This essay argues that the “consenting adult,” while politically seductive and exonerative, is ultimately a perverted figure for progressive sexual politics. Valorized, the “consenting adult” generates a moralized portraiture of good and bad sexual personae rather than propelling political engagement. The author proposes supplanting (temporarily, partially) the consenting adult with comparatively unsexy, less parsimonious elucidations of fairness and debility as provisional first principles of progressive sexual politics. Taking fairness and debility seriously would rightly extend our political sympathies and energies without triggering the quarantining moralism—the liberal logic—of the figure of the consenting adult. The first part of this essay, “Offending Sex in Orleans Parish,” describes a legal peculiarity and its ensuing politicization that is the motivating case study of the project. The second part, “The Political Perversity of the Consenting Adult,” more carefully contemplates how and to what effect the sexual politics and rhetorics of sexuality observed in New Orleans are contoured by an apotheosis of the consenting adult. The final section, “Fairness, Debility, and Sexual Justice Politics,” considers how sex workers (or persons convicted of soliciting sex), sex offenders, and other queers might find points of political solidarity irreducible to sexual identities subsumed under the consenting adult. Fairness and debility, the author submits, could hold out more promising political visions and arrangements.
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Joseph Fischel; Against Nature, against Consent: A Sexual Politics of Debility. differences 1 May 2013; 24 (1): 55–103. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2140591
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