Is sexology over? What does one do with its history, at once a seemingly remote relic and a persistent logic of biopolitics today? “Sexology and Its Afterlives” begins from the premise that the history of sexology lives in the infrastructures of the present. Locating the afterlives of sexology in material and aesthetic form, this introduction to the special issue engages the largely unmarked detritus of a disaggregated sexological project, whose components have found renewed life in the biopolitical apparatus. The contributors to this issue identify not only familiar sites of sexological persistence (the sex-segregated public toilet) but also less immediately obvious ones (the Moynihan report, redlining, the army base) as executing the unfinished business of the sexological project. This breadth of sexological diffusion makes its analysis a necessarily interdisciplinary prospect, and the contributors call on disability studies, trans studies, Black studies, women-of-color feminism, visual culture, and the history of sexuality, generating emergent concepts, including crip-of-color critique (Kim), binary-abolitionist praxis (Stryker), a “trans-mad” aesthetic (Crawford), and a shift toward expressivity as a framework (Musser). Across the issue, newly imagined sites of collective politics come into view as a payoff for working through the stalled-out imaginaries of sexological binarisms.
Is sexology over? What does one do with its history, at once a seemingly remote relic and a persistent logic of biopolitics today? Sexology is both distant and persistent, signifying an outmoded pseudoscience at the same time that it underwrites the historical violences of racialization and underpins the long history of biopolitics that continues to exert a shaping force on the present. While sexology may seem like a digression from the mainstream of the history of science, and in some cases even from the mainstream of the history of sexuality, its discreditation is precisely the condition of possibility for its perdurance. “Sexology and Its Afterlives” begins from the premise that the history of sexology lives in the infrastructures of the present. Sexology's reorganization during the twentieth century has, in the contemporary moment, given it the force not so much of science as of policy, aesthetics, infrastructure, architecture, institutions, cultural production, and ideology. Foucauldian accounts of the modern subject have described the trajectory from scientia sexualis to contemporary biopower in terms of the encoding of sex into discourse. This special issue builds on this genealogical account by tracking the material consequences of that epistemic shift in sexual science. Locating the afterlives of sexology in material and aesthetic form, this issue engages the largely unmarked detritus of a disaggregated sexological project, whose components have found renewed life in the biopolitical apparatus.
We take the term afterlife to refer to the recrudescence of sexological aesthetics, modes, styles, and logics in the ongoing present. Rather than focusing on the historical alterity of sexology as social science, “Sexology and Its Afterlives” centers sexology as a field formation and knowledge project in its expansive form. Sexology is not just historical; its medium of cultural consequence is not just discursive, ideological, or otherwise linguistic; and its parameters are not just those of a science, strictly speaking. This special issue therefore invites engagements with sexology and its afterlives that include but also deliberately exceed the discursive, scientific, and historical aspects of the science of sex. Sexology was only ever partially institutionalized by that name. In the post-WWII period in the United States, many of the epistemologies, methods, practices—and along with them, many of the disciplinary functions and discriminatory logics—of sexology were thoroughly institutionalized under many other names: gender clinics, the welfare state, the “war on drugs,” the prison-industrial complex, the criminalization of sex work, and many others. We hold these sites to collectively limn the afterlives of sexology that animate the present.
As we know from Foucault, scientia sexualis does not merely supersede ars erotica but, rather, rescripts its rituals and logics into a new program for systematizing social relations to sexuality.1 Guided by this insight, this special issue excavates the persistent aesthetic logics underwriting the codification of sexological knowledge as it continues to structure the conditions of possibility for minoritarian survival. Centering an analysis of institutionalization through its spatial arrangements and material forms, rather than its signal genres like the case study or patient file, this issue turns to sexology not to recover or rehabilitate its violent history but to identify and activate the networks of coalitional actors, connected histories, and linked liberation struggles that have persisted alongside the atomizing and systematizing drives of sexual science. The contributors to this issue collate the aesthetics of the human sciences with their histories and politics by using methodologies from such fields as critical race studies, disability studies, literary studies, queer and transgender theory, psychoanalytic theory, feminist theory, visual culture, architecture, and design. This issue populates the sexological archive with an expansive array of examples that reflect its multifarious constitution and uneven diffusion: post-Katrina New Orleans, utopian psych wards, stand-up comedy, the mythology of the welfare queen, concentration camps, public toilets, gender dysphoria, Ulysses the glass dildo, and COVID-19.
By revisiting key texts, figures, and moments in the history of sexology and enlivening their analysis with attunement to the aesthetic, this issue forges interdisciplinary connections, linking divergent discourses of the politics of difference. “Sexology and Its Afterlives” brings together scholars working in various disciplinary and interdisciplinary frameworks, not to reconcile their disciplinary protocols but to exploit the discontinuity of those protocols as an opening onto the ruptural space of politics itself. In that way, it aims to maintain the space of discontinuity between disciplinary discourses in order to keep in view the complicated space of lived political action. While the contributions to this issue each attend to different aspects of the history of sexology, they all share a conviction that submitting its aesthetics to analysis and revision might extend our critique of its violent legacies and histories to prefigure another politic. The contributions to this issue show how sexology has dissimulated and disaggregated, finding new footings for its logics and tactics in the signal protocols of neoliberal management: urban planning, gentrification, universal design, public health, biometric surveillance, and the datafication of the human. The intellectual and activist project of dismantling the edifices of power demands contending with the ongoing legacies of sexological knowledge. Rather than subscribe to a programmatic method or topic, the contributions to this issue collectively inhabit its conjunction of terms to revise, renovate, and remodel the history of the human sciences as they ramify in the present.
Sexology has been a modality of state discipline and public hygiene projects, including eugenics, reproductive control, and biometric surveillance, and yet its consolidation as a scientific field has been idiosyncratic and haphazard. What has been—and what has become of—the referent of the term sexology? As much as sexology has been an effective instrument of the dispensation of state violence, its operations have been unevenly captured by models of power derived from theorizing highly systematized state repression projects. A knowledge project need not be coherent or hegemonic to be consequential, and in fact, as many of the contributions to this issue demonstrate, the incoherence of sexology was perhaps as effective in its introduction of damaging notions into the social field as its unified scientific perspective might have been. How might one relate to the incoherence of the sexological project without minimizing its violence? How might one acknowledge the only ever emergent and largely discredited work of sexology without amounting to an apologia for its profound utility as an instrument of discipline and oppression? Historically, sexology's low burden of proof has been in direct proportion to the utility of its truth claims for social control. What were the claims sexology made that it could not quite support, and how did it manage those margins of error and produce its truth effects?
Far from a systematized project, sexology was and is, as Janice M. Irvine wrote, “an umbrella term.”2 Writing in 1990, Irvine identified the consequences for contemporary sexual politics of a century-long crisis of authority in the professional discourse of sexology that reached fever pitch in the postwar United States. Irvine notes that
even after a century of sexual science, sexology is relatively obscure as a profession and is as likely to evoke blank stares, or snickers, as nods of respectful recognition. . . . Yet thousands in this country count themselves as professional sexologists. They work as therapists, educators, researchers, or administrators in settings that range from universities and social service agencies to religious institutions and private practice. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of sexology, practitioners usually identify with another field of study, such as medicine or psychology.3
Irvine's study of postwar sexology makes clear not only the capaciousness of the discipline but also, more significantly, its infiltration of almost every branch of human sciences and social services. Sexology has been much more successful at generating mobile concepts and terms for uptake by other disciplines than it has at creating total theories of its own. This state of affairs can make it a strange object of study, as sexology names a diffuse discursive space that spans time periods, geographies, institutions, and social actors of many different kinds.
Most narrowly defined, sexology names the project of cultivating the health of bourgeois subjects—and that project has itself taken many forms. Grounded in the much longer history and violence of colonial contact, this project was formalized and perpetrated in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe and America by a group of white men, and a few white women, who were unevenly credentialed, primarily nonmedical professionals, academics, and reformers. This motley set of credentials characterizes not just the founding figures of the field, which one might necessarily expect not to have been credentialed in it; hardly any self-professed sexologist at any point in the field's history has been certified by that name. Sexology names not just a set of professional sexologists but a set of contingent knowledge practices, developed to allay historically specific manifestations of racial anxiety. The maintenance work required to sustain the fantasy of white supremacy has often been outsourced to sexology, which conscripts people—enslaved, coerced, and dispossessed—as experimental subjects whose bodies are compelled to testify to their alterity from the norm. Even as sexology attempted to draw a bright line between the normal and deviant, the healthy and the pathological, it ended up generating a cross-hatched grid of incoherence, incapable of stabilizing any one binary without tautological recourse to the others. The array of subject positions from which one might enter into the difference matrix of sexological knowledge thus also included bourgeois subjects seeking out a better fit for their own position of power, as well as minoritized subjects actively seeking subjection to science as a mode of recognition, redress, or simply relief.
Sexology is a science of the sexed human body, but that has only occasionally meant that it is a biological science. In the postwar United States it was fitfully institutionalized as a research science of human behavior, a laboratory science of endocrinology, a social science of public hygiene and criminology, and a clinical practice of gender diagnosis and treatment. Even when sexology has fixated on the human qua biological organism, it has appealed to social and material forms in excess of the sexed subject for explanation, control, and cure. As Greta LaFleur has shown, sexology was both “fundamentally a biopolitical science,” operating on society at population scale, “and, just as importantly, it was also a field of study organized around the human body” and its anatomy, identifications, and desires.4 As a science, sexology has admitted of multiple competing theories of its proper object, ranging from the organic to the psychological, environmental, mechanistically behavioral, and much else besides.
“Sexology and Its Afterlives” is interested in the remnants of diagnostic taxonomies that continue to organize and constrain lived experience. Sexology as a science has been multiply discredited without being wholly rejected, such that it was in a way never dismissed as much as dismantled and reconstituted in many guises, forms, and logics. Thus, this special issue is concerned with how that project has been concretized in material, architectural, and aesthetic forms that give it a solidity and duration that far outlive sexology as a scientific discourse. The contributors to this issue identify both familiar sites of sexological persistence (the sex-segregated public toilet) as well as less immediately obvious ones (the Moynihan report, redlining, the army base) as executing the unfinished business of the sexological project. Thinking across these sites, it becomes clear that sexology's fundamental protocol and primary legacy, its mode of operationalizing bodily difference as public policy and infrastructure, is segregation. Sexology mobilizes sex binarism as a fundamental mechanism of racialization, relentlessly policing the boundaries of the human with architectures and ideologies of partition. Public infrastructures of segregation proliferate policies and fantasies that become segregationist technologies of their own, underwriting ideologies of personal responsibility and individual autonomy that deny the reality of a shared ontology of interdependency. Focusing analysis on the design of sexology's afterlives underscores the enduring legacies of the sexological project that subtend the entanglements of race, sexuality, and bodily capacity with current regimes of classification and surveillance. Each of the contributors to the issue thus identifies historical anchors of sexological knowledge and violence and seizes on its unfinished business to nominate contemporary expressive registers (minority literary form, contemporary indigenous painting, embodied performance, pelicans in flight) that recapture some of the productive incoherence of sexology to open up rather than consolidate the matrix of difference and identity.
The contributions to this issue share a particular focus on the interlocking logics of the sciences of human difference in the United States, identifying a distinctive genealogy of contemporary neoliberalism as postwar sexological discourse cleaves away from its European precursors to abet the conglomeration of the university, clinic, state, and corporation. Sexology is a colonial science, and as the United States increasingly exerted its imperial force on the world stage after WWII, its deployments of sexological science became both more aggressive and more identical with statecraft as such, insidiously most violent where they are also least identifiable with the long history of sexological subjection. “Sexology and Its Afterlives” attempts to capture the undead quality of sexual science and its perpetual resurfacing around questions of power, embodiment, and the distribution of care, life, health, death, and risk. The consequences of sexual science on lived experience remain as real as ever, though they are less recognizable and more diffuse, called things like biotech and national security. If one sets out to study sexology by identifying people and things that announce themselves by that name, one will be missing out on most of the field, especially as one moves away historically and geographically from fin-de-siècle Europe.
Recent scholarship enlivened by this insight has moved to extend genealogies of sexology, locating its antecedents and identifying its nascent logics in times and places remote from nineteenth-century Europe, which its first wave of historians and critics identified as its defining locus.5 This new wave of scholarship, which comes at the question of sexuality through postcolonial theory and transnational American studies, provincializes fin de siècle Europe and postwar America, rightly asserting that sexology is more temporally and spatially capacious than tight focus on those centers of activity would suggest.6 The expansive remit of sexology reframed in this way requires pursuing its histories multiply and variously, from tracing its biopolitical imperatives to early American settler colonial genocide, dispossession, and enslavement to its colonial elaboration in the global South and the global “contact zones” of sexual science.7 This issue builds on recent scholarship on sexology, empire, and racial formation; the history of sexuality and science in early America; and the history of deviance and intersectional liberation struggles.8 As this range of scholarly approaches testifies, the disaggregation and diffusion of sexology over time, and the many different historical and local forms of appearance of sexual science, mean that studying it now is a genuinely interdisciplinary prospect. And it is not just interdisciplinary at the level of methods; it is also multimedia and multimodal—everything from contemporary literature to bathroom design bears the trace of a sexological impress. As the contributors to this issue show, sexology's afterlives manifest aesthetically in the line drawings of contemporary art, infrastructurally as racialized public health and housing crises, architecturally and institutionally as psych wards, and many other ways besides.
This issue understands the history of the sciences of sex, and the sexological project in particular, to be foundational to contemporary political struggle, making it a matter of renewed interest for queer studies, transgender theory, critical race theory, decolonial studies, mad studies, and disability studies. Sexology is implicated in all these fields in part because it operated on the premise that all forms of bodily and psychic difference index one another, consolidating a classificatory matrix that has since been disaggregated into divergent political programs and intellectual legacies. Thus, while sexology has a very different status in the history of each of these fields, this special issue is an attempt to enliven interdisciplinary conversation grounded in shared histories in order to transcend the immanent critique of field formation and articulate how sexological thinking organizes social life. The collected essays reveal that institutionalization not only is an ideological project but also entails epistemologically consequential spatial configuration, uncovering the construction project of the interdisciplines within which we are working.
“Sexology and Its Afterlives” interprets the sexological archive in an expanded field not to deconstruct it into a metaphorics that locate it anywhere and everywhere but, rather, to map its grammars in diffusion and multiply its genealogies. Our use of the term afterlife to describe the trajectory of sexology is meant to signal both how sexology continues to thrive in new forms and how its originary logics are reanimated and redoubled in newly configured segregationist technologies whenever the threat of collectivized difference looms too near. Sexology is both a densely historical phenomenon and a persistent contemporary presence, all around us as logic and form. To study the afterlives of sexology in both these senses, we turn to what Roderick A. Ferguson has called “pedagogies of minority difference” whose collective antecedent is sexology, even as their more proximate provenance is the Cold War.9 We thus locate the coordinates of this special issue in terms of postwar histories of American imperialism, infrastructural elaboration, institution building, and foundation funding as much as in terms of histories of new social movements and identitarian theories and field formations. Building on the insights of Ferguson, Jodi Melamed, Robyn Wiegman, and others that locate minority field formations in the imperial logics of Cold War American statecraft, this issue stages a conversation among minoritarian field formations to consider how sexual science mediates, structures, organizes, and controls interactions between postwar institution building and postwar knowledge projects.10
Even as the dominant trajectory of the postwar era has been toward an ever increasing privatization of difference, identity was scarcely a foregone conclusion of sexology.11 The most vital afterlife of sexology may in the end be that it has proliferated rather than consolidated theories and vocabularies for describing the relationships between and among sexuality, self, and embodiment. As much as sexology has underwritten the hegemony of identity as how we name embodied difference, it also generated a cacophonous array of terms and theories that have potentiated the critical insights of minority difference fields. To say that minority difference fields are “potentiated” by sexological excess is not to assert that they are determined by it. Sexology created more concepts than it could control, generating a sense of the problem space of embodied difference more than a definitive taxonomy. Critical theorists have found generative tools in the detritus of the sexological project to steer us toward richer notions of intersectionality and interdependency. In this issue, Amber Jamilla Musser reads the nominal universalism of sexological line drawing for its unwitting capacitation of Black “sensuousness”; Susan Stryker takes the multiply binaristic history of the bathroom as mandate for a “binary-abolitionist” project; Lucas Crawford reads the psych ward for a “trans-mad aesthetic of space”; and, in the issue's final essay, Jina B. Kim reads “minority literary forms” against the mythology of the welfare queen to arrive at what she calls “crip-of-color critique” grounded in a notion of shared dependency. Across the issue, newly imagined sites of collective politics come into view as a payoff for working through the stalled-out imaginaries of sexological binarisms.
“Sexology and Its Afterlives” pursues a genealogy of minority difference knowledges that alights upon sexology as epistemic antecedent and traces its diffusion into the institutional and epistemic architectures of interdisciplinary and coalitional scholarly praxis. In “Race and the Integrity of the Line: Sexology and Representations of Pleasure,” Musser locates her engagement with sexology most proximately in her own embodiment of professional expertise, generating an autotheoretical investigation of racialized, feminized, queer inhabitations of the authority of sexual expertise. Her essay begins by zeroing in on the moment in the 1930s when line drawings were incorporated into sexological tracts in an attempt to vouchsafe their objectivity, demonstrating how aesthetic strategies aided and abetted the scientificity of sexology as it struggled to assert its distance from pornography. Musser's attention to line as the sine qua non of sexological objectivity reveals how an aesthetics of objectivity reverse-engineered respectability by centering, rather than repressing, graphic visual depictions. Attending to the lines of sexology's charts, graphs, diagrams, and anatomical illustrations, she finds surprising continuity between Robert Dickinson's line drawings of vulvas and William Masters and Virginia Johnson's line charts rendering the data on female sexual response: both are inscrutable, amounting finally to a visual expression of normative attachment rather than a data visualization.
Musser reads gynecological line drawings of genitalia as data portraits, conjuring a sexological subject by means of the representational strategies devised to depict her sex. She looks to the history of gynecology to theorize the formal techniques and aesthetic parameters for representing the raced and sexed subject of pleasure. Musser notes that anatomical illustrations, charts, diagrams, and case studies—the signal illustrative genres of sexology—entail different logics of scale and representativeness, each with their own relation to actual and idealized human bodies. She thinks across these divergences to specify the incoherence of race in the projects of Dickinson and Masters and Johnson, proposing that we might theorize race more broadly as a problem of scale. In the closing gesture of her essay, Musser meditates on the identity of the facial and the genital, scaling her inquiry to the “residue of racialization” that sexological representation labors to repress. Turning to a portrait of herself painted by queer Filipino artist Jevijoe Vitug, Musser shows how, in contrast to Dickinson, who uses the line to discipline female pleasure, Vitug uses zigzagging lines to capture the sensuousness and subjective pleasure of Musser's own racialized queer representability. Musser follows the line from segregation technology to technique of self-elaboration for the sensuous subject at work making sexual knowledge. Her essay reads the aesthetic history of sexology and the line in all its contortions to unseat the objectivity of the sexological project and reenvision its history as an interaction between aesthetic form and scientific tone. Locating the aesthetics of scientificity within the sexological archive creates a foothold to inhabit its history differently, not by reinhabiting its violent logics but by enlivening its unruly aesthetics.
We can see the lineaments of sexology in the present when we think about the sex segregation of bodies that labor, reproduce, eliminate, and are confined and subjected to violence. As the contributions to this issue show, to cobble together the credibility sexology secured for itself, it implicated a set of spatial grammars organizing relationships between people, things, places, and ideas. These grammars have consolidated into social scripts, mapping a topology of violence and risk for minoritized subjects that nominates sites like the bathroom and psych ward for intervention by public policy, legal, and activist efforts. As trans studies scholars Susan Stryker and Lucas Crawford each show in their respective contributions to this issue, assessing these familiar sites of social violence for their formal features, design elements, or aesthetic effects generates new accounts of their histories and functions, as well as new openings for activism and social justice. Historicizing the relationship between design and social engineering, Stryker and Crawford each consider the architectural management of the division between public and private and, by extension, those populations designated unfit for public life. Doing so affords them new insights about the history and consolidation of these spaces of risk, denaturalizing their institutional intractability and identification with violence. Their emphasis on the design principles of sex-segregated space allows a decoupling of proximity and violence, underwriting a broader understanding of the relational, rather than the agonistic, as the logic of public interaction. Both Stryker and Crawford identify how design can erect other conditions for social possibility among a public in formation—potentially even utopian ones.
In “On Stalling and Turning: A Wayward Genealogy for a Binary-Abolitionist Public Toilet Project,” Stryker looks at the infrastructures erected on sexological premises, which have proved much more durable than the science itself. Her essay considers the gender-neutral public toilet project Stryker co-organizes with architect Joel Sanders. Galvanized by a renewed attention to the public bathroom instigated by transphobic violence and legislation, their gender-neutral bathroom is designed to be accessible, environmentally sustainable, and integrated into open spaces of transit, both indexing and generating a coalitional politics of public space. Stryker situates her collaborative project with Sanders in terms of a longer history of occupation and gentrification, centering the spectacular architectural forms that have most directly aided projects of social hygiene and the criminalization of the ill. She shows how the function of the toilet as a unit of social space has evolved over time, indexing the interlocking histories of sex work, racial segregation, gentrification, the criminalization of drug use and homelessness, disability, infrastructure, and transphobic violence. To the extent that the sex-segregated bathroom stall has been treated as a foregone conclusion, trans liberationist imaginaries are bound to stall out in it. Stryker seizes on this double sense of the stall as an occasion to work through the psychic impasses constraining trans experience.
Stryker takes up the bathroom stall not just as a site of inquiry and design but also as a formal mandate, composing her essay as a movement through a series of impasses where the path out is to break the binary. Stryker uses the public bathroom stall as an occasion to enact what she calls a “binary-abolitionist” project. By thinking trans in terms of the body as built environment, Stryker theorizes the mutual implication of racialized and gendered binaries in shaping social space. Centering the production of social relations through design, she adduces a rich history of the politics of the bathroom stall to consider both how this form has endured and to emphasize how it can be transformed to meet new needs in the present and future. Written as a series of meditations on stalling out, hitting psychic impasse, and reorienting, her essay proposes intervening on the ground beneath us, as a route to the processes within us, to transform our collective consciousness. Stryker's essay, and the toilet project it describes, is thus a powerful example of how an attention to design can transform what an emancipatory politics looks like: one form that trans affirmative action might take would be lobbying the international plumbing code to change their stipulation that the piping of all buildings be amenable to sex-segregated toilets. The plumbing, in fact, is also a theory problem. Radicalizing the adage “everybody poops,” Stryker proposes the public bathroom as a commons. Recognizing the shaping force of architectural form, Stryker renovates the bathroom stall into the fundament of a new social configuration, enacting design initiatives underwritten by a deep investigation of the history and politics of partitioned space. Stryker takes it as a premise that social status does not precede the architectures of privacy and publicity, or the architectures of confinement and exposure, which is why she has undertaken to build new ones.
Working at the conjunction of trans studies and design theory, in “Four Gestures toward a Trans-Mad Aesthetics of Space,” Lucas Crawford attends to the architectural forms that mediate the relation between bodily memory and historical trauma. One of the signal forms that mediate this relation has been the clinic. Following Foucault, Crawford notes the coconstitution of epistemologies of sex and madness and argues for a trans-mad analytic that is responsive to this common genealogy. He turns to the built environment of trans-mad administration to deepen the account of being subjected to expertise. Confronting the flatness of the clinical record, Crawford notes how it fails to capture the sensory surround of heteronormative clinical science. He draws on an autoethnographic analysis of his experience being hospitalized for the so-called pathology of gender dysphoria to investigate the speculative discourses of utopian design that conscript patients into envisioning their ideal rehabilitative environments. Wary of investing in the psych ward as a utopic space, Crawford's analysis guides him toward a critique of care that sees the pragmatic utility of semiprivate spaces of recuperation and self-consolidation.
Crawford deprioritizes the epistemologies of sexology in favor of its formal relations and aesthetic principles. He demonstrates that illness does not precede the spaces designed to house it, recognizing that mental illness is often a proxy for stigmatized modes of being, such as nonnormative gender identities, fatness, homelessness, addiction, and disability. He further notes that mental illness is always already architecturally constituted by the metaphorics of “stability,” “breakdown,” and “collapse.” Crawford reads for the overlaps between social and spatial marginality, putting the art installation Madlove: A Designer Asylum by Hannah Hull and James Leadbitter in conversation with the performance art of Coral Short to highlight how contemporary cultural production can collectivize the experience of psychiatric isolation. Noting that “madness and transgender as epistemological and diagnostic categories . . . did not develop in cultural isolation,” Crawford depathologizes gender not by sanitizing its associations with madness but by embracing a “trans/queer art of public emotion.” Crawford identifies “embarking,” “sensing,” “emoting,” and “collecting” as the features of what he calls a “trans-mad aesthetic,” mounting a fourfold resistance to the spatial norms of mental health treatment: confinement, rationality, repression, and individualization. Crawford takes it for granted that the history of sexology is not worth rehabilitating, choosing instead to generate a poetics of architectural embodiment to foreground the imbrication of the body and institutional space. But there are many reasons beyond rehabilitation to contend with the enduring violences of the sexological project, not least to understand the present.
Stryker and Crawford, like Musser, both turn to the autobiographical to theorize the present and future of sexology. Even as autotheory is a genre with its own ambivalent take on agency, subjectivity, and positionality, these authors risk entertaining the sexological as a site of utopian fantasy and self-elaboration. Recognizing that sexology has always been characterized by its reliance on and appropriation of the experiential authority of its supposed subjects, autotheory short-circuits the extractive economy of embodied evidence to generate a critical opening. Sexology might have something to offer if we don't have to get stuck there. The bathroom stall can be a place one moves through, rather than a place where one stalls out. Both Stryker and Crawford think about these places of stagnation as spaces of transit—the most utopian psych ward, finally, is the one you can leave.
The collective inquiries that emerge across these essays prompt us to consider how the biographical exposes us to the complicated incoherences of the sexological project. Each of the contributors is attending to the afterlives of sexology, the epistemological and material forms it has set in motion that continue to animate the present—including the modern subject. Recognizing this footing puts us in the position of having to reconcile what it means to think oneself a subject of sexology. In the final essay of this issue, Jina B. Kim turns to one exemplary modern sexological subject to theorize its biography anew.
In “Cripping the Welfare Queen: The Radical Potential of Disability Politics,” Kim traces the latent logics of the welfare queen out of the epistemological matrix of eugenic sex research and its racialized logics of dis/ability and dependency. She nominates the figure of the welfare queen to propose “crip-of-color critique,” reading two works of contemporary “minority literary form”—Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones and Sapphire's Push—for how they theorize “racialized regimes of disablement.” Thinking at the intersection of race and disability, dependency emerges as a key term for Kim to foreground care, need, and access as vectors transversally organizing relations that identitarian vocabularies insufficiently capture. Dependency, she argues, is a shared condition and, as such, the grounds for a shared politic. As Kim argues, a simple inversion of the welfare queen mythology would emphasize autonomy and the accumulation of wealth as ideals. Instead, she turns to the literary, seeking imaginative ballast for a reorientation to the welfare queen as the exemplary figure to avow dependency as a shared, rather than exceptional or pathological, condition. In Ward's and Sapphire's texts she finds sociality configured around care rather than biology, enabling Kim to theorize race in terms of disability and failing infrastructure.
Kim activates disability as an analytic to detach it from the diagnostic apparatus, shifting the locus of disability away from individuals and into the social field that nominates some for systematic disablement. And yet she does this while taking up representations of disabled people. “To be clear,” Kim states, “cripping does not necessitate looking for diagnostic evidence of disability in a text, nor does it prioritize the positive representation of identifiably disabled characters.” This is not a contradiction; rather, it is a methodological avowal of the dialectic by which identity apprehends certain subjects and organizes the vocabularies by which they name themselves. This analytic strategy has pertinence for many identity-based fields, where the relationship between the identities that occasion the study and the methodological and analytical frameworks animated in their names has not always been straightforward. Activating a disability analytic to theorize race, Kim thinks across crip theory and women-of-color feminism. She genealogizes the mythology of the welfare queen, showing not only how race and dis/ability collectively constitute that mythic figure in the cultural imaginary but also that race and ability have a common genealogy as vocabularies for pathologizing and criminalizing dependency.
The contributors to “Sexology and Its Afterlives” are all working through one of the signal questions of minoritarian fields: what does coalitional politics look like as a methodology? The contributors collectively enable us to consider how intersectionality and interdisciplinarity comport with each other. Each is invested in the question of how identity structures the social world, but methodologically they begin their inquiries elsewhere. Kim, for example, taking dependency as premise, brings dynamism to the vocabulary of positionality by emphasizing connections between and among people who are presumed in advance not to be autonomous. Identity discourse emerges in this account as an effect rather than a cause. What would it mean to think intersectionality without identity? One approach has been exemplified by Jasbir Puar, who asks what it would mean to deconstruct identity without intersectionality—opting for a vocabulary of assemblage and arguing that intersectionality has been prone to freezing its subjects in “gridlock.”12 The contributions to this issue allow us to see yet another possibility, one in which experiential identity might be decoupled from identity as an analytic, enabling the latter to exert a critical capacity on the former.
“Sexology and Its Afterlives” reorients attention not just to the multiple histories of sexology but also to its multiple legacies still unfolding in the present. The genealogical work unfolding across this issue opens up a space to think about not just interdisciplinarity, identifying and pushing back against the ways disciplines have been siloed, but also the relations between and among minoritarian fields and their defining objects of analysis. The contributors call on disability studies, trans studies, Black studies, women-of-color feminism, visual culture, and the history of sexuality, generating emergent concepts, including crip-of-color critique (Kim), binary-abolitionist praxis (Stryker), a trans-mad aesthetic (Crawford), and a shift toward expressivity as a framework (Musser). The richness of these concepts is testament as much to the expansiveness of the sexological archive as to its ongoing and potential afterlives. When we think about the proper objects of sexology, we are not just talking about the distant past. We return to our opening question: what does one do with the history of sexology, at once remote and ongoing? Sexological authority is consolidated by a set of relays between the scientistic and aesthetic that are crystallized provisionally in material forms that give this dialectic duration and extension in time and space. The contributions to this issue draw on the history of sexology to draw out its aesthetics into a repertoire of unruliness. These strategies interrupt the segregationist logics that forcefully individuate subjects to contain their sociopolitical potential, suggesting that one of the afterlives of sexology might be collectivity.
Foundational accounts of the history of sexual and racial science by such scholars as Doan, Fashioning Sapphism; Irvine, Disorders of Desire; Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed; Escoffier, American Homo; Somerville, Queering the Color Line; Roberts, Killing the Black Body; and Terry, American Obsession have laid the groundwork for scholars to multiply the genealogies of sexuality and science.
See Arondekar, For the Record; Khana, Dark Continents; Chiang, After Eunuchs; Bauer, Sexology and Translation. See also the special issues LaFleur and Schuller, “Origins of Biopolitics in the Americas”; and Schuller and Gill-Peterson, “The Biopolitics of Plasticity.”
On the idea of the contact zone, see Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone.”
There is an extensive and growing body of work in each of these areas. For a few exemplary works, see Chiang, After Eunuchs; Mitra, Indian Sex Life; Kunzel, Criminal Intimacy; Işıklar Koçak, “Pseudotranslations of Pseudo-scientific Sex Manuals in Turkey”; Rosenberg, Confessions of the Fox; Rosenberg “Molecularization”; Schuller, Biopolitics of Feeling; Kahan, Book of Minor Perverts; LaFleur, Natural History of Sexuality; Amin, “Trans* Plasticity”; Doan, Fashioning Sapphism; Bauer, Hirschfeld Archives; Malatino, Queer Embodiment; Abdur-Rahman, Against the Closet; Heaney, New Woman; Terry, American Obsession; Love, “Doing Being Deviant”; Duggan, “Trials of Alice Mitchell”; Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens”; and Rubin, “Studying Sexual Subcultures.”
LaFleur makes this case convincingly in the final chapter of The Natural History of Sexuality . Benjamin Kahan (Book of Minor Perverts) has also aerated the overdetermined identitarianism of sexuality by investigating the many competing etiological theories of sexual deviance.