The American Sexual Past

Graffiti on a wall reading Gender: queer

Temple University

Fall 2012

Course website + syllabus

“Sexuality is not the most intractable element in power relations, but rather one of those endowed with the greatest instrumentality: useful for the greatest number of maneuvers and capable of serving as a point of support, as a linchpin, for the most varied strategies” 
(Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, vol I, 103).

“Sexuality is as much a human product as are diets, methods of transportation, systems of etiquette, forms of labor, types of entertainment, processes of production, and modes of oppression” 
(Gayle Rubin, “Thinking Sex” 10).

How has sexuality been constructed and regulated across United States history? How has the very concept of the “United States” itself been made and remade through sexual practices, discourses, cultures, and policies? This course is an introduction to the critical interdisciplinary study of sexuality in the U.S., and examines how sexuality currently is and has been constituted through nationalisms, gender, race, class, and dis/ability. This course will begin by examining the invention of sexuality as a category of identification and analysis in the context of western modernity, and move through the ways that legal, medical, economic, academic, and activist practices have theorized and produced sexuality in specific historical periods. Topics will include genealogies of sexuality and sexual identity, immigration and citizenship law, reproductive rights and regulations, histories of colonial sexual violence, biopower and eugenics, sexual pleasure and agency, visual culture and the gaze, public health and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the sexual politics of capitalism and neoliberalism, sexuality in the context of militarization and war, and activist projects creating a critical sexual politics and “imagining otherwise.”

Even as we explore the radical possibilities of autobiography, we will also question how autobiography is assumed to be  more “true,” “unmediated,” or “authentic” than other genres of national storytelling. Ultimately the course will provide students with the skills necessary to critically examine the stories about nation, gender, sexuality, race, class, and dis/ability they encounter in their everyday lives.

Image credit: Charles Hutchins