The Odds of Queer History

AHA Session 35
Thursday, January 3, 2013: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Roosevelt Ballroom III (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Nayan B. Shah, University of Southern California
In Treatment: Queer Encounters with Psychiatry
Regina G. Kunzel, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Harnessing Harm: ACT UP's Needle Exchange
Christina B. Hanhardt, University of Maryland at College Park
Chad Heap, George Washington University

Session Abstract

This panel intervenes into contemporary conversations in the U.S. history of sexuality by centering marginalized “queer” populations who present challenges to the project of building an oppositional, politicized queer historiography. Specifically, these papers center queer individuals and communities who reject accepted models of social belonging, frustrate conventional constructions of the secular-rational historical actor, present as “improperly” or “illogically” politicized around their marginalized social status, or who otherwise evince varieties of marginalization that, while certainly related, are difficult to fully apprehend via familiar identitarian political vocabularies of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. Many of these figures and communities emerge as difficult to incorporate into dominant imperatives to resistance, reason, and progress, and thus present as “out of place” in society, in time, and even, frequently, in accounts of the larger social movements tasked with speaking on their behalf. These papers attempt to revisit the historiography of U.S. social movements and queer community formation alongside an engagement with contemporary queer theorizations of normativity and deviance, politics and activism, and historical narration more broadly. In particular, we seek to contribute to the breadth and vitality of queer history by underscoring and recuperating those “unheroic” subjects who fall outside not only heteronormative values of social belonging and citizenship, but also outside many LGBT accounts of agential and politicized resistance to those values. This panel thus brings together a variety of scholars focusing on those relegated to history’s fringes to offer new, “queer” readings of figures such as the hermit, recalcitrant criminal, addict, and asylum patient. Regina Kunzel will present on queer experiences of psychiatric institutionalization in the mid-20th century in order to consider the stakes of gay activist claims to health and normalization. Colin R. Johnson offers a reading of 19th century narratives of antisocial “misanthropes” characterized not just by their withdrawal from society but specifically by their supposed aversion to the opposite sex. Christina Hanhardt considers ACT UP’s needle exchange programs in the 1980s and 90s in order to ask how queer movements have both incorporated and excluded criminalized populations marked by their seemingly obstinate rejection of ideals of health. Abram J. Lewis looks to the personal papers of bisexual prison activist Stephen Donaldson in order to rethink queer conventions for understanding what counts as “legitimate” activism and politics.

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