply to mean a collection of “curated” materials. How do we talk about “radical archives” without a shared understanding of what an archive is, or of what it signifies for different types of practitioners and theorists?
  • How might the work of cultural theorists with investments in radical, activist and queer archives benefit from a deeper engagement with the practices, discourses and perspectives of working archivists, and vice versa?

Please send submissions to guest editors Lisa Darms (lisadee@nyu.edu) and Kate Eichorn (eichhorc@newschool.edu) by April 15, 2015. Proposals should include a brief (200-word) professional biography. An open access, peer-reviewed journal, Archive Journal seeks content that speaks to its diverse audience that includes librarians, scholars, archivists, technologists, and students.

news: thomas h. wirth (1938-2014)


via Lambda Literary:

Thomas H. Wirth, a noted gay scholar and archivist, has died. Wirth, 76, died of respiratory failure on October 10, 2014, at the Overlook Medical Center, Summit, New Jersey. … Wirth wrote extensively about Richard Bruce Nugent, one of the few African-American writers of the Harlem Renaissance who willing indicated “his homosexuality in print.”

You can read the full obituary at The New Jersey Star Ledger.

scholarship: queer sex in the archives


via Notches:

As Stein showed in City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves, Drum advanced a vision gay culture defiantly at odds with prevailing homophile norms. Groups such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis had long advocated a respectability politics that privileged assimilation and normalcy, to counter the pernicious stereotypes about queer people disseminated by the government, psychiatry, and the mass media. Part of that framework entailed downplaying sex and sexuality for a buttoned-up professionalism. Polak countered that by celebrating sex, indeed breaking new ground when Drum began publishing full-frontal nudes in 1965. Showing nude men was something neither the homophile press nor physique magazines would venture to do at the time, for fear of both disrepute and obscenity charges (a well-founded concern, as witnessed by earlier charges against physique publishers Bob Mizer, Al Urban, and a slew of others). Polak’s embrace of “prurience” led to the expulsion of his Janus Society from ECHO, the East Coast Homophile Organizations, in 1965.

Stein’s agenda was not to retell this story, but rather to use it as a window into historiography. The importance of Drum, he argues, was self-evident: not only did it successfully pave the way for more graphic and erotic gay representations and clearly anticipate aspects of gay liberation culture, but it also had far more expansive circulation than any of the more canonical homophile periodicals, such as ONE, Mattachine Review, or The Ladder. Since canon-formation is precisely the outcome of the three factors in Stein’s subtitle, the question becomes, why the omission of Drum in the more familiar narrative of homophile politics—and, as a corollary, how does restoring it force a reconsideration of respectability politics?

Read the whole piece over at Notches.

commentary: check out #gsisc14


via #gsisc14:

A selection of Tweets from the Gender and Sexuality Information Studies Colloquium 2014…

… read more at the hashtag #gsisc14