The Transnational Queer: Mail-Order Pornography and Queer Aesthetics during the Sexual Revolution

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 9:10 AM
Midtown Suite (New York Hilton)
Jennifer Evans, Carleton University
In 2013, the Widener Library at Harvard University acquired a significant collection of mail-order pornography and erotica from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. In the cache of manila envelopes – some still unopened – loose images of beefcake muscle men and trade lay side by side with photographs of leather and effete men and boys. Taken together, they perform a broad spectrum of masculinity with postmarks from all over the globe. Drawing on a select number of these photographs, this paper analyzes the links between the decriminalization of anti-sodomy legislation in much of the so-called West, the relaxation of censorship laws, the rise in circulation of porn, and the role of desire in the development of a transnational trade in queer aesthetics. This paper questions what erotic photography and the circulation of explicit images might tell us about the period known often – though not unproblematically -- as the Sexual Revolution.

As Elspeth Brown and Thy Phu have argued, by reading photographs with attention to the emotions embedded within them, we open up our analyses to both the construction and reception of the image, historicizing the identities depicted while at the same time forging a space for historical actors whose lives and stories are often side-lined in traditional textual sources. By analyzing these photographs of desire, lust, voyeurism, and need for the way in which they helped articulate changing visions of sexual expression in this period of greater visibility for queer-identified men and women, we see the importance of thinking about image constitution, migration, and consumption for what they reveal about social and aesthetic norms, networks, and pathways. Most importantly, it forces us to think of the Sexual Revolution as a visual, transnational phenomenon as well as a social and legal one.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation