Gay and Lesbian Studies

New Books in April

 April brings a fresh crop of great new books. Check out what we’re releasing this month.

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In Biblical Porn Jessica Johnson draws on a decade of fieldwork at Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle to show how congregants became entangled in a process of religious conviction through which they embodied Driscoll’s teaching on gender and sexuality in ways that supported the church’s growth.

In Abject Performances Leticia Alvarado explores how Latino artists and cultural producers have developed and deployed an irreverent aesthetics of abjection to resist assimilation and disrupt respectability politics.

Matthew Vitz’s A City on a Lake outlines the environmental history and politics of Mexico City as it transformed its original forested, water-rich environment into a smog-infested megacity, showing how the scientific and political disputes over water policy, housing, forestry, and sanitary engineering led to the city’s unequal urbanization and environmental decline.

In Domesticating Democracy Susan Helen Ellison offers an ethnography of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organizations in El Alto, Bolivia, showing that by helping residents cope with their interpersonal disputes and economic troubles how they change the ways Bolivians interact with the state and global capitalism, making them into self-reliant citizens.

978-0-8223-7081-9.jpgKatherine Verdery’s My Life as a Spy analyzes the 2,781 page surveillance file the Romanian secret police compiled on her during her research trips to Transylvania in the 1970s and 1980s. Reading it led her to question her identity and also revealed how deeply the secret police was embedded in everyday life.

 In Edges of Exposure, following Senegalese toxicologists as they struggle to keep equipment, labs, and projects operating, Noémi Tousignant explores the impact of insufficient investments in scientific capacity in postcolonial Africa.

 

Examining human rights discourse from the French Revolution to the present, in Human Rights and the Care of the Self Alexandre Lefebvre turns common assumptions about human rights—that its main purpose is to enable, protect, and care for those in need—on their heads, showing how the value of human rights lies in its support of ethical self-care.

Gay PrioriLibby Adler’s Gay Priori offers a comprehensive critique of the mainstream LGBT legal agenda in the United States, showing how LGBT equal rights discourse drives legal advocates toward a narrow array of reform objectives that do little to help the lives of the most marginalized members of the LGBT community.

In From the Tricontinental to the Global South Anne Garland Mahler traces the history and intellectual legacy of the understudied global justice movement called the Tricontinental and calls for a revival of the Tricontinental’s politics as a means to strengthen racial justice and anti-neoliberal struggles in the twenty-first-century.

Aimee Bahng’s Migrant Futures traces the cultural production of futurity by juxtaposing the practices of speculative finance against those of speculative fiction, showing how speculative novels, films, and narratives create alternative futures that envision the potential for new political economies, social structures, and subjectivities that exceed the framework of capitalism.

A Primer for Teaching Environmental History, by Emily Wakild and Michelle K. Berry, is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching environmental history for the first time, for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses, for those who are training future teachers to prepare their own syllabi, and for teachers who want to incorporate environmental history into their world history courses. The book is part of a new series, Design Principles for Teaching History.

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Q&A with Martin Duberman, Author of The Rest of It

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Photo by Alan Barnett

Martin Duberman is Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, at City University of New York, where he founded and directed the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. He is the author of numerous award-winning histories, biographies, memoirs, essays, plays, and novels, which include Cures: A Gay Man’s OdysseyPaul RobesonStonewallMidlife Queer: Autobiography of a Decade, 1971–1981;Black Mountain: An Exploration in CommunityThe Worlds of Lincoln KirsteinJews/Queers/Germans; and more than a dozen others. His latest book, The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988 is the untold and revealing story of how he managed to survive and be productive during a difficult twelve year period in which he was beset by drug addiction, health problems, and personal loss.

You’ve written two other memoirs (Cures, 1991 and Midlife Queer, 1996) but until now you’ve rarely written about this period in your life. Why tell the story of these difficult years now?

The Rest of ItI’m at the point in my life when I can “come clean” without fear of repercussions. And that means telling the FULL truth about some of its less “seemly” aspects—which, I believe, is important to do. Many people seem to view me as someone who’s had a charmed, problem-free life. There is no such thing. That I was blessed with many privileges and advantages is unquestionably true, but I grew up gay in the 1950s, probably the most repressive decade in history for those who were “different.” Enforced secrecy and harassment take their toll. I think it’s important for the new generation to realize that such conditions can return—and to be prepared.

While your personal life was extremely difficult during this time, your professional life was very successful. How did your personal challenges impact your writing and activism?

Being gay, I believe, sensitized me to all forms of injustice. Before coming out I devoted a fair amount of my time to the black struggle—my play In White America, for example, ran for a year and a half off-Broadway and toured Mississippi during Freedom Summer—and much of my writing throughout my life has addressed issues relating to the history of “outsiders.”

How did being openly gay—at a time when that was not very common in academia—affect your career and your professional life during these years?

I already had tenure as a full professor when I came out and could only have been fired for “moral turpitude.” At the time many would have included homosexuality under that rubric; some still do. Fortunately, the universities I taught at did not. Also protecting me was my record of publications. However, there were consequences. Before coming out I’d been widely asked to contribute essays and reviews to various national publications. Those invitations ceased almost completely.

How did you come to write Paul Robeson’s biography? What were the best and worst aspects of working on that book?

Paul Robeson’s son invited me to do the biography and was willing to open the vast and previously closed Robeson Family Papers to me, as well as to cede all control over what I ultimately chose to write. Since Paul Robeson was one of my heroes, I accepted with alacrity. Nonetheless, the seven year long process proved difficult on many counts. Sons and scholars tend to have quite different agendas and what started as a cordial relationship didn’t end that way. All this is recounted at length in The Rest of It.

You were active in the nascent gay civil rights movement during this time and also working to raise awareness about AIDS. How has your activist work grown and changed since then?

In the immediate post-Stonewall period, the gay liberation movement was radical in its tactics and scope. It was not a single issue movement but rather one that spoke out against other oppressions based on race, class, and gender. It also sought alliances with movements speaking in the name of those oppressions—such as the Black Panthers and the feminist movements. Since the mid-seventies, however, the gay movement has gradually moved towards the center and to single issue politics. Basically national LGBTQ organizations like the Human Rights Campaign argue that we’re “just folks” (except for this insignificant matter of sexual orientation)—in other words that we share mainstream values and believe in the structural soundness of our institutions. In my view, this view denies the reality of gay cultural values AND the important contribution our different perspective has to make on issues relating to gender, sexuality, the nature of “coupledom,” and the “family.” All the studies have shown, for example, that gay men are far more sexually and emotionally expressive than straight men and far less bound by traditional strictures regarding monogamy and the closed unit of the family.

In the years following those covered in The Rest of It I continued to do “activist” work, but of a different sort than earlier. For ten years (1986-1996) I served as the founding executive director of The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, and in my writing, I turned primarily to recounting the lives and politics of RADICAL LGBTQ people—for example, in my books Left Out, Radical ActsA Saving RemnantHold Tight GentlyThe Emperor Has No Clothes, and Jews/Queers/Germans.

What do you consider your most important achievement during the decade covered by The Rest of It (1976-1988)?

I have to go for two rather than one: (a) completing my biography of Paul Robeson and (b) starting up what became the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies.

What is your greatest regret from the period?

My inability to express the love and gratitude I felt towards my mother before her death.

Want to read a bit of The Rest of It? Check out an excerpt in The Advocate. You can order The Rest of It from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or save 30% when you order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E18REST at checkout to save.

Call for Papers: Teaching Critical Theory in the Era of Globalization

ddped_18_1Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture is seeking submissions for a special issue edited by Helena Gurfinkel (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) and Gautam Basu Thakur (Boise State University), titled “Critical Theory in the Era of Globalization,” and scheduled for October 2020.

The editors of this special issue are seeking contributions on teaching critical theory in the global present. What is the relevance of teaching theory in the era of globalization, and what is at stake? What are the challenges and unavoidable paradoxes of teaching theory at a time when global classrooms are geared toward both neoliberal information/skills acquisition and conservative knowledge accumulation?

Changes in the classroom reflect changes in global politics. In the decades following the Second World War, that is, in the midst of the Cold War and the rapid decolonization of the globe, critical theory gained popularity across Anglo-American English departments with its radical interrogations of traditional society, politics, and culture. It drastically dislocated the imperial boundaries of English studies and was responsible for challenging the canon – “birthing” gender and postcolonial studies and connecting literature to politics, subjectivity, and networks of commodity relations. But does theory retain these strengths in the twenty-first century college classroom? What relevance does it have as pedagogy and practice to better understand and address the challenges of contemporary social reality – climate change, depredation of democracy, neoliberalism and violence, and the so-called “death of the humanities”?

This special issue will ponder these questions, as we seek new ways of teaching undergraduate and graduate literary theory and criticism courses. The editors would particularly like to rethink the institution of the survey course, an accepted narrative that begins with formalism and ends with identity.

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Teaching a theory survey course (graduate and/or undergraduate) in a globalized world: challenges, rewards, and methodologies.
  • Teaching critical theory: new methodologies, forgotten theories/forgotten methodologies, new theories.
  • Teaching critical theory in a graduate course in the current (global) job market.
  • Teaching global literatures as theory/ Global literary theory as pedagogy.
  • Teaching a global critical theory survey: resisting chronology.
  • Teaching critical theory beyond the Western university.

The editors invite articles of 5000-7500 words and position papers of 1500 words. Articles are open to all theoretical approaches. Position papers should address one of the following: 1) teaching queer theory; 2) teaching postcolonial theory; 3) teaching the non-human turn. In all cases, global pedagogical contexts are essential. Pedagogy uses The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition.

Submission Deadlines:

March 2, 2018: 1-page CVs; abstracts of 500 words for articles, or of 150 words for position papers to Helena Gurfinkel and Gautam Basu Thakur.

September 4, 2018: full articles and position papers to Helena Gurfinkel and Gautam Basu Thakur.

Queries welcome.

Recent GLQ Forum on The Pulse Nightclub Shooting

ddglq_24_1_coverThe most recent issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies features a forum on the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016.

From the introduction to the forum by Jason Alley:

This special GLQ forum offers a range of responses to the murders of forty-nine people—and the injuring of many more—that took place in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, at Pulse, a queer nightclub in Orlando, Florida. While acts of violence—everyday and spectacular—have long histories in queer and trans communities (threatening trans and queer people of color with double, triple, quadruple forms of jeopardy), one guiding question for this collection of contributions revolves around what is at stake in responding to and unpacking violent and publicly mediated events after the fact, after the events have faded from public consciousness yet when their aftereffects still haunt many of us…

…We invite readers to join us on the dance floor. Not to deny the deadliness of toxic masculinities, racialized violences, or Trumpism writ large. But, rather, to remind us that we must continue to hold each other in desire and political accountability alike if the affects we have in and effects we have on the world are still worth fighting for.

Read the special forum, “GLQ Forum/Aftereffects: The Pulse Nightclub Shootings,” made freely available.

Recent Scholarship on the 2017 Women’s March

On January 21, 2017, over 5 million people marched all over the world in support of women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental policy reform, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and worker’s rights, among other causes. We are excited to share this recent scholarship that analyzes the Women’s March itself, as well as continued scholarship on feminism and women’s rights.

“Positions in Solidarity: Voices and Images from the US Women’s Marches” by Deborah Frizzell in Cultural Politics

Trump-WomensMarch_2017-top-1510075_(32409710246)In this article featured in Cultural Politics, Frizzell features photographs and remembrances of the Women’s Marches in New York City and Washington, D.C. The article addresses the efficacy of mass marches and similar forms of protest and poses questions about the nature of the March, what it achieved, and questions if solidarity can be sustained in an environment of ongoing divisiveness.
An excerpt from the article:
On the morning of January 21, 2017, I reviewed a PDF file from the National Lawyers Guild and the Black Movement Law Project to prepare for participation in the Women’s March in New York City. As I dressed for a mild winter’s day, I wrote with a Sharpie pen on my forearm the guild’s legal support hotline number in case of arrest. My good friend and colleague Sharon Vatsky and I decided to attend the march together. Although we had experience protesting in a number of marches over the years, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, we were not sure what to expect in 2017 with militarized police forces and escalating violence deployed by Trump supporters as a tactic against Muslims, Latinos, people of color, Jews, and LGBTQ communities.
Read the full article, made freely available.

“The Women’s March: New York, January 21, 2017” by Caroline Walker Bynum in Common Knowledge

Women's_March_2017-01_(04)Bynum wrote this article, featured in Common Knowledge, two days after the Women’s March in New York City. It describes the event while focusing on two specific aspects: the March’s multi-issue focus and its response to the denigration of women’s expertise represented in much of the hostility to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Bynum argues that “a pernicious and often unrecognized denigration of female voices and female expertise forms an undercurrent of contemporary political debate that needs to be much more widely resisted.”

An excerpt from the article:

Indeed, the staggering diversity of issues was one of the most obvious aspects of Saturday’s march. Even among those in my little group, there were many reasons for turning out. Our signs spoke of defending Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, gun control, the inner cities, the environment. If there was no clear agenda, why does it seem so important that my friends and I marched?

Above all, it is important because it was a women’s march—a fact that the commentators have not fully noted and understood.

Read the full article, made freely available.

 

Additional Scholarship on Feminism and Women’s Rights

Read to Respond: Feminism and Women’s Rights

readtorespondOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This blog post on Feminism and Women’s Rights features journal articles and books tackling topics from abortion laws, maternity leave, Islamic feminism, and more. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

“Borders and Margins,” a special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies

ddmew_13_3_coverThis special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, “Borders and Margins,” approaches borders and margins through the lens of gender and sexuality.  Borders and margins are productive spaces to examine both the power and contingency of normative gender and sexual ideals and how gendered and sexual bodies participate in the production and reconfiguration of the nation-state. Essays in this issue analyze how women on the margins of society expose the exclusionary and gendered logics of nation-state formation and then generate new engagements with embodied politics and religious practice. This examination of borders and margins continues the feminist and gender-based analyses of material and discursive spaces and mobilities examined in previous issues.

The issue also features a special forum on Trump’s Presidency and Middle East Women’s Studies, examining topics such as the Muslim ban and the gendered side of Islamophobia. This special forum is freely available until May 2018.

Start reading with Sara Smith’s preface to the issue, freely available now.

“1970s Feminisms,” a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly

ddsaq_114_4For more than a decade, feminist historians and historiographers have engaged in challenging the “third wave” portrait of 1970s feminism as essentialist, white, middle-class, uninterested in racism, and theoretically naive. This task has involved setting the record straight about women’s liberation by interrogating how that image took hold in the public imagination and among academic feminists. This issue invites feminist theorists to return to women’s liberation—to the texts, genres, and cultural productions to which the movement gave rise—for a more nuanced look at its conceptual and political consequences. The essays in this issue explore such topics as the ambivalent legacies of women’s liberation; the production of feminist subjectivity in mass culture and abortion documentaries; the political effects of archiving Chicana feminism; and conceptual and generic innovations in the work of Gayle Rubin, Christine Delphy, and Shulamith Firestone.

Start reading now.

“Trans/Feminisms,” a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly

ddtsq_3_1-2Feminism and trans activism don’t have to be mutually exclusive, argue the contributors to “Trans/Feminisms,” the most recent issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.

This special double issue, edited by Susan Stryker and Talia M. Bettcher, goes beyond the simplistic dichotomy between an exclusionary transphobic feminism and an inclusive trans-affirming feminism. Exploring the ways in which trans issues are addressed within feminist and women’s organizations and social movements around the world, contributors ask how trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary issues are related to feminist movements today, what kind of work is currently undertaken in the name of trans/feminism, what new paradigms and visions are emerging, and what questions still need to be taken up.

Central to this issue is the recognition that oppressions intersect, converge, overlap, and sometimes diverge in complex ways, and that trans/feminist politics cannot restrict itself to the domain of gender alone.

This issue features numerous shorter works that represent the diversity of trans/feminist practices and problematics and, in addition to original research articles, includes theory, reports, manifestos, opinion pieces, reviews, and creative/artistic productions, as well as republished key documents of trans/feminist history and international scholarship.

Start reading now.

“World Policy Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal
wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppIn “World Policy Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal penned entirely by female foreign policy experts and journalists, contributors imagine a world where the majority of foreign policy experts quoted, bylined, and miked are not men.

The issue challenges the perception that women are not policymakers by showcasing the voices of female experts and leaders. Contributors to this issue address topics such as feminism in Chinaabortion laws across the Americascombating violent extremism by working with religious leaders, and women in media. The issue also features a conversation with Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritus.

Start reading now.

New Books in February

How to get through the cold, dark days of February? With a great new book, of course! Check out what’s releasing this month.

978-0-8223-7084-0Fans of 2016’s Spill are eagerly awaiting the next book in Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s experimental triptych, M ArchiveEngaging with the work of M. Jacqui Alexander and Black feminist thought more generally,  M Archive is a series of prose poems that speculatively documents the survival of Black people following a worldwide cataclysm while examining the possibilities of being that exceed the human.

Ari Larissa Heinrich’s Chinese Surplus examines transnational Chinese aesthetic production—from the earliest appearance of Frankenstein in China to the more recent phenomenon of “cadaver art”— to demonstrate how representations of the medically commodified body can illuminate the effects of biopolitical violence and postcolonialism in contemporary life.

Conditions of the Present collects essays by the late Lindon Barrett that theorize race and liberation in the United States, confront critical blind spots within both academic and popular discourse, and speak across institutional divides and the gulf between academia and the street.

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Arturo Escobar’s Designs for the Pluriverse presents a new vision of design theory by arguing for the creation of what he calls “autonomous design”—a design practice aimed at channeling design’s world-making capacity toward ways of being and doing that are deeply attuned to justice and the Earth.

In The Political Sublime Michael J. Shapiro formulates a new politics of aesthetics by analyzing the experience of the sublime as rendered by a number of artistic and cultural texts that deal with race, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and industrialism, showing how the sublime’s disruptive effects provides the opportunity for a new oppositional politics.

Trevor Getz’s A Primer for Teaching African History is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching African history for the first time, for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses, and for those who are training future teachers to prepare their own African history syllabi. It’s part of a new series, Design Principles for Teaching History, which will also feature books on teaching Environmental History and Gender History.

978-0-8223-7086-4.jpgAssembling a range of interviews, essays, and conversations, Sisters in the Life, edited by Yvonne Welbon and Alexandra Juhasz, narrates the history of African American lesbian media-making during the past thirty years, thereby documenting the important and influential work of this group of understudied and underappreciated artists.

Jason Borge’s Tropical Riffs traces how jazz helped forge modern identities and national imaginaries in Latin America during the mid-twentieth century, showing how throughout the region, jazz functioned as a conduit through which debates about race, sexuality, nation, technology, and modernity raged in newspapers, magazines, literature, and film.

978-0-8223-7070-3.jpgMartin Duberman’s The Rest of It is the untold and revealing story of how Duberman—a major historian and a founding figure in the history of gay and lesbian studies—managed to survive and be productive during a difficult twelve year period in which he was beset by drug addiction, health problems, and personal loss.

In Diaspora’s Homeland Shelly Chan provides a broad historical study of how the mass migration of more than twenty million Chinese overseas influenced China’s politics, economics, and culture and helped establish China as a nation-state within a global system.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for Subject Matters, our e-mail newsletter, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Q&A with Lynn Comella, author of Vibrator Nation

lynn_comella_by_krystal_ramirez_smallLynn Comella is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. An award-winning researcher, she has written extensively about sexuality and culture for numerous academic publications and popular media outlets. She is coeditor of the comprehensive New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law, and a frequent media contributor. In Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure—the first book to tell the story of feminist sex-toy stores and the women who pioneered them—she takes a deep dive into the making of the consumer market for sex toys, tracing its emergence from the early 1970s to today. Drawing on more than eighty in-depth interviews with retailers and industry insiders, including a stint working as a vibrator clerk, she brings readers onto the sex-shop floor and into the world of sex-positive capitalism and cultural production. Lynn Comella is on a national tour this fall and winter; check back here next week for a full tour schedule.

art1Why did you decide to research feminist sex-toy businesses and how did you conduct your research?

I’ve long been interested in the politics of sexual representation, from the feminist sex wars of the 1980s to debates over school-based sex education. When I started this project, which began as a seminar paper in graduate school, I was really interested in the various ways in which female sexuality assumed a public presence as opposed to being relegated to the privacy of the home. As luck would have it, a feminist sex-toy shop, Intimacies, had just opened in the college town where I lived. I decided to make the store the focus of a small pilot study in an effort to better understand what made this female-friendly vibrator business different from more conventional adult stores ostensibly geared toward men. I quickly realized that Intimacies was part of a larger network of women-run, educationally oriented vibrator shops located in cities across the country that had all adopted a similar way of selling sex toys and talking about sex. I wanted to know more about what united these businesses together and how they attempted to practice feminist politics through the marketplace. What were the sexual vernaculars, retail strategies, philosophies, challenges and paradoxes that had shaped these businesses?

Researching the history of feminist sex-toy stores sent me down a rabbit hole. It took years and multiple methods of data collection—ethnographic fieldwork, in-depth interviews, and archival research—to weave together the various historical threads that shaped these businesses and the larger women’s market for sex toys and pornography. Writing the book I wanted to write, one that took a deep dive into the making of a market, required a kind of methodological promiscuity: I worked as a vibrator clerk at Babeland in New York City where I sold my fair share of sex toys, answered customer questions, and crossed my fingers that my cash register balanced at the end of the night. I interviewed more than eighty feminist retailers, employees, and industry insiders. I toured dildo manufacturing companies and lube factories, and attended more than a dozen adult industry trade shows where I sat in on business seminars that discussed marketing sex toys to women, retail-based sex education, and the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. I poured through dusty boxes filled with corporate documents, internal memos, customer letters, advertisements, news clippings, and more, and amassed a research archive teeming with sex-toy ephemera (which I’m having a lot of fun sharing on the vibrator_nation Instagram account).

What was it like for women to purchase sex toys before the mid-1970s? What were feminist entrepreneurs trying to change?

There weren’t a lot of opportunities for the average woman to comfortably buy vibrators in the early 1970s. Conventional adult stores weren’t designed with female shoppers in mind; reputable mail-order businesses that sold so-called marital aids were few and far between; and women walking into a department store—or any store, really—to buy a vibrating massager risked encountering a male clerk who might say, “Boy, you must really need it bad, sweetie pie.” What made the situation all the more frustrating for many women was that they were being told by feminist sex educators and therapists that they should masturbate and take control of their orgasms. Vibrators were being framed as tools of liberation, but getting one wasn’t easy. Early feminist retailers, such as Dell Williams, who founded Eve’s Garden in 1974, and Joani Blank who opened Good Vibrations several years later, stepped into this breach. They turned the traditional model of an adult store, with its “seamy” aura and X-rated style, on its head in an effort to appeal to female shoppers. What made these early feminist vibrator businesses so revolutionary, and what set them apart from their more conventional counterparts geared toward men, wasn’t just their focus on women, but their entire way of doing business. They led with sex education not titillation, and worked to advance a social mission that included putting a vibrator on the bedside table of every woman, everywhere, because they believed that access to accurate sexual information and quality products had the potential to make everyone’s lives better.

In the book you describe a “sex-positive diaspora” of feminist retailers. What do you mean by that?

One of the things that I found so interesting during the early stages of my research was the degree to which feminist business owners tipped their hats to Good Vibrations. Many of them credited the company’s founder, Joani Blank, a sex therapist with a master’s degree in public health, with helping them start their businesses. Blank had a very non-competitive approach to running a company and strongly believed that the more businesses that were doing what Good Vibrations was doing—selling vibrators and talking openly about sex—the better. Blank freely shared information and vendor lists with aspiring entrepreneurs, and in the early 1990s she started a short-lived internship program to train people how to run a business like Good Vibrations. The first, and only, two people to complete the internship program were Claire Cavanah, who along with Rachel Venning would go on to found Babeland in 1993, and Kim Airs who started Grand Opening in Boston that same year. Blank’s communitarian, non-competitive ethos created a ripple effect and by the early 1990s, Good Vibrations’ DNA had begun to spread to cities across the country. In time, people who worked at Babeland and Grand Opening branched out and started their own feminist vibrator shops and Good Vibrations’ sex-positive mission continued to replicate. I wanted a phrase that captured this movement and dispersal, and the description “sex-positive diaspora” seemed to do that.

What role have lesbians and queer-identified retailers and people of color played in the history of feminist sex-toy business?

Lesbians and queer-identified retailers, along with queer and transgender employees, have played a major role in shaping the history of feminist sex-toy businesses. They opened stores, worked on the sales floor, started sex-toy manufacturing companies, wrote “how to” guides, and made pornography. In these different ways they’ve been important nodes of transmission and sources of queer sexual knowledge, including for straight people. In fact, I’d argue that the history of feminist sex-toy stores is also, and very much so, a story about queer entrepreneurship and cultural production. For many of the businesses that I write about in Vibrator Nation, their identities as queer and trans-inclusive companies are as important, if not more so, than their feminist identities. And yet, it’s also the case that these businesses have historically been very white. If you look at photos of Good Vibrations staff from the 1980s, for example, everyone is white and female. So it’s perhaps not surprising that some customers got the impression that Good Vibrations was a white women’s store—even as the company worked hard to change that perception and diversity its staff. This was certainly how Oakland-based retailer Nenna Joiner, the founder of Feelmore, experienced Good Vibrations when she first discovered the company in the late 1990s. Although she loved what the store offered, she didn’t see any images that represented her. She realized there was a need in the African American community for more diverse sexual images and resources, and decided to start a business that could deliver what she felt was missing from other women-run sex-toy stores.

How have feminist sex toy stores remained true to their mission while also turning a profit?

The ongoing tension between profitability and social change is a thread that runs throughout Vibrator Nation. Many of the retailers I write about started their businesses because they saw their stores as a feminist way to empower women (and eventually everyone). They led with a mission of social change rather than capitalist aspirations. Good Vibrations’ Joani Blank once told me that profits were secondary to everything that was important to her about running a successful business. And if you read the mission statements of many of the businesses that followed in Good Vibrations’ footsteps, they’re all about promoting sex education and personal transformation and creating a more passionate world. There’s almost no mention of making money. As one of my interviewees pointed out, if you don’t put profitability in your mission statement, it’s easy to forget about it. In some cases, it took a severe financial crisis for retailers to realize they needed to cultivate new forms of business expertise and foster attitudes in which money was seen as friend instead of foe, something that not only greased the wheels of social change but kept those wheels spinning.

How did feminists end up changing the adult industry?

Perhaps the most dramatic shift over the past forty years is the acknowledgment on the part of mainstream adult retailers, manufacturers, and porn producers that the sex industry is no longer a world of men. In a post Sex and the City and Fifty Shades of Grey era, this statement might seem glaringly obvious, but it wasn’t that long ago that women found themselves marginalized in an industry largely dominated by men and steeped in sexism. I heard stories during my research of female product buyers with budgets of upwards of $3,000,000 annually who couldn’t get the time of day at adult novelty trade shows. Men would look right past them. And that was in the early 2000s. Feminists played an absolutely central role in creating a market that is now widely regarded as one of the hottest growth segments of the adult industry. Today, women are trusted authorities who routinely hold the microphone in seminar rooms filled with wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and content producers eager to mine their expertise. There have been other important changes, too, most notably in regard to sex-toy manufacturing and marketing. By the early 1990s women were placing new demands on the adult novelty sector. Good Vibrations began offering warranties and started sending defective merchandise back to manufacturers, letting them know they weren’t going to settle for cheaply made products that conked out after one use. Manufacturers started making products that looked prettier, had better motors, and used non-toxic and body safe materials. Sex-toy packaging with images of sultry porn starlets has been replaced with softer, more colorful, and sanitized imagery. Messages about sexual health and education, rather than titillation, are regularly used as marketing platforms. Art school grads and mechanical engineers are bringing elements of sleek design and quality manufacturing to an industry that used to revolve around the idea of planned obsolescence where nothing was made to last. It’s a far cry from what the adult industry looked like in the early 1970s when Dell Williams and Joani Blank took a bold leap of faith and started their small, women-friendly vibrator businesses.

What are some of the challenges of doing scholarly work on the sex industry?

What it means to do scholarly work on the sex industry has changed quite a bit over the past 15 years. When I was completing my Ph.D. in the early 2000s, academic research on the adult industry was hardly typical and it wasn’t unusual for someone to raise an eyebrow when I told them that I was researching feminist sex-toy stores. They were intrigued but often skeptical about the scholarly merits of such research. Although academic research on the adult industry is still not the norm, there’s a growing, international network of sexuality scholars—historians, sociologists, media studies practitioners, and others—who study pornography and other facets of the adult entertainment industry in an effort to better understand this extremely profitable yet under-examined segment of popular culture. This scholarship is increasingly finding institutional support not only in the form of tenure-track academic appointments, but in academic journals and professional organizations, too. Additionally, more and more academic presses are realizing that there’s a market for well-researched books about pornography and the sex industry, and are building their lists according. As for the nitty-gritty of researching the sex industry, it’s really no different than studying any other cultural phenomenon: you approach it ethically, rigorously, and systematically. The less we exoticize sexuality research, and the more we treat it with the seriousness that we might approach other scholarly topics, the better this research will be.

You can order Vibrator Nation from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E17COMEL to save 30%.

 

Read to Respond: Queer Studies

R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This post focuses on queer studies in celebration of Pride Month and yesterday’s Equality March for Unity & Pride. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Queer Studies

These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond.

Read to Respond: Trans Rights

R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This post focuses on trans rights in light of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, a day dedicated to drawing the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public, and the media to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTQIA+ people internationally. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Trans Rights

These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

InternationalWomensDay-portraitToday is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Since the early 1900s, this day has been a powerful platform that unifies tenacity and drives action for gender parity globally. IWD organizers are calling on supporters to help forge a better-working and more gender-inclusive world. In honor of this year’s International Women’s Day, we are pleased to share these recent books and journals from Duke University Press that support this year’s IWD theme: #BeBoldForChange.

Trans/Feminisms
a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly

tsq_new_prThis special double issue of TSQ goes beyond the simplistic dichotomy between an exclusionary transphobic feminism and an inclusive trans-affirming feminism. Exploring the ways in which trans issues are addressed within feminist and women’s organizations and social movements around the world, contributors ask how trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary issues are related to feminist movements today, what kind of work is currently undertaken in the name of trans/feminism, what new paradigms and visions are emerging, and what questions still need to be taken up. Central to this special issue is the recognition that trans/feminist politics cannot restrict itself to the domain of gender alone.

This issue features numerous shorter works that represent the diversity of trans/feminist practices and problematics and, in addition to original research articles, includes theory, reports, manifestos, opinion pieces, reviews, and creative/artistic productions, as well as republished key documents of trans/feminist history and international scholarship.

Living a Feminist Life

978-0-8223-6319-4In Living a Feminist Life Sara Ahmed shows how feminist theory is generated from everyday life and the ordinary experiences of being a feminist at home and at work. Building on legacies of feminist of color scholarship in particular, Ahmed offers a poetic and personal meditation on how feminists become estranged from worlds they critique—often by naming and calling attention to problems—and how feminists learn about worlds from their efforts to transform them. Ahmed also provides her most sustained commentary on the figure of the feminist killjoy introduced in her earlier work while showing how feminists create inventive solutions—such as forming support systems—to survive the shattering experiences of facing the walls of racism and sexism. The killjoy survival kit and killjoy manifesto, with which the book concludes, supply practical tools for how to live a feminist life, thereby strengthening the ties between the inventive creation of feminist theory and living a life that sustains it.

1970s Feminisms
a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly

ddsaq_114_4For more than a decade, feminist historians and historiographers have engaged in challenging the “third wave” portrait of 1970s feminism as essentialist, white, middle-class, uninterested in racism, and theoretically naive. This task has involved setting the record straight about women’s liberation by interrogating how that image took hold in the public imagination and among academic feminists. This issue invites feminist theorists to return to women’s liberation—to the texts, genres, and cultural productions to which the movement gave rise—for a more nuanced look at its conceptual and political consequences. The essays in this issue explore such topics as the ambivalent legacies of women’s liberation; the production of feminist subjectivity in mass culture and abortion documentaries; the political effects of archiving Chicana feminism; and conceptual and generic innovations in the work of Gayle Rubin, Christine Delphy, and Shulamith Firestone.

The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland

978-0-8223-6286-9In The Revolution Has Come Robyn C. Spencer traces the Black Panther Party’s organizational evolution in Oakland, California, where hundreds of young people came to political awareness and journeyed to adulthood as members. Challenging the belief that the Panthers were a projection of the leadership, Spencer draws on interviews with rank-and-file members, FBI files, and archival materials to examine the impact the organization’s internal politics and COINTELPRO’s political repression had on its evolution and dissolution. She shows how the Panthers’ members interpreted, implemented, and influenced party ideology and programs; initiated dialogues about gender politics; highlighted ambiguities in the Panthers’ armed stance; and criticized organizational priorities. Spencer also centers gender politics and the experiences of women and their contributions to the Panthers and the Black Power movement as a whole. Providing a panoramic view of the party’s organization over its sixteen-year history, The Revolution Has Come shows how the Black Panthers embodied Black Power through the party’s international activism, interracial alliances, commitment to address state violence, and desire to foster self-determination in Oakland’s black communities.

Reconsidering Gender, Violence, and the State
a special issue of Radical History Review

ddrhr_126In bringing together a geographically and temporally broad range of interdisciplinary historical scholarship, this issue of Radical History Review offers an expansive examination of gender, violence, and the state. Through analyses of New York penitentiaries, anarchists in early twentieth-century Japan, and militarism in the 1990s, contributors reconsider how historical conceptions of masculinity and femininity inform the persistence of and punishments for gendered violence. The contributors to a section on violence and activism challenge the efficacy of state solutions to gendered violence in a contemporary US context, highlighting alternatives posited by radical feminist and queer activists. In five case studies drawn from South Africa, India, Ireland, East Asia, and Nigeria, contributors analyze the archive’s role in shaping current attitudes toward gender, violence, and the state, as well as its lasting imprint on future quests for restitution or reconciliation. This issue also features a visual essay on the “false positives” killings in Colombia and an exploration of Zanale Muholi’s postapartheid activist photography.

Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology

978-0-8223-6295-1The editors and contributors to Color of Violence ask: What would it take to end violence against women of color? Presenting the fierce and vital writing of INCITE!’s organizers, lawyers, scholars, poets, and policy makers, Color of Violence radically repositions the antiviolence movement by putting women of color at its center. The contributors shift the focus from domestic violence and sexual assault and map innovative strategies of movement building and resistance used by women of color around the world. The volume’s thirty pieces—which include poems, short essays, position papers, letters, and personal reflections—cover violence against women of color in its myriad forms, manifestations, and settings, while identifying the links between gender, militarism, reproductive and economic violence, prisons and policing, colonialism, and war. At a time of heightened state surveillance and repression of people of color, Color of Violence is an essential intervention.

World Policy Interrupted
a special issue of World Policy Journal

wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppThis issue is penned entirely by female foreign policy experts and journalists and “imagines a world where we wouldn’t need to interpret to be heard at the table. In reconstructing a media landscape where the majority of foreign policy experts quoted, bylined, and miked are not men, we quickly gain deeper insight into a complex world, one historically narrated by only one segment of society,” co-editors Elmira Bayrasli and Lauren Bohn write. Bayrasli and Bohn lead Foreign Policy Interrupted, a program that mentors, develops, and amplifies the voices of women in the international policy field. Foreign Policy Interrupted combats the industry’s gender disparity through a visibility platform and a cohesive fellowship program, including media training and meaningful mentoring at partnering media institutions. The program helps women break both internal and external barriers.

Stay up to date on women’s studies scholarship with these journals on gender studies, feminist theory, queer theory, and gay and lesbian studies:

Camera Obscura
differences
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies
Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies