Queer Migrations, Part 6: Sexuality, Migration, and Urban Space across the Modern World

AHA Session 252
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 9
Sunday, January 10, 2016: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Crystal Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
Carina E. Ray, Brandeis University
Saheed A. Aderinto, Western Carolina University
Clayton Howard, Ohio State University
Durba Mitra, Fordham University
Andrew Israel Ross, University of Southern Mississippi

Session Abstract

The relationship between migration and space has formed a key node of research within the history of sexuality.  Indeed, the movement of ordinary people to urban centers has been seen as the prerequisite to the development of “modern” forms of sexual identity, as well as new models for sex work. In America and Western Europe, industrialization mobilized an unprecedented urban migration that created new demands for commercial sex and new opportunities for women to enter into sex work, while also created novel opportunities for men and women to find sexual companionship with others of their same sex. Elsewhere, the effects of European imperialism imposed Western categories of sex and gender and led to new forms of social hierarchy among colonized peoples. Historians have examined the ways in which the onset of “modernity” encouraged the kinds of interconnections, movements, and relationships that would enable the development of recognizably modern forms of sexual identity and practice. Such narratives, however, rely on a relatively narrow set of possibilities, drawn from the contemporary moment; the relationship between heterosexuality and homosexuality, and between the normal and abnormal, structure the narrative possibilities of the history of sexuality.

Recently, historians have begun to question these narratives. Laura Doan, for instance, has argued for a “queer critical history” that “resist[s] a paramount interest in the categories of identity and identification and rethink[s] the privileging of the binary relation between normativity and deviance.” This roundtable takes up Doan’s suggestive idea, asking how we might think about movement, migration, and encounter in ways that challenge the categories that have shaped histories of sexuality. The roundtable thus poses a variety of questions that engage the relationship between space and migration in the history of sexuality: How have different historiographies treated the relationship between sexuality and space? What is the spatial relationship between different forms of “illicit” sexual practice? How does movement between spaces influence emerging sexual subjectivities? How should historians of sexuality treat different kinds of spaces and spatial movement?

The roundtable draws on a variety of historiographical traditions in order to explore new and innovative questions on urban histories of sexuality. Before opening the discussion to the audience, panelists will discuss current work within the history of sexuality and the ways that their historical research has shaped their historiographical interventions in recent and forthcoming publications. By putting histories of nineteenth and twentieth-century America, Western Europe, West Africa, and South Asia into dialog with one another, the panel seeks to put into question individual historical traditions while also critically engaging how our urban and national historiographies transform through comparative dialogue. This panel thus invites a broad conversation on the history of sexuality in national and transnational contexts, the historical relationship between migration and sexual identity, and the significance of sexuality to histories of space.

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