Sex Justice Conference 560
I have been to (far too) many conferences, but the one that wrapped up yesterday at the University of Michigan was one of the best I have ever attended. My bet is that it will mark an important new stage in advocacy on sexuality and law-related issues. The Sex and Justice Conference was one of those rare gatherings where the focus was on both serious intellectual engagement and methods of advocacy that are smart, principled and impassioned. I had feared that what is often predictable and preachy left rhetoric would dominate the event. I was wrong. As Gayle Rubin channeling Freud urged the participants, let’s not get lost “in the narcissism of small differences.”
What happened instead was the convergence of committed people from outside and inside the academy, analyzing research, comparing modes of advocacy, and pressing for a vision that understands sexual justice as not limited to the most well known lgbt issues, but instead one that also engages more complicated issues related, for example, to sex work and the abusive ways in which sexual offender registry laws can be used.
In my view (and the message of my presentation), sexual progressives should both continue and move beyond doing what various civil rights paradigms do so well: ending formal exclusion and segregation. We should seize the discursive space available now to lay the foundations for cultural and legal interventions aimed at dismantling structural hierarchies based on sexuality. Carpe diem, folks. That means not just the never-ending calls for coalition building (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but also taking on the explicit project of connecting the conceptual dots that, as Mary Ann Case, who also spoke, pointed out, social conservatives are much less timid about doing.
As Mary Ann noted, conservative religious voices have a theory, of gender complementarity for example, that provides a comprehensive explanation of the evil of what they consider to be deviant forms of sexuality. Mainstream lgbt groups and allies face enormous, completely understandable, pressure to paint lgbt people in audience-friendly ways that parallel the tactics of garden variety political campaign ads. That tends to produce messaging but not explanations, and certainly not theories.
These forms of messaging may be as necessary to achieving civil rights goals as glib 30-second ads and zingers are to electing decent candidates to public office. I’m resigned to that (as if I have a choice). But the point that I tried to impart, and that I took from, the Sex and Justice Conference is that we are capable of doing much, much more.
The fabulous Michigan graduate student Trevor Hoppe, who organized the conference, tells me that at least parts of it will be available as videos on the web. I’ll post the links when they become available.