Monday, June 18, 2018

The Fate of Gay and Lesbian Studies


I have many interests, though probably my most significant publications are in the field of gay and lesbian studies. 
Spoiler alert as this old dog opens a can of worms. Is the field of gay and lesbian studies still vital? in 1980 I and my collaborators sought, as best we could, to lay the foundations in our Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. 
At that time we assumed that the major obstacle to progress would be lingering homophobic sentiment. Alas, in my view the rot began from within, first from the Social Construction trend, which discouraged transhistorical and cross-cultural studies. Queer Theory assimilated us all to a larger category, but the q-term was divisive. Then gender studies devoured everything.

Of course useful studies are still appearing, especially of hitherto neglected aspects of same-sex relationships in Eastern Europe and Asia.  But postmodernism has thoroughly eroded the theoretical foundations, leaving what survives as little more than the smile of the proverbial Cheshire Cat.

The biggest problem these days is the rise of the concept of gender and orientation fluidity. Back in the day we stoutly opposed demands that we "just get over it," accepting the cure in the guise of "therapy." By contrast, we were convinced of the following truth: whether its origins stemmed from nature or nurture, after its consolidation in youth sexual orientation was essentially immutable. Maybe this was always an overstatement, according little attention to bisexuals, for example.  

Still, there remains personally for many of us a basic stability in this realm. Yet now comes the idea that, as one formula trenchantly puts it, sexual orientation is like a suit of clothes - we decide each morning what dress to wear. This idea appeals to some notion of absolute human freedom. But is it realistic?

The upshot is that in terms of identity there are no homosexuals as such - only on occasion same-sex conduct, "as you like it." Hence the pall that in Western nations at least is gradually shrouding these studies. 

Of course individual work is continuing as I. have acknowledged, but the center of gravity has shifted massively. This shift is the point that I think my critics are missing.

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