Queer Contortions: New Directions in the History of Race, Sexuality, and the Body

AHA Session 74
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 3
Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Washington Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park, Exhibition Level)
Nicholas Syrett, University of Kansas

Session Abstract

This panel directly engages with and seeks to further queer the American Historical Association’s conference theme, “Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Perspective.” The three presentations center the role that non-normative expressions of gender and sexuality have played in shaping understandings of race, ethnicity, nation, age, and (dis)ability over the past century. While these histories reveal significant insight on the construction of these intersecting categories in the United States, the three presenters also destabilize the “naturalness” of the nation-state by offering transregional, transnational, and global perspectives. The panel seeks to encourage new epistemological directions in exploring the state’s historic regulation of bodies and the formation of desirable and undesirable entrants, residents, and subject. Amy Sueyoshi’s paper offers a new dimension of San Francisco’s turn-of-the-century “wide-open” reputation by observing how white libertinism was articulated and constructed in ways that distinctly excluded Asians and proved critical to the formation of the “Oriental” Other. Julio Capó, Jr. shifts attention to the circular—and deeply gendered—waves of migration from the United States’ east coast during the same period. His presentation explores how the early city of Miami’s desperate call for labor found thousands of Bahamian women and men crossing porous borders, even as both the then-British colony and the United States heavily regulated the migrants’ bodily comportment, gender expressions, and sexual behaviors (both real and imagined). Lastly, Ernesto Chávez explores the nuanced presentations of selfhood through a biographical sketch of Ramón Novarro, the Mexican-born, gay actor whose legacy remains tied to racialized and hypersexualized constructions of the so-called “Latin lover.” Chávez complicates the very idea and performance of the “closet,” unveiling the cultural queer codes Novarro employed throughout the mid-twentieth century to stake claim to his multiple subjectivities.
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