Queer Migrations, Part 4: Moving People: Unsettling Circuits of Sexual Politics

AHA Session 193
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 7
Saturday, January 9, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Crystal Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
Jennifer Evans, Carleton University
Jennifer Evans, Carleton University

Session Abstract

Movement has played many roles in queer world-making and sexual politics. A moving person may be someone in motion or someone who affects others. Our panel examines “moving people” in both these senses and probes the relationship between them. It also, however, deploys this expression in a third way, placing some familiar protagonists of sexual politics in less expected historical, spatial, or disciplinary contexts. The history of sexuality has been built on patterns of encounter and exchange. This panel takes that premise as its starting point, but aims to reinterpret some of the field’s most established circuits.

The circuits we have in mind range from the paradoxical paths of sexologists to the wayward venues of queer performers and the activist networks of social movements. We are particularly concerned with the connections that can be made between literal journeys or travel and the figurative ability to move people from one place to another. While influenced by the categories and concepts of transnational history, some of our papers address internal migrations and others foreground international divides. Together, we span almost the whole Twentieth Century, although time is one of the dimensions we hope to unsettle too.

We begin by bringing together the tour circuits of performing African American women with the famed literary lesbian salons of interwar Europe through the trans-oceanic voyages of such blues singers as Alberta Hunter and Ethel Waters. Cookie Woolner’s paper, in demonstrating the blurred boundaries between two cultural formations usually examined separately, reflects on the possibilities this confluence provided for queer interracial interconnectivity amidst not only increasing lesbian visibility, but also racial antagonism and primitivist fetishism. Such circuits may have helped to inform the “Intimate Atlantic” of our second paper, conceptualizing the relationship between pre-WWII international currents of sexual politics and the transnational bent of postwar homophile activism. Reviewing recent literature on Progressive and interwar “Atlantic Crossings,” David Minto’s paper asks to what extent these exchanges anticipated the cross-border visions and desires of later homophiles in Europe and the United States. The sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld provided one such mobile personage that postwar gay activists claimed as a father figure, but our next paper transports him even more emphatically from his original time zone, analyzing his appropriation by historiography from the 1970s on. With scholarly and even popular interest in Hirschfeld now stretching across the world, Kirsten Leng’s paper will interrogate his rise as the subject of such consistent yet dispersed attention, and how the (mis)remembering of this superstar sexologist has shaped our understanding of Germany’s sexual past. Our final paper then redirects us through the ideologies and international encounters of Mexico City gay and lesbian activists during the rise of neoliberalism. Parsing a shift from leftist internationalism to liberal rights talk, Lucy Grinnell examines the implications for both cross-border solidarities and national citizenship. We close with commentary from Jennifer Evans, whose work on the relationships between sexuality, subjectivity, space, and media puts her in a unique position to assess the unsettling of circuits these papers attempt.

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