This essay investigates transnational sexual mobilities in museums that display same-sex materials: how these materials, the ideas about sex they convey, and tourists, collectors, and curators generate cultural and economic value as each of these moves among institutions and across regions. Based on visits to twenty-two sites, I consider how sex museums and other institutions that display explicitly erotic materials frame same-sex media and objects within Kantian cosmopolitan values of sexual universalism, individualism, and equality (Kant 1957, 2010). Rather than take at face value the claims to social justice that this framing suggests, I critique cosmopolitan norms of sexual universalism and the Anglo/European perspectives on which they rest. These museums undercut cosmopolitan gestures toward social justice for LGBTQ subjects by reproducing white, masculine, and heterosexual norms in signage, spatial layout, labeling, and the juxtaposition of materials. Cosmopolitanism requires amnesia about Europe’s colonial past and promotes a contemporary neoliberal form of commodified cosmopolitanism, where global flows of ideas, materials, and people generate cultural and economic capital. I conclude by considering how these sexual mobilities may also produce queer contact zones, where the inadvertent juxtapositions of objects and people create possibilities for experiences outside the museums’ discursive and commodified containment of same-sex materials.
Selling Cosmopolitanism: Same-Sex Materials in Museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States
Katherine Sender is a professor of media and sexuality in the Department of Communication and the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Cornell University. Her research areas span gender and sexuality, television, audiences, cultural production, consumer culture, and globalization. Katherine is the author of Business not Politics: The Making of the Gay Market (2004) and The Makeover: Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences (2012). She has also produced documentaries about media representation, including Off the Straight and Narrow: Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgender People on US Television (1998, 2006, and in post-production), and Brand New You: Makeover Television and the American Dream (2012).
Katherine Sender; Selling Cosmopolitanism: Same-Sex Materials in Museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States. GLQ 1 January 2020; 26 (1): 35–61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-7929097
Download citation file: