Transgendered Latins and others

A Journal
February 12, 1999

Although the spell-check on my PC does not recognise the plural "sexualities", postmodern culture certainly does. This important new journal addresses the increasing popular awareness of sexual diversity, transsexualism and transgendering, child sexual abuse and sexual violence in general.

Moving along the shifting faultlines of queer, lesbian and gay studies, feminisms and cultural anthropology, it very much fulfils the aims set out in Ken Plummer's opening editorial: to examine contemporary human sexualities in social and cultural terms, with a commitment to theoretical roots and to "the lived life".

Its frameworks come largely from the social sciences. Since some readers might feel this precludes cutting-edge theory, it is necessary to highlight the journal's contribution to postmodernist understandings of sexuality and gender. This emerges on two fronts - the use of empirical data to rethink categories, and the attention to global sexualities.

The special issue on transgendering in Latin America, for example, represents a counterbalance to the tendency to theorise (and generalise about) transgenderism on the basis of writings and practices from the United States and the UnitedKingdom. In this issue Roger Lancaster worries about the totalising tendencies of "queer theory"; Judith Butler contributes a thoughtful afterword. Categories (for example, transvestites, masculinities) are productively complicated through their non-western embodiments (Brazilian "male 'butch' lesbians", for instance).

Typically, each issue contains three research essays, an interview or forum, and book reviews. Articles that appear narrowly focused - on gentlemen's clubs or on the sexualisation of corporal punishment, for example - serve to generate new theoretical models or to differentiate meanings within commonly-used categories such as "intimacy".

Contributors include Lynne Segal, Jeffrey Weeks, Joshua Gamson, Trevor Butt and Jeff Hearn, and leading researchers from France, Australia, Zimbabwe and Russia. The writing throughout is of a high standard, though the occasional pieces of non-academic writing that are promised may appear rather more dubious in their focus on the experiential.

One such piece, an autobiographical fragment by a Canadian professor, needed some kind of framing to bring out its value as a witness to intergenerational gay homophobia and to how gays and gay studies (in a manner analogous, though not precisely similar, to feminists and feminisms) affront the university's notion of the "universal subject of culture" (which is, invariably, a straight male one).

Yet despite Plummer's advocacy of history, the journal lacks sustained attention to historical difference. The emphasis on "the lived life" and on data, though useful in contesting naive views - of transgendering as postmodern jouissance , for example - virtually obviates cultural history, as we cannot interview subjects from the past. But Weeks's excellent discussion of Mary Mclntosh's 1968 essay, "The homosexual role", presents a convincing political argument for the need to revisit earlier material - not for its curiosity value (as might be suggested by some of the obituary-like contributions to issue one's Kinsey forum) but because it historicises current theorising. Even though the journal thankfully does not replay the old essentialism vs social constructionism debate, it does question the categories - many of them derived from historicist work - for thinking through contemporary sexualities. More historicist contributions would be welcome, especially if this journal is to fulfil its aim of mapping a new field.

Ruth Evans is senior lecturer in cultural criticism and English literature, University of Cardiff.

A Journal: (four times a year)

Editor - Ken Plummer
ISBN - ISSN 1363 4607
Publisher - Sage
Price - £35.00 (individual); £105.00 (institutional)
Pages - -

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