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Wednesday 08 October 2008


Proclamations of the Red Queen

22nd April 2008

Review: Jeff Weeks: The World We Have Won (2007)

Posted by: Craig Young

Jeffrey Weeks: The World We Have Won: The Remaking of Erotic and

Intimate Life Since 1945: London: Routledge: 2007.

Apart from HIV/AIDS and associated prevention issues, we’re reaching the end of our battles for equality of access and opportunity. So, what world of different gender and sexual opportunities has opened up for us?

As fortysomething academically bent readers can no doubt tell the rest of us, veteran British LGBT rights academic Jeff Weeks has been covering the field of LGBT rights, the history of sexuality and gender relations and associated theoretical frameworks for quite some time. Through the New Left of the seventies, to the Thatcher and Reagan eras of the eighties, to Major’s thaw and Blair’s agenda of relaxation, regulation and risk management today, British attitudes have changed over the last sixty years.

So, how is this applicable to us? New Zealand’s political history is divergent, with Muldoon pushing market reformers into Labour and eighties, alongside social liberals, and resulting in a battle of philosophies that led to the rise of Bolger’s pragmatic National administration, Shipley and Clark’s social liberalism, and the attainment of civil unions and transgender rights here over the last decade. Apart from Blair’s unfortunate endorsement of the Bush foreign policy agenda, Blair and Clark seem little different, insofar as our communities go.

Why? Feminism and LGBT rights were and are global social movements, and the rise of open economies, telecommunication deregulation and the Internet has made information gathering and surveillance of one’s opponents much easier, as well as networking on both sides of debates over gender, sexuality, family policy and childrearing. So, what started this all off? Weeks argues that it was contraception, which made it relatively easier for heterosexuals to have sex without babies emerging nine months or so later.

And then, along came HIV/AIDS, and suddenly, we were talking about risk and safety issues amongst the world’s gay male communities, as a new generation of lesbians arose, with a greater sense of agency, options and experimentation than the older cohort of women that preceded them, and at the same time, feminism started to percolate into the transgender communities across most of the western world. From this mix emerged LGBT politics, as lesbians, gay men and transgendered folk formed new political and social coalitions to fight for new issues and objectives.

Of course, there were some dead ends. One of them was the Q word- adolescent and twentysomethings adopted ‘queer’ to describe themselves, but older gay men didn’t like the idea because it was too perjorative for them to want to reclaim. In academia, “queer theory” resulted in some worthwhile work in social history, media studies and feminist cultural analysis, but also some obtuse and unreadable discipline-bounded studies of no relevance except to one’s career portfolio and list of publications, as academic institutions succumbed to the pervasive market philosophy.

Centre-left and centre-right governments alike introduced market reforms, and then were horrified at the consequences of privatising former government departments, withdrawal of central government social services and the rise of antisocial behaviour and social exclusion. In Britain and New Zealand, centre-right governments lost power to pluralist and pragmatic centre-left governments, and these opened opportunities for new relationship and sexual options, given that they were open to reformed boundary demarcations for spousal and family rights and responsibilities, and acceptance of the legitimate nature of sex reassignment surgery. At the same time, new visual technologies caused us to ponder new questions of sexuality, gender and technology, like the existence of a hypothetical gay gene, in vitro fertilisation and other new reproductive technologies (for lesbian and gay family formation), and the rise of cybersex, and men who have sex with men without participation in gay or bisexual male social networks, with all its risks and problems for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.

However, in a globalised world, not all countries are equal. Latvia, Russia, Nigeria, Jamaica, Iran, Iraq and Zimbabwe all have ongoing crises related to LGBT rights amongst other issues, which require international solidarity. At the same time, the Christian Right is able to communicate more quickly with its counterparts across the western world, but so can LGBT organisations. Paradoxically, this increases our mutual surveillance of one another and access to one another’s resources, turning political contests into games of strategy for participants.

Moreover, not all individuals are equal either, as the recent brutal death of Stan Waipouri and associated issues of addiction services, criminal justice, poverty and risk suggest. So, what sort of world have we won? And have we “won” it?

Tags: Politics · Religion

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