One of four panels held by the Platypus Affiliated Society at Left Forum 2014, from May 30th to June 1st, 2014.
Much has taken place over the last 50 – 60 years in the realm of sexual liberation. The new left of the 1960s and 70s sparked a progression of women's liberation and gay rights by challenging both legislation and cultural norms. In the 1980s and 90s a sexually constricting society was further challenged through sex-positive activism in art and politics and on the street. Today, trans-identified individuals are more prominent in the media, non-heteronormative sexual identifications are more widely accepted, and the binary of gender is challenged through queer theory and supportive communities more widely accessible through the internet. Despite apparent gains in the project of sexual liberation, human sexuality remains subject to daily constraints: structural sexism persists, sex-work remains criminalized, the bourgeois family is the social norm, and impotence and fear of intimacy are among the many rampant inhibitions to sexual experience. What orientation should a movement for sexual liberation take toward sexuality? How can we today reflect on the efficacy or inefficacy of past movements. What are the limitations of politics today to address sexuality? Also, what is sexual repression and how does it function in society? Did past movements for sexual liberation undermine themselves? How were they successful and how did they fail?
Chair: Tana Forrester (Platypus)
The political and cultural Left, which stand for increasing the scope of freedom, have shifted positions historically on issues of sexuality. For instance, where once the Left challenged marriage and family norms in society, there has been a turn to advocating participation in predominant institutions, for instance gay marriage: there has been some conflict in LGBTQ circles over the politics of gay marriage, whether it should be advocated in certain ways or at all by the Left. What do such controversies tell us about the politics of sexual freedom and the history of the Left, moving forward? How are issues of sexual freedom related to issues in the greater society and not of concern merely to sexual minorities and subcultures? Is there simply a narrative of historical progress, as expressed for example in President's Obama's recent Second Inaugural Address? Or might we look forward to renewed political disputes around issues of sexual freedom? What can history teach us about this?
A conversation concerning the history and legacy of the struggles for sexual liberation. What successes and setbacks have shaped the prospect for LGBTQ and feminist organizing today? Held on Thursday, September 13, 2013, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.
Karin Cope, Professor of Historical and Critical Studies, NSCAD
Kevin Kindred, Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project
Evan Coole, Queer Activist, Organizer and Educator
Ashley Weger, Platypus Affiliated Society
Moderated by Cam Hardy (Platypus Affiliated Society)
Questions for panelists:
1. How did the LGBTQ rights movement become such? What has its relation to the Left been, and how has the contemporary political focus on same-sex marriage affect that relation? What are the potentials and limits of present politics and organization around equality and legality? What successes and limitations has it met?
2. How does economic life shape our imaginations about what sexual freedom will look like? For example, arguments for marriage equality have often been made in terms of all the economic disadvantages one faces if one can't marry--extra taxes, loss of healthcare, etc. Does marriage equality solve these issues? Or, counter to marriage, consider the importance of the legal protection of sex work to many on the Left. How are and should economics and sex be bound in sex work? Should sex work be abolished or protected? What role would the State play in a Left that seeks to decrease both human economic precariousness and human dependence on the economy more generally?
3. Marriage has always been about the linking of the intimate and the public. The demand that "love" dominate marriage--its development in the 19th century away from a mere economic arrangement between parents--was a way to demand that the public sphere as represented in the state recognize the power and value of individual life. If once progressive, though, this also comes to represent the naturalization of the state as the voice of authority over private life, as well as the retention of the family form which has represented ages of abuse (of women, children, etc.), and enshrines the principle of property over people. What forms of personal/public relation are possible now? What relationship ought the Left fight for between love, the private and the public?
4. What do we mean by a liberated sexuality? That which has positioned itself counter to what we might deem âheteronormativeâ has in the past been given the qualification as âabnormal.â In fighting for greater civil equality, these formerly marginalized sexualities have often fought on the basis of their ânaturalâ or ânormalâ characters. Does recognition for equality often homogenize the formerly marginal into normative bonds (e.g. marriage, family, monogamy, etc.), or is sexual emancipation necessarily antagonistic to the sexual mainstream? Are neither of these positions adequate?
On November 8, 2010, Platypus hosted a forum entitled “Which Way Forward for Sexual Liberation?” moderated by Jeremy Cohan at New York University. The panel consisted of Gary Mucciaroni, professor of political science at Temple University; Sherry Wolf, author of Sexuality and Socialism and organizer for the International Socialist Organization; Kenyon Farrow, executive director of Queers for Economic Justice and author of the forthcoming Stand Up: The Politics of Racial Uplift; and Greg Gabrellas of Platypus.
With roots in earlier radical traditions, movements that sought to radically redefine the relationship of sex, politics, and freedom erupted onto the historical stage in the 60s. Yet while much has radically changed in the US and elsewhere in the world, humans are still far too limited in determining their sexual and erotic lives. This roundtable will reflect on the meaning and future of sexual politics today on the Left, with some emphasis on examining and contextualizing the contemporary struggle for gay marriage. What are the potentials and limits of present politics and organization around gay marriage? What successes and limitations has it met? What relationship is there between gay politics today and the Left overall? What frontiers of sexual liberation ought to be at the center of the Left's political agenda?
"The only decent marriage would be one allowing each partner to lead an independent life, in which, instead of a fusion derived from an enforced community of economic interests, both freely accepted mutual responsibility."--Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1944)
"The fundamental characteristic of the present system of marriage and family is in our society its monolithism: there is only one institutionalized form of inter-sexual or inter-generational relationship possible. It is that or nothing. This is why it is essentially a denial of life. For all human experience shows that intersexual and intergenerational relationships are infinitely various â indeed, much of our creative literature is a celebration of the fact â while the institutionalized expression of them in our capitalist society is utterly simple and rigid. It is the poverty and simplicity of the institutions in this area of life which are such an oppression. Any society will require some institutionalized and social recognition of personal relationships. But there is absolutely no reason why there should be only one legitimized form â and a multitude of unlegitimized experience. Socialism should properly mean not the abolition of the family, but the diversification of the socially acknowledged relationships which are today forcibly and rigidly compressed into it. This would mean a plural range of institutions â where the family is only one, and its abolition implies none. Couples living together or not living together, long-term unions with children, single parents bringing up children, children socialized by conventional rather than biological parents, extended kin groups, etc. â all these could be encompassed in a range of institutions which matched the free invention and variety of men and women."--Juliet Mitchell, "Women: the Longest Revolution" (1966)