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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Proclamations of the Red Queen

1st March 2008

Lesbian Vines Around the Ivory Towers

Posted by: Craig Young

Curve, the US lesbian magazine, had a recent set of bios on lesbian academics of note. Thanks to my days in Womens Studies and Sociology at Massey, I recognised quite a few of them.

I suppose it leaves me asking where many of their gay male counterparts are these days. True, some of them are still around, and writing important stuff. One thinks of classicist scholar David Halperin, a fellow Foucault fancier, and his reinterpretation of same-sex life and loves in ancient Greece. Or Jeffrey Weeks, British social historian of sexuality, although seemingly more concerned with interpersonal relationships than public policy these days. I miss Simon Watney, who used to write such damned good stuff about HIV/AIDS in the eighties and early nineties- he seems to have gone back to his original discipline, art curation. Or Australia’s Gary Wotherspoon, who did something similar to Weeks when it came to Australian gay social history.

Lesbian feminists academics have had the advantage of feminist academic courses to parachute into higher education, and it was good to see Judith Butler and Anne Fausto-Sterling (philosophy and science of gender identity and instability), Lisa Duggan and Nan Hunter (sexuality, gender, religion and US law), M.V.Lee Badgett (lesbian economist) and veteran author Esther Newton (ethnographic LGBT community research) still going strong, and still relevant.

It does raise some novel questions, though. Intriguing, isn’t it, that one of the most-cited feminist scholars about family diversity, Judith Stacey, is a straight woman- although her co-authored landmark “Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?” (2001) has been intensively cited in court cases, submissions and parliamentary reports related to LGBT spousal rights and family policy debates. Mind you, her co-author, Tim Biblarz, is a gay man.

One of the perennial debates about LGBT academia is its relevance to current community activist and legislative focuses. And from this perspective, the work of Duggan, Hunter, Badgett and Newton might well seem particularly relevant and strategically useful, although the transgender community might well feel differently about Butler and Fausto-Sterling’s particular relevance to their strugggles against discrimination on the basis of transitioning gender identity- added to which, they have their own scholars, like Riki Ann Wilchins, Kate Bornstein, Allucquere Roseanne Stone, and other transwomen and men who have presented their case for human dignity, social recogntion and legislative remedies.

I wonder about local LGBT scholarship sometimes. As a movement, we tend to respond to current practical and political developments overseas, as well as broader social change generally. Sometimes, it’s positive, as in the case of civil unions and decriminalisation of sex work. At others, it’s negative, as with the proliferation of P/crystal meth in New Zealand, and the availability of online meth lab chemical mixtures. It’s sped up our ability to respond to political opponents markedly, and made their pre-emption and neutralisation easier- to the point where our spousal rights debate is complete, and family policy reform nearly so.

Times change, though, and so does the focus of people’s political commitment and personal circumstances. However, that will be the subject of a blog for another time.

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