University of Connecticut

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Lecture: Rethinking Public Sex and Queer Belonging

Wednesday, March 29, 2017
12:00pm – 1:30pm

Storrs Campus
Rainbow Center; Student Union 403

The Out to Lunch Gender, Sexuality, and Community is a weekly academic lecture and discussion series with guest scholars and community activists from various disciplines examining a variety of topics related to gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality. Each semester offers a broad sampling of the areas.

Today's lecture is entitled, "Rethinking Public Sex and Queer Belonging" and will be presented by Kevin Henderson.

What does a culture of public sex mean for LGBT people today? The standard view is that America has “progressed” on gay and lesbian relationships: institutions and individuals are said to be more accepting of gay and lesbian relationships than ever before. Such acceptance is evidenced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. The majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges read, “No union is more profound than marriage…Their [gays’ and lesbians’] hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.” Such a view seems to be starkly at odds with sexual subcultures that historically saw public sex with strangers—rather than marriage—as an avenue to freedom, personal development, collective intimacy, ending shame, and community building. At the same time, public sex institutions like pornographic theaters, leather bars, and tearooms are disappearing and public sex is increasingly viewed as an anachronism.

This presentation questions narratives of gay and lesbian progress by examining the history of queer public sex and modes of policing sex in the present. We will explore public sex institutions and spaces, and we will study the kinds of relationships that public sex sustained. By looking at public sex through Samuel Delaney’s notion of “contact,” we will rethink present possibilities for enacting alternative queer relationships and interrogate our understandings of loneliness and connection. Further, we will see how shifting forms of policing and surveillance, urban development and security paradigms, gentrification, and social media technology are instituting new regimes of normalization around public sex and sexual publics.

Biography: Kevin Henderson is a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is also a student in the program for Advanced Feminist Studies through the Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies Department at UMass. Kevin’s research focuses on the history of political thought, contemporary queer, feminist, and critical race theories, protest and social movements, sexual economies, prisons and sex offender laws, and on HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ history. In 2016, Kevin became the ViiV Healthcare Point Scholar.

Attendees are encouraged to bring their lunches.


Rainbow Center (primary), Graduate School - Events, UConn Master Calendar

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