Lesbian and Gay Studies: An Introductory, Interdisciplinary Approach


Edited by: Theo Sandfort, Judith Schuyf, Jan Willem Duyvendak & Jeffrey Weeks

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    List of Contributors

    Jon Binnie is a Lecturer in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at Brunei University, UK. He has written on sexual citizenship, urban sexual cultures and international migration. He is the co-author of The Sexual Citizen: Queer Politics and Beyond (Polity Press, 2000), Contested Bodies (Routledge, forthcoming) and Pleasure Zones (Syracuse University Press, in press). He is currently completing a book on globalization and sexuality for SAGE Publications.

    Liana Borghi teaches Anglo-American literature at the University of Firenze. She co-founded in 1985 the women's publishing house Estro, in 1994 the Lesbian division of WISE (Women's International Studies Europe), and in 1996 the Società Italiana delle Letterate (Italian Society of Women in Literature). She has written on Mary Wollstonecraft, nineteenth-century ethics and literature, women travellers and women's fiction. Her interest in contemporary women's writing ranges from poetry to lesbian fiction, science fiction and Jewish-American women's literature. She is editor of two volumes of essays on women's comparative literature.

    Jan Willem Duyvendak is Professor in Community Organization at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, and Director of the Research Institute ‘Verwey-Jonker’. He has been Research Fellow at the Amsterdam School for Social Science Research (University of Amsterdam) and Assistant Professor at the Roman Catholic University of Nijmegen. He is (co-)editor of New Social Movements in Western Europe. A Comparative Analysis (UCL Press, 1995), The Power of Politics. France: New Social Movements in an Old Polity (Westview Press, 1995), and The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics. National imprints of a Worldwide Movement (Temple University Press, 1999).

    Hansje Galesloot is a historian and journalist. She is the (co-)author of several books and articles on the social participation of homeless people, local politics, the communist resistance during the Second World War, and the climate of moral repression in postwar society. Her most recent publication is on the history of buddy care for people with HIV and AIDS in the Netherlands (1999).

    Gert Hekma is Lecturer in gay and lesbian studies at the University of Amsterdam and chairs the stream of courses on sexuality, gender and culture. He has published widely on the history, sociology and anthropology of sexual diversity and recently coedited the two volumes of Sexual Cultures in Europe (Manchester University Press, 1999).

    renée hoogland teaches lesbian cultural studies at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. She is the author of Elizabeth Bown: A Reputation in Writing (New York University Press, 1994) and Lesbian Configurations (Polity Press/Columbia University Press, 1997). Her current research focuses on the function of fantasy in processes of embodiment in the age of posthumanism.

    André Krouwel is Assistant Professor of Comparative Politics at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. He wrote his PhD on the transformation of political parties in Western Europe. He has also published articles and books on political parties, democratization in Eastern Europe, Dutch local politics and the gay and lesbian movement. Recently he co-edited The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics. National Imprints of a Worldwide Movement (Temple University Press, 1999).

    Mary Mcintosh taught sociology at the University of Essex for many years. She has written on a variety of topics: ‘The Homosexual Role’, The Organisation of Crime, ‘The State and the Oppression of Women’, The Anti-social Family (with Michèle Barrett), and Sex Exposed: Sexuality and the Pornography Debate (edited with Lynne Segal). She was active in the Gay Liberation Front and the Women's Liberation Movement and was a founding editor of Feminist Review.

    Rommel Mendès-Leite is a sociologist and social anthropologist affiliated with the ‘sexuality’ team of the Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Sociale (Collège de France, Paris). He is also an associate researcher at the Centre d'Etudes Africaines (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris). His primary interests are the discrepancies between the sexual practices of men who have sex with men and their sexual identities and behaviours, the construction of gay male rationales and HIV prevention. His recent books include: Penser les (homo)sexualités (Paris, 2000), Trois essais sur les (homo)sexualites (with B. Proth and P.-O. de Busscher, Paris, 2000) and Gay Studies from the French Cultures (with P.-O. de Busscher, Harrington Press, 1993).

    Leslie Moran is Reader in the School of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London. His work on law is interdisciplinary, drawing heavily on social theory, and with particular emphasis on gender and sexuality scholarship. He has written extensively on matters relating to gay issues in the law. His monograph, The Homosexual(ity) of Law was published by Routledge in 1996. He edited a special edition of Social and Legal Studies entitled Legal Perversions in 1997 and co edited Legal Queeries (Cassells) with colleagues in 1998. His current work is on homophobic violence and safety. This work is part of the larget study of lesbians, gay men, violence and safety undertaken in the UK. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of a 20-project initiative on violence research.

    Ken Plummer is Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex. He is the author of Sexual Stigma (1975), Documents of Life (1983), Telling Sexual Stories (1995) and (with John Macionis) Sociology: A Global Introduction (1998), as well as being the author of many articles. He has edited The Making of the Modern Homosexual (1981), Symbolic Interactionism (1991), Modern Homosexualities(1992), and Chicago Sociology (1997); and is the founding editor of the journal Sexualities.

    Marco Pustianaz teaches English Literature at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Italy. He has written on English Renaissance culture, queer and gender studies. He is currently involved in a research project on the discourse of fashion in Renaissance England.

    Theo Sandfort is senior researcher at the Department of Clinical Psychology, Utrecht University, and directs research at the Netherlands Institute of Social Sexological Research (NISSO, Utrecht). His research focuses on sexual health issues in the general population as well as in gay men and lesbians. His most recent publications as a (co-)editor are The Dutch Response to HIV: Pragmatism and Consensus (UCL Press, 1998), Sexual Behaviour and HIV/AIDS in Europe: Comparisons of National Surveys (UCL Press, 1998), AIDS in Europe: New Challenges for Social Sciences (Routledge, 2000) and Child Sexuality: International Perspectives (Haworth, 2000).

    Judith Schuyf is one of the founder-members of the Lesbian and Gay Studies Department at Utrecht University. Her research interests include lesbian and gay history, politics, media and senior lesbians and gays. She has written various books on these subjects. She chairs the Dutch National Platform for Lesbian and Gay Seniors. At present she works as Director of Research of the Dutch National Institute for Victims of War (ICODO) and is engaged in writing a biography of a Dutch homosexual war victim.

    Gill Valentine is Professor of Geography at Sheffield University. Her research interests include geographies of technology, food, childhood, sexuality and the fear of crime. She is the co-editor of Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities (Routledge, 1995), co-author of Consuming Geographies: Where We Are What We Eat (Routledge, 1997) and Cool Places: Geographies of Youth Culture (Routledge, 1998).

    Jeffrey Weeks is currently Professor of Sociology and Dean of Humanities and Social Science at South Bank University London. He is the author of numerous articles and various books on the history and social organization of sexuality. Among his publications are Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (Quartet, 1977/1990), Sexuality and its Discontents (Routledge, 1985), Invented Moralities (Polity Press, 1995), Making Sexual History (Polity Press, 2000) and Families of Choice and Other Life Experiments (with Brian Heaphy and Catherine Donovan, forthcoming).

    Onno de Zwart is employed by the Municipal Health Service – Rotterdam Area. Initially, he served there as HIV/AIDS Policy Co-ordinator, and at present he is the acting head of the Department of Infectious Diseases. He was previously a researcher at the Lesbian and Gay Studies Department at Utrecht University, where he focused on HIV prevention policy directed at gay men and the meaning of anal sex for gay men.



    I wonder now what I would have thought thirty years ago if I had been told that there would be a whole book, of fourteen chapters no less, on lesbian and gay studies. I would certainly not have believed that we could reach such a degree of acceptance, to be represented in almost every discipline and in the most respected institutions – at least in northern Europe and the English-speaking world, to be published by reputable academic publishers and in international refereed journals. Perhaps I would not have wanted to see this, either. At that time, we wanted above all to challenge heterosexual assumptions, rather than to set up our own stall alongside theirs. We could not imagine having enough strength to sustain that subversive project within the very bastions of respectability. Nor did we think that academia, respectable as it might be, was a seat of power. It was an ivory tower, set beside the main stream, with a good view, perhaps, but little influence. The serious battles lay elsewhere, in the ‘real’ world. In our most optimistic moments, we would have thought that these battles would have been won and there would be no more distinction between gay and straight and no need for lesbian and gay studies to exist.

    As it turns out, the gay/straight divide has become even clearer as each has become naturalized as a way of life rather than a state of moral being and more lesbians and gays have become visible to the straight world. There is much more to study, and more of us to study it. In this, academia is not divided off from the world outside, but is deeply influential and even playing a leading role. Already there can be few professional people, journalists or media workers under 50 who have not been to a university with a student gay society. In the future, all of these people will have glimpsed some form of lesbian or gay studies, at least at the periphery of their vision, and many will have had a closer encounter. In the short term academia may be isolated, but in the longer term and as higher education expands it plays a significant part in shaping social consciousness. At the very least, the media will purvey an understanding that gays and lesbians exist and that they have their own pride, their own perspectives and concerns.

    Yet it is often said that we in lesbian and gay studies are remote from the ordinary gay world and from the gay movement because we are aware of the lesbian and gay identities as the product of a particular period or culture, whereas the average lesbian or gay has a folk-essentialist view and, indeed, likes to think that ‘we’ have always been there, throughout historical and cultural oppression. Similarly, it is sometimes said that queer theory is threatening and destabilizing to the movement because it challenges identity. I think, on the contrary, that queer theory may be debilitating because it is obscure, elitist and merely fashionable. In fact folk-essentialism and the naturalizing tendency are part of lesbian and gay studies. Whatever theories to the contrary are promulgated within them, the very fact that lesbian and gay studies have taken on an institutional form tends to confirm a naturalized perception of sexualities as ways of life, suggesting a pluralist multicultural mutual tolerance rather than a fundamental challenge to heterosexual hegemony. Just as in day-to-day life outside the academy, the naturalized perception is the one we have to live by and we have built networks, organizations and media and colonized social spaces on that basis.

    The opposition between transgression and liberal collusion that has so plagued the gay movement has an obvious relation to contrasting theories within lesbian and gay studies, or better, contrasting moments within lesbian and gay studies. At moments we explore differences between categories that we accept as given, or power relations between groups that we treat as pre-defined. At others, we deconstruct the whole idea of gay and straight, feminine and masculine, and even woman and man. The shift towards culture and away from structure in lesbian and gay studies, as in intellectual life in general, emphasizes the deconstructive moment so that the naturalizing one is seen as old-fashioned, unsophisticated or outdated. But in practice, the two are not mutually exclusive and neither needs to displace the other. The movement, which gains its momentum from identity politics, despite recurrent ‘queer’ manifestations, needs research that is apparently humanistic to support its equal rights campaigning; as well as research that challenges the whole heterosexual order in which we are identified, showing the straight world how bizarre it seems from a lesbian or gay perspective. And as well as research that explores and problematizes questions of lesbian and/or gay identity, we need research that supports campaigning by presenting positive images and by increasing our understanding of the forces arrayed against us, and we also need research on issues of concern to us as people living lesbian or gay lives in present-day society. In addition, since the seed bed of movement activity is a rich and flourishing gay culture and an imaginable community, lesbian and gay studies needs to support that culture by participating in it and giving it wider currency.

    We should be wary of presuming to play a leading role in the long run. An unfortunate imperative of the academic milieu is that we each make our name by saying something new and that we know we have moved forward only when we have discredited something old. We are prey to fashion, in a way that mirrors the succession of styles in dress and music which serve to distinguish generations and set them against each other, ratherthan representing real progression. Nevertheless, we have much that is important to offer and a considerable responsibility, especially as a growing proportion of the population pass through our classrooms. What, I wonder now, lies in store in the next thirty years?

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