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Archive for the 'Gay and Lesbian Studies' Category

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Interview with Ashley Shelden, author of Unmaking Love

Unmaking Love, Ashley Shelden

“What I see in contemporary literature—in novels that I discuss in the book and those that didn’t make it in—is an understanding of love that runs counter to [a] traditional story. In these novels, love is not a uniting, conservative, or peaceful force; love is more often aggressive, violent, divisive, and corrosive.”—Ashley Shelden, author of Unmaking Love: The Contemporary Novel and the Impossibility of Union

The following is an interview with Ashley Shelden, author of Unmaking Love: The Contemporary Novel and the Impossibility of Union:

Question: Love is typically seen as sentimental and conservative, and perhaps because of that, other queer theorists and critics tend to focus on desire or sex. With this in mind, why are you so interested in love?

Ashley Shelden: It’s not that I’m not interested in desire or sex as analytic categories. Indeed, so much of the theoretical and intellectual work in psychoanalysis and queer theory that has galvanized me focuses on these concepts. Motivated by this work, I wanted to think more deeply about love in theory and literature in order to rethink the uses to which it has been put both intellectually and politically. In this way, my project is in sympathy with Laura Kipnis’s Against Love. I don’t necessarily agree with Kipnis’s arguments in that book, but I am invigorated by her impressive capacity not to accept received ideas and her commitment to putting pressure on all our assumptions about love.

I think you’re right, then: love is often used coercively as a sentimental force of conservation—to maintain the primacy of marriage, to occlude differences, to pacify and render inert disruptions to the dominant order. But what I see in contemporary literature—in novels that I discuss in the book and those that didn’t make it in—is an understanding of love that runs counter to this traditional story. In these novels, love is not a uniting, conservative, or peaceful force; love is more often aggressive, violent, divisive, and corrosive. It’s this unfamiliar version of love in which I am most interested because it flies in the face of what we commonly assume love to be.

Q: It sounds like part of what appeals to you about the alternative account of love that contemporary novels articulate is the light these novels can shed on politics. What political concerns does love allow you to consider anew?

AS: Let me just say here that when I think about the political uses of love, I don’t have in mind a sense of politics as partisan. By “political” I mean the ways we adjudicate on relations within the social. I want to clarify this point because my book is not necessarily suggesting new definitions of love for progressive political ends. Instead, my aim is to think about the ways that love is used to organize—and indeed disorganize—sociality. In that way, the political relations that love informs are quite broad. The first political issue that we might think of in relation to love is, of course, same-sex marriage, the mantra for which is “love is love.” But beyond the intimate sphere of loving relations, love also pertains to the recognizably contemporary issue of relationality in a globalized, transnational world. In the book, I use Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and Hari Kunzru’s Transmission in order to think through the amorous dimensions of transnational connectedness.

Another political issue that the question of love brings to the fore is the question of “the other” and otherness. Jacques Lacan famously suggested that there can be no love for an other, and we can only love sameness, that which reflects back to us the image of ourselves. This idea enlivens my project as it concerns issues relating to ethics—if love is directed only at sameness, then this idea suggests that there is something destructive in love’s seemingly unifying force. In order to love another, I must obliterate the other’s otherness, making that person into a fictional reflection of myself, which effectively eradicates the other in her particularity.


Thursday, December 10th, 2015

The Legacy of Eve Sedgwick

Eve Sedgwick, Between Men

On the heels of the recent publication of the Thirtieth Anniversary edition of Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, The New Yorker‘s blog, The Page Turner, posted a piece on the book and Eve Sedgwick’s legacy.

The article by Jane Hu, “Between Us: A Queer Theorist’s Devoted Husband and Enduring Legacy,” begins by describing how her husband, Hal, is preserving Sedgwick’s archive to insure that her work endures. As the piece points out, at least in the immediate future there is little danger that Sedgwick’s ideas and influence fading away. Scholarly journals continue to devote issues to her and there are or have been multiple conferences dedicated to her book, including a recent one at the CUNY Grad Center on Between Men.

In addition to citing Sedgwick’s scholarly impact, Hu also describes Sedgwick’s intellectual and personal bravery. Critics from all directions — feminists, gay men, etc. — asked her to account for herself. Her writing, unlike much academic work, would often be very personal and even confessional, and has served as an inspiration to other scholars and critics.

In describing the influence of Between Men and the recent conference on Between Men, Jane Hu writes:

Hal [Eve Sedgwick's husband] showed me around Eve’s archives the day after the most recent of these conferences, celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of “Between Men,” a groundbreaking book that popularized the term “homosocial.” At the conference, Jennifer Crewe, the president of Columbia University Press, recalled how typists working on it constantly rendered the word as “homosexual” because of just how unusual the term was in 1985.

“Between Men” not only put Sedgwick on the map as a queer theorist, it helped to establish the field of queer literary analysis. Sedgwick became, as Rolling Stone once put it, “the soft-spoken queen of the constructionists.” (A speaker at the conference noted the shocking disjunction between Sedgwick’s quiet speaking voice and the bold statements she made in print.) The book was published during a heated period of the gay liberation movement; as Wayne Koestenbaum notes in his forward to a new edition, the H.I.V. retrovirus had been isolated a year before, and ACT UP was formed just two years afterward.

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Videos: Celebrating “Between Men” and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Between Men, Eve Sedgwick

The Center for the Humanities at CUNY has very graciously put up videos from the four different panels that convened around the publication of the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Click on this link and scroll down to the bottom where you can view the videos from the event.

Highlights of papers include, “The Eve Effect,” Wayne Koestenbaum; “Between Men’s Bodies,” Michael Moon; Beyond Between Men: Eve Sedgwick’s The Warm Decembers,” Carolyn Williams; “Between Men in 30 Years,” Cathy Davidson; “Gen/Ten,” Sharon Marcus; and a special panel on publishing Eve Sedgwick.

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Between Men at 30

Between Men, Eve Sedgwick

We’re very excited to be participating in an event today at the Graduate Center at CUNY to celebrate the 30th anniversary edition of Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.

The Conference will be live streamed from the 10 am start through 5:30 pm. The Center for Humanities at CUNY will be live tweeting the event at @HumanitiesGC; and the hashtag for the conference is #BetweenMen30

The one-day, interdisciplinary and international conference will address both the singular impact of Sedgwick’s ground-breaking work and its multiple and on-going ramifications. the symposium features a series of short papers engaging with the text, its reception, and its relevance to the evolving field of queer studies. Additionally, a panel of editors, including our own Jennifer Crewe, who have published, and continue to publish, Sedgwick’s writing will discuss working with her and the nature of her authorship as its image or significance changed over the decades.

In addition to our thirtieth anniversary edition of Sedgwick’s Between Men, with a new foreword by Wayne Koestenbaum, the conference will also celebrate the publication of and a chapbook by Guillotine Press of a previously unpublished 1990 essay of Sedgwick’s, Censorship & Homophobia, with a foreword and notes by Sarah McCarry.

Other participants include: Wayne Koestenbaum, CUNY Graduate Center; Michael Moon, Emory University; William Germano, Cooper Union; Nancy K. Miller, CUNY Graduate Center; Ken Wissoker, Duke University Press and CUNY Graduate Center; Carolyn Williams, Rutgers University; Cathy Davidson, CUNY Graduate Center; Sharon Marcus, Columbia University; and Jonathan Goldberg, Emory University.

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Emanuel Levy on the Politics of Gay Films

Gay Directors, Gay Films?

“All five filmmakers have spoken against reductionism—namely, the reduction of gay artists (and gay screen characters) to sexuality as the single, or most prominent, aspect that defines their personalities.”—Emanuel Levy

In the following excerpt from the conclusion of Gay Directors, Gay Films?: Pedro Almodóvar, Terence Davies, Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, John Waters, Emanuel Levy examines the political aspects of the directors’ work and their influences:

All five filmmakers have spoken against reductionism—namely, the reduction of gay artists (and gay screen characters) to sexuality as the single, or most prominent, aspect that defines their personalities. They have also refused to reproduce dominant stereotypes of homo­sexuals, such as the Sissy, the Suicidal Youth, the Gay Psychopath, the Seductive Androgyne, and the Bisexual. Instead, they have tried to present “more real” or “realistic” gay men and lesbians. They real­ize, as Anneke Smelik has suggested, that for straight viewers, using old, negative stereotypes confirms prejudice and that for gay specta­tors, their use might encourage fear, self-hatred, and anger. On the other hand, these directors also realize that presenting only positive images is not the solution and that images of gays and lesbians can­not be seen as simply “true” or “false.” Gay Directors, Gay Films? has focused on the social contexts and the conditions under which vari­ous entertainment institutions have created, maintained, and per­petuated ideological and cinematic stereotypes that gay directors have set out to challenge and abolish.

Aiming to establish connections between gays and other marginal­ized minorities, Haynes destabilizes the division between dominant and subordinate individuals by disturbing the usual space allotted to “others” in society’s broader structure. Like Almodóvar, he avoids any form of labeling because labeling permits those in power to feel secure and to perpetuate the status quo by drawing boundaries that separate those who have from those who have not. Moreover, to label is to judge, and to judge is to limit the range of possibilities of his characters and the range of interpretations of his viewers. No char­acter in his films can be adequately understood or fully contained through sexual labeling; in most cases, socioeconomic status is more important as a defining criterion. He empowers his disenfranchised individuals in fantasy worlds, which they create apart from their oppressors. In Poison, nothing that the jail’s wardens do can prevent the prisoners from engaging in imaginative sexual intercourse (a plot device that served as a climax in Martin Sherman’s Holocaust drama, Bent). In Velvet Goldmine, Arthur rehearses in his imagination the bold declaration of his sexuality to his parents.


Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Emanuel Levy on John Waters, Camp, and Pink Flamingos

John Waters, Divine

“From the start, Waters politicized camp, using it as a deliberate assault on mainstream culture. He employed gay camp as a counter-cultural means, as an oppositional standpoint and active force.”—Emanuel Levy

The following is an excerpt from Emanuel Levy’s chapter on John Waters from his new book: Gay Directors, Gay Films?: Pedro Almodóvar, Terence Davies, Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, John Waters. In it, Levy explores Waters’s notion of camp and his cult classic Pink Flamingos Also, at the bottom of the post is a recent photo of Levy and Waters!

The brand of camp that prevails in Waters’s output is what the scholar Barbara Klinger has called mass camp. Media products qualify for camp enjoyment because they exhibit exaggerated exotica in their historical outdatedness. Mass camp depends on a thorough knowledge of pop culture and a familiarity with the conventions of established genres (e.g., Mae West comedies, Busby Berkeley musicals). Mass camp sensibility does not necessarily result in a coherent rereading of a film—it’s more of a hit-or-miss sensibility. The viewers’ interaction with a particular text always bears some effects, but the effects may be temporary—that is, discernible only in the short run. Thematic and visual pleasures come in a sporadic manner as viewers dip in and out of a particular text, selecting specific moments: witty dialogue, quotable lines, lavish musical numbers, and physical appearances and costumes.

Gay camp usually relies on (or imitates) the hyperbole of movies and pop culture through overstated décor, fashion, and cross-dressing. In verbal terms, it’s reflected in quotations, mimicry, lip-synching, gender inversion, put-downs, and witty puns. Gay camp is of real value to its practitioners because it enables them to demonstrate their insider status, their very cultural existence, and often their superiority over straight outsiders, who don’t dig what they dig when they experience the same movie or TV show.

From the start, Waters politicized camp, using it as a deliberate assault on mainstream culture. He employed gay camp as a counter-cultural means, as an oppositional standpoint and active force. For him, camp attacks acceptable values, normal physical appearances, and conventional modes of behavior. It could be either a mild or a
radical rejection of essential tenets of traditional aesthetics. Waters’s brand of camp thrives on exaggeration, theatricality, and travesty, as is evident in the glorification of the characters in his texts and the particular actors who play them. The elements of his aesthetics are deemed cheap, sleazy, vulgar, and crude because the plots of his features transgress the bourgeois sense of decency and morality. Instead, they loudly extol bizarre and grotesque sexuality that’s considered appalling by standards of middle-class taste.


Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Emanuel Levy on Todd Haynes’s “Carol”

In the following essay, Emanuel Levy, author of Gay Directors, Gay Films?: Pedro Almodóvar, Terence Davies, Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, John Waters, discusses Carol, Todd Haynes forthcoming film:

Carol, Todd Haynes’s sixth feature, is his most fully realized film to date. Now this is a bold statement to make about a director who has only made thematically and artistically interesting films, even if they didn’t always find appreciative audiences. The movie adds a striking panel to a small (only six features in twenty-five years) but distinguished oeuvre.

A logical follow-up to his former movies, Carol may also signal a new point of departure. For starters, Haynes didn’t originate this project, which has been around for a decade. At one point, John Crowly was to direct with Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowska. For another, it is the first film in which he wasn’t involved as writer or co-writer (he had collaborated with Oren Moverman). World premiering at the 2015 Cannes Film Fest, his second appearance there after Velvet Goldmine in 1998, the film was eagerly anticipated. Adapted to the screen by Phyllis Nagy, it’s based on The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, featuring two great actresses, Blanchett, fresh off from Oscar-winning turn in Blue Jasmine, and Rooney Mara, best known for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Though he didn’t write its script, Carol continues to explore ideas and characters that have preoccupied him over the past three decades. Like other indie directors—Soderbergh, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, all roughly his age—Haynes is an auteur in the thematic rather than stylistic sense of this concept, as formulated by the great critic Andrew Sarris. Carol belongs to Haynes’ provocative films about deviance, all astringent explorations in theoretically infused feminist and queer cinema. Like most of his oeuvre, it deconstructs sexual politics, centering on role of the housewife. The 1995 critically acclaimed Safe offers a perceptive portrait of a San Fernando Valley housewife who’s a product of stifling suburban existence and rigid patriarchy. As a screen character, in class and emotional malaise, Carol, an elegant upper-middle class femme, is closer to the leisurely heroine of Far From Heaven than the protagonist of Mildred Pierce (Haynes’s HBO series).


Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

An Interview with Emanuel Levy, author of “Gay Directors, Gay Films?”

Gay Directors? Gay Films?

The following is an interview with Emanuel Levy, author of Gay Directors, Gay Films?: Pedro Almodóvar, Terence Davies, Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, John Waters

Question: What was your motivation for writing this book?

Emanuel Levy: The notion that a distinctly gay gaze and a distinctly gay sensibility are reflected in the work of openly gay directors has not been thoroughly explored in the fields of cinema studies. Gay Directors, Gay Films? deals with one central issue: the effects of sexual orientation on the career, film output, and sensibility of five homosexual directors: Pedro Almodóvar, Terence Davies, Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, and John Waters. I wanted to show that these directors have perceived their sexual identities as outsiders in complex and varied ways, that the impact of sexual orientation may differ from one director to another and from one phase to another within the career of the same director.

Q: Please explain the book’s title and the question mark at the end?

EL: The book centers on five openly gay directors and their work, from the first film to the present. It raises a series of interesting, not easily answerable questions. Is there a distinctly gay mode of looking—gay gaze as it were—at social reality, at sexual politics? Do gay directors make specifically gay-themed films that are targeted at mostly gay audiences? How do we define a film as gay? By its explicit contents (text) and/or by its implicit meanings (subtext)? If a film contains one gay character, surrounded by straight figures, and does not deal with the standard issue of coming out (very popular in films of the 1980s and 1990s). These are some of the intriguing questions, which are theoretically-infused an and have pragmatic implications, that have guided me in this book, and are still at the center of film, feminist, and gay and queer studies.

Q: What was the perspective guiding your research and writing?

EL: I chose a comparative socio-cultural perspective, namely, placing these directors, their films, and their careers in the sociopolitical, ideological, and economic settings in which they have lived and worked. The five directors share two things in common, sexual orientation (they are all openly gay) and biological age, all five directors were born after World War II and thus belong to the same age cohort. At 69, Davies is the oldest, and Haynes, 53, is the youngest. In between, there are Van Sant, 62; Almodóvar, 65; and Waters, 68.

Q: Why did you choose these, and not other, directors?

EL: I wanted to examine the impact of national identity and indigenous culture on the film oeuvre of these directors, three of whom are American (Waters, Van Sant, and Haynes) and two European (Almodóvar (Spanish) and Davies(British)). Originally, the book proposal also included the gifted French director, Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women), but the scope of the research and space consideration (the book’s length) have presented some constraints.


Monday, August 31st, 2015

Book Giveway! Gay Directors, Gay Films?

This week our featured book is Gay Directors, Gay Films?
Pedro Almodóvar, Terence Davies, Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, John Waters
by Emanuel Levy.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Gay Directors, Gay Films? to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, September 4 at 1:00 pm.

Molly Haskell writes, “An impressively informative treatment of five prominent gay directors who represent a wide range of differences within the gay spectrum. Emanuel Levy’s background in gay cinema, independent cinema, and traditional Hollywood cinema make him the ideal author for this significant and original study.”

For more on the book you can read the introduction:

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage – Game Over?

Between a Man and a Woman?

“Romantic love is thus not only a widely shared cultural idea, from Disney to Honey Maid commercials. It is a political idea: the freedom to chose one’s life-partner echoes and reinforces the freedom to bond together as a nation of equals, despite the fissures of class, race, or ethnic background.” – Ludger Viefhues-Bailey

Following today’s Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution of the United States guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, Professor Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, author of Between a Man and a Woman?: Why Conservatives Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, offers his thoughts on the decision and discusses where he thinks public debates about marriage equality go from here.

Same-Sex Marriage – Game Over?
By Ludger Viefhues-Bailey

The Supreme Court has ruled and marriage equality is now the law of the land. Yet I doubt that we have the luxury of sitting back, toasting our entry into the marriage industry, and delegating conversations about religion, marriage, and the law to the uncomfortable privacy of the Thanksgiving table.

American Evangelicals and their rumblings on marriage equality will stay with us. This resilience is not simply because of the impact of their networks and numbers but because their resistance reflects a general uneasiness with the value of equality, one that is profoundly embedded in American political culture. Evangelical marriage theology only highlights and baptizes a wider American desire for a complicated mixture of both equality and inequality in shaping our body politic.

The history of marriage in the U.S. is indeed an excellent place to study this complicated union of equality and hierarchy.

In its history and in popular culture, marriage is in fact an institution allowing for the fulfillment of romantic equality while simultaneously promoting a stratified society. On the one hand we tell the story of romantic love by imagining that we could just marry anyone and that love is blind to status, class, or race. On the other hand, we police what counts as respectable marriages and who is allowed to have them. If anyone wishes to promote marriage as a particularly traditional American institution, they would need to focus on this tension between equality and inequality. (more…)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Male Sex Work Throughout History

Male Sex Work

Harrington Park Press, whom we distribute, recently published Male Sex Work and Society, edited by Victor Minichiello and John Scott. The book explores male sex work from a rich array of perspectives and disciplines to provide new ways of thinking about male sex work as a field of commerce and male sex worker themselves.

Male Sex Work has received a lot of attention in the press, including an excerpt from the book on depictions of male hustlers published in The Advocate. The Huffington Post also provided the following historical facts from the book:

• For rich and titled Roman men, it was culturally acceptable to keep a “concubinus”–a slave to service them sexually before marriage.

• In mid-1600s Japan, “kabuki wakashu” male actors were often prostitutes, much sought after by male and female patrons for their beauty. It was common for Buddhist and samurai warriors to have sex with their young male apprentices, in much the same way that Greek noblemen were permitted to have a sex with the youths they were mentoring—as long as the relationship was educational, not purely sexual.

• The tradition of soldiers selling sex to gay clients dates back to the early 1700s and continued well into the twentieth century. In “barracks prostitution,” hustling soldiers frequented their own bars, worked “soldiers’ promenades,” and regularly initiated new recruits into hustling.

• Popular in America and Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century were transvestite male hustlers known as “fairies.” Some worked in all-fairy brothels and saloons, others worked in female brothels as exotic offerings for male clients, and still others worked the streets, either on their own strolls or on strips known to have a mixed menu of hustlers on display.


Friday, June 13th, 2014

Gay Men Choosing Fatherhood — Gerald Mallon

“Now that non-gay dads are addressing some of the issues relating to being a more involved parent, it is newsworthy. That made me mad.”—Gerald Mallon

Gerald Mallon, Gay Men Choosing ParenthoodWe conclude our series of posts about fathers with a post is by Gerald Mallon, author of Gay Men Choosing Parenthood.

As Father’s Day is approaching, I have been doing some thinking about men raising children; not just playing with them after work and on weekends, but actually taking an active role in the nitty-gritty aspects of parenting—doing homework, taking off from work to go on doctor’s visits, and leaving work early to pick up a sick kid at day care among other tasks. Media images of fathers still focuses on the former, but gay men who have chosen parenthood, such as the ones I interviewed and wrote about in Gay Men Choosing Parenthood, published by Columbia University Press in 2005, experience a different reality.

This morning while watching a television segment on Modern Fathers I found myself getting annoyed. Gay men who choose to be parents, dealt with many of these same parenting issues 20 years ago—but very few people noticed. Now that non-gay dads are addressing some of the issues relating to being a more involved parent, it is newsworthy. That made me mad. As I sat watching, and fuming a bit as I am wont to do (I have recently been given the appellation and I proudly accept it—the Larry Kramer of LGBTQ child welfare) I kept thinking of all of those Dads whom I interviewed almost a decade ago.

I have kept in touch with many of them. Some who were in couples are now separated from their partners; some are struggling with an older adolescent still living at home. For others, their children are now in college or living on their own and creating their own lives as young adults. The Dads are experiencing empty nest syndrome or loving being grandparents—all lives have been deeply affected but all still delight in the reality that they are Dads.


Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Interview with Whitney Strub, author of Perversion for Profit (now out in paper!)

With Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right now available in paperback, we’re re-posting our earlier interview with the book’s author, Whitney Strub

Question: Why “Perversion for Profit”? Won’t people think the book is about the economics of the porn industry?

Whitney Strub: Hopefully not. I lay out the main emphasis in the subtitle! I chose the title for a few reasons. First, it was the name of an early-1960s antiporn short film distributed by Citizens for Decent Literature, which crystallizes some of the key methods of modern antiporn discourse—a secular veneer of legalisms and social science that tries to conceal a substantive moralism; a freewheeling construction of “perversity” that barrages the viewer with everything from bestiality to “your daughter, lured into lesbianism,” a dizzying array of perversions that share only their imagined contrast to the heterosexual nuclear family; and also the enticement of an opportunity to wallow in some perversion for a while, under the alibi of fighting for decency.

So the film Perversion for Profit occupies a place of centrality in the politics of pornography; my students laugh at the film today, but its tactics are still operative when politicians speak of the “debilitating effects on communities, marriages, families, and children,” as George W. Bush did in 2003. No meaningful evidence to speak of really supports that, but it’s the sort of trope the New Right mastered in the late 1960s and continues to employ to great effect—the displacement of material issues by moral ones. (Deindustrialization, economic and environmental deregulation, and the massive upward redistribution of wealth debilitate more communities, marriage, families, and children than porn, but you never heard Bush discuss those impacts.) That undergirds the other meaning of the title—that the modern Right has profited immensely through its use of various “perversions” for political gain. I argue that pornography played a crucial role in the formulation of the social-issues agenda that ultimately included comprehensive sex education, feminism, gay rights, reproductive rights, and other elements of modern sexuality that conservatism has very effectively construed as attacks on its monolithic notion of “the family.”


Friday, August 16th, 2013

A Little Gay History — Protest and Rights

R. B. Parkinson, A Little Gay History

We conclude our week-long feature on A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, by R. B. Parkinson, with a focus not on art and culture but politics. The images above and below are pins from the past forty reflecting the efforts of the gay and lesbian community to win, protect, and assert their rights as well as to protest the indifference toward AIDS. Below is an excerpt from the book:

These badges from protest rallies were worn both by protesters and also by others as signs of their support for lesbian and gay rights. They represent four decades and a wide range of issues: some are specific, such as the threatened closure of a gay bookshop, while some are general. Some are serious, and some wittily caricature stereotypes about gay identity, such as the assumption that if you are a lesbian, you must own a cat, as in the badge by the cartoonist Kate Charlesworth.

Several of these designs include the pink triangle, a symbol with a dark history. The Nazi regime in Germany persecuted and killed millions of citizens whom they considered undesirable. These were predominantly Jews but also included trade unionists, communists, gypsies, physically disabled people and “homosexuals”. An estimated hundred thousand “homosexual” men were arrested, and those who were sent to concentration camps were made to wear the pink triangle. After the camps were liberated, some were re-imprisoned because ‘homosexuality’ remained illegal in Germany, and it was only in the 1980s that these forgotten victims began to be acknowledged officially. Campaigning organizations reclaimed the triangle as a badge of gay pride, inverting it, and it was widely used by the 1970s.

Such badges are still being produced, and people continue to fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights to be fully recognized. As the campaigner Peter Tatchell comments:

the only liberation struggle worth fighting is a struggle inspired by love. Love is the beginning, middle and end of liberation. Without love, there can be no liberation worthy of the name.

A Little Gay History, R. B. Parkinson

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Images from A Little Gay History

We continue our week-long feature on A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, by R. B. Parkinson with some images from the book, which come from the collection at the British Museum. Working backwards in time, we move from David Hockney to Egyptian Papyrus from 950 BCE.

David Hockney, In the Dull Village, 1966-7
David Hockney, In the Dull Village

Kitagawa Utamaro, Mashiba Hisayhoshi, 1804
Kitagawa Utamoro, Mashiba Hisayhoshi


Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Interview with R. B. Parkinson, author of A Little Gay History

A Little Gay HistoryThe following is an interview with R. B. Parkinson, author of A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World. For more on the book, you can also read Parkinson’s blog post, Same-Sex Desire in the British Museum or read the introduction:

Question: Being at the British Museum you have access to a wide range of objects, works of art, etc. What are we able to understand about Gay history through objects and art works that might not come through via a more traditional history? How does this perspective change or build upon other histories of gay and lesbian life and culture?

R. B. Parkinson: The British Museum is very much a museum of the whole world for the whole world, and most monographs on gay history concentrate on specific periods and cultures, but we wanted to show that LGBT history is a world history (and we wanted to make it accessible to the widest possible range of readers, just as the Museum is free to all visitors). I enjoy working with objects because they encourage you to be practical and think in material terms. All too often history is about grand abstract narratives which I find rather dehumanising, so I prefer to think in specific terms, about a particular object, a particular person feeling this or that in a particular time and place—such as Michelangelo drawing his sketch in Rome in 1533, concerned about what the handsome young Tommaso dei Cavalieri would think of it, that sort of thing. That wonderful drawing—as an object gives you a “touch of the real”.


Q: What do these works and objects reveal about changing ideas about concepts or categories such as gay as well as shifting attitudes toward homosexuality

RBP: I think I was surprised at how varied the different views of desire were in different cultures across history. So for me, one basic message is that everything is culturally constructed. Even an erection is a cultural construct: who would imagine that a drawing of oral masturbation could be a religious icon in another culture? These sorts of differences warn us against assuming that any single culture has a uniquely privileged interpretation of reality, which is always a useful lesson.

Q: What was the selection process for the objects or works you decided to focus on? Were there particular characteristics, either aesthetic or historical, that you were looking for? Did you try to find a balance between more explicit vs. more coded representations?

RBP: I wanted to find objects that were interesting in themselves but also represented an aspect of their culture, that could provide a glimpse of a specific history and also form part of a general history of LGBT desire. Inevitably some cultures, such as Edo-period Japan, provided more evidence than others, partly due to the values of that culture, partly due to the chances of preservation, and partly due to the history of collecting. In the end, we settled on around 40 objects from a range of continents, chosen with the guidance of specialist colleagues. And since the book was conceived as a visual survey, the objects had to work visually as well, although sometimes I admit we added a second image to liven up an interesting but rather unappealing looking main object. The book had to be written in 6 months, without any dedicated research time for the project, so the selection process had to be quite quick. I felt we had to choose objects that were indisputably relevant to LGBT history: I think any controversies about our interpretation of an object might have distracted from the overall aims of the project, so we were quite cautious. We present a range of the different sorts of data that we have for such a history: so some are very explicit sexual scenes and some are instead purely about romance; some are very direct sources and others, like the Pakistani quilt, are rather indirect. In short, I wanted to present a representative picture (to use a phrase from Marguerite Yourcenar) of the variety of the world.

pakistani textile


Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

R. B. Parkinson on Same-Sex Desire in the British Museum

A Little Gay History, R. B. ParkinsonThe following post is by R. B. Parkinson, author of A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World:

My own academic research concerns Ancient Egyptian poetry from around 1800 BCE and because some of these works deal with same-sex desire, and because I am gay, I had worked a little on how to identify such desire in ancient poems. And so, when the British Museum was approached to help with a LGBT history trail several years ago, I volunteered for this, and this project led to me writing A Little Gay History.

The book is arranged chronologically and covers some 11,000 years. Exploring the British Museum’s wide ranging collection was an exciting challenge for me and the contributing authors Kate Smith and Max Carocci, and it would have been utterly impossible without the support of so many helpful specialist colleagues across the whole museum. It is a small book for a vast subject, but we wanted to provide an authoritative and accessible introduction to an often overlooked (and often contested) aspect of world history. The book is of course not a political tract, although the subject is very much in the news at the moment. It simply states some historical facts as we see them, and we hope it will remind all readers of how varied human desire has been across world cultures.

Some of the museum objects chose themselves, such the stunning Warren cup, showing two pairs of Roman men making energetic love. I also wanted to include a full range of different types of art, including literature and film. For me, a particularly influential author was E. M. Forster—an important figure in my own coming out. His quietly subversive and ironic style offers a way of challenging assumptions about sexuality that I find very appealing (and very “queer”). And of course, a climactic scene of his explicitly gay novel, Maurice (1914), takes place in the British Museum. The novel has a happy ending, and for me this was extremely important, since all too often in modern works of art, same sex desire has ended unhappily. In the book, Maurice and the game keeper Alec finally realize they are in love as they wander through the galleries: one location in this scene, between two huge Assyrian Bulls from Khorsabad, has always seemed to me the most romantic spot in the entire museum. The setting in the British Museum underlines Maurice’s realization that “there always have been people like me and there always will be” and this goes to the heart of any LGBT history project.


Monday, August 12th, 2013

Book Giveaway!: A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, R. B. Parkinson

Taken from a landmark exhibit at the British Museum, A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, by R. B. Parkinson, tells the history gay and lesbians through objects from Ancient Egypt to the present. Parkinson draws attention to a diverse range of same-sex experiences and situates them within specific historical and cultural contexts. The first of its kind, A Little Gay History builds a complex and creative portrait of love’s many guises.

Throughout the week, we will be featuring A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World. For more on the book, you can also read the introduction to A Little Gay History.

We are also offering a FREE copy of the book to a lucky winner.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on August 16 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Judith Butler: Your Behavior Creates Your Gender

Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of ZionismOur highlighted book this week is Judith Butler’s Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism. You can enter our giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy!

Today, we are taking a look back at some of Judith Butler’s earlier work, particularly her revolutionary thinking in gender theory. She became a rising academic star following the publication of her famous Gender Trouble, in 1990. In the video we are featuring today, Butler gives a concise and understandable explanation of the ideas from Gender Trouble and her other works in gender theory.

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Judith Butler on deriving principles from a Jewish cultural tradition

“What gives a tradition legitimacy is very often what works against its effectiveness. To be effective, a tradition must be able to depart from the particular historical circumstances of its legitimation and prove applicability to new occasions of time and space. In a sense, such resources can only become effective by losing their grounding in historical or textual precedent….” — Judith Butler

Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of ZionismOur highlighted book this week is Judith Butler’s Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism. You can enter our giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy!

Today we have part of the introduction of Parting Ways. In this excerpt, Butler explains “what it means to derive a set of principles from a cultural tradition” and then applies this explanation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can read the introduction to Parting Ways in it’s entirety on Scribd.

To Derive a Set of Principles

Let us reflect first on what it means to derive a set of principles from a cultural tradition and then move to the larger political issues at hand. As I noted, to say that principles are “derived” from Jewish resources raises the question of whether these principles remain Jewish once they are developed within a contemporary situation, assuming new historical forms? Or are they principles that can and must be, always have been, derived from various cultural and historical resources, thus “belonging” exclusively to none of them? In fact, does the generalizability of theprinciples in question depend fundamentally on their finally not belonging to any one cultural location or tradition from which they may have emerged? Does this nonbelonging, this exile, help to constitute the generalizability and transposability of the principles of justice and equality?