Back to
Conference Web Page
Schedule of Events

Aliyya Abdur-Rahman - Sexuality and the Visual Archive of New World Slavery
This paper analyzes sexuality as encoded in the disciplining and display of enslaved bodies in exhibitionary spaces (i.e., on the floor, at auction, stripped and suspended for whipping, etc.) in canonical narratives of US slavery. While visual, pictorial, and theatric renderings of slave subjection lend themselves to voyeuristic consumption, they also contain an ethical imperative to witness. This paper attends to the life-world of slaves made perceptible through an ocular register that incorporates and implicates readers in momentary acts of such witnessing. It proceeds by showing the ways in which first-person accounts of enslavement juxtapose spectacular and mundane depictions of slave bodies in use and in pain in order (1) to reveal the institutionalization of sadism in slavery’s quotidian apparatus, (2) to expose scopic terror as standard practice within the disciplinary regime of slavery, and (3) to challenge culturally dominant notions of racialized sexual difference that undegirded the institution and supported its expansion. I argue ultimately that slave narratives utilize the potency, the political immediacy, and the consumptive pleasure of sight to transform disparate individual readers into a galvanized community of first-hand witnesses to slavery’s everyday terror.

Lia Bascomb- Barbadian Sexualities: Sex, Popular Culture, and Representation of the Nation
“Barbadian Sexualities” investigates the relationship between historical uses of sexuality to represent the Caribbean region and the sexuality at the center of the current global pop culture market.  In building the economy of a newly independent nation-state, Barbadian officials created “brand Barbados,” essentially commodifying the national culture and linking it to historically eroticized images of the Caribbean. Given the mythical “exotic” ideal of the region, the performance of gender and sexuality plays a large part in the formation and representation of Barbadian national culture. In post-independence Barbados, the turn to culture as an industry is fueled both by economic necessity and the ease with which cultural representatives can call upon historical myths of the Caribbean as a sexualized site of exotic fantasy.   Barbados’s efforts at forming an independent national identity seem to lie at a distinct crossroads between this salable sexuality and notions of respectability and modernity; however, representations of an independent Barbados redefine old notions of “acceptable” sexuality and “respectable” performances, relying instead on a complicated web of sexualized cultural commodification meant to represent the specificities of Barbadian culture while appealing to a wide, international consumer base.

Juan Battle- The Social Justice Sexuality Project (Workshop)
The Social Justice Sexuality Project is one of the largest national surveys of Black, Latina/o, and Asian and Pacific Islander, and multiracial lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people ever. With over 5,000 respondents, the final sample includes respondents from all 50 states; Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico; in rural and suburban areas, in addition to large urban areas; and from a variety of ages, racial/ethnic identities, sexual orientations, and gender identities. This talk will focus on findings from the Black sample.

Nicola Beisel - Black Women and Planned Parenthood: Questions about Sexuality and Reproduction during the Sexual Revolution
Between 1964 and 1971, the Chicago Daily Defender published a column entitled “Keep Your Family the Right Size.”  The column was written by representatives of Planned Parenthood of Chicago, and featured advice from a fictitious Leontyne Hunt. The column invited readers to mail in their questions about issues related to reproductive health to the Defender. The letters addressed various themes: in addition to the expected questions about birth control, the letters asked for advice about relationships, verification of folk knowledge about sex, questions about infertility, and, perhaps most interesting, advice about sexual morality. While there is a large academic literature on the struggle between Black Nationalists and Black feminists about the meaning of contraception and its consequences for the Black freedom struggle, there are few primary sources addressing how black women themselves responded to Planned Parenthood, to newly available means of contraception, or to the sexual revolution itself.

Darius Bost- Leaving the Black Underground: Race-ing and Sexing Melvin Dixon's Vanishing Rooms
This paper will explore Melvin Dixon’s 1991 novel Vanishing Rooms as a meditation on the place of race and sex in the physical, psychological and political landscape of New York City.  The novel’s setting in mid-70s New York City provides a critical context for Dixon’s exploration of black intimacies across racial, gender, and class lines. In 1975, New York City was facing fiscal crisis, rising unemployment and crime rates, which fueled gentrification and the subsequent displacement of the urban poor.  This setting is also significant because it signals a period of radical gay male sexual culture in New York City after the Stonewall Riots and before the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Bost will argue that the novel is significant to black queer memory insofar as Dixon mourns the loss of forms of urban sociality present in the mid-70s that he sees as “vanishing” when writing from the historical vantage point of the early 1990s.  Dixon’s novel reveals how urban politics have also been central to regulation of black intimacy and critical to the production of black sexual economies.  

Derrias Carter - Sweetback's Queer Manhood
This paper explores black male sexuality through Melvin Van Peebles’ iconic film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971). Using approaches from black cultural studies and black queer studies, I examine Van Peebles’ use of sex as a weapon for black men’s filmic liberation. Sweetback’s queerness resides in his sex-induced transmogrification and his general use of sex as an emancipatory device. I endeavor to challenge the heteronormative assumptions of blaxploitation scholars who critique the buck as a deviant counterpart to acceptable (read “respectable”) representations of black masculinity. Instead, I ask how we might use the buck to address blaxploitation as a critical site for thinking about black male sexuality and its negotiation in the realm of popular culture.

Alix Andrew Chapman - Looking for Trade: Erotic Crossings Among the Displaced
Looking for Trade references a desire for anonymous sex, moreover a set of queer social relationships that from a politics of respectability are marked as deviant. In this paper Alix Chapman argues that looking for trade is a strategy those displaced from the traditional home have utilized to right the unequal distribution of power and resources created by the State. Through ethnographic research in New Orleans Chapman explores the effects of multiple forms of displacement on black queer peoples. He connects these conditions to the cultural expression of Trade in New Orleans’ Bounce Music, HIV/AIDS prevention, and in interviews where these notions of potential opportunity, exchange, and pleasure circulate in public discourse and social practice. People risk visibility and cross boundaries created by the compounded effects of cultural and socio-economic displacement, heteropatriarchy, and privatization while looking for trade. Chapman uncouples the erotic contact and sharing made possible by these diasporic flows from the ways they are reduced to matters of capitalist accumulation and sex alone. Trade, as the desire for and practice of an autonomous space, sex, and way of life, increasingly is marked as the target of reform and gentrification because these “unsafe” practices resist assimilation into dominant institutions.

Tabitha Chester- Righteous Discontent: SGL Black men performing and demanding inclusion in the Black Church
Tabitha Chester is interested in the subversion that Black SGL (Same-Gender Loving) people employ as well as the spaces that queer people are carving out for themselves within the often homophobic and hetero-normative environment of the Black Church. In this paper she will explore the subversive work of two Black SGL artists who refuse to play by the Black Church’s norms. B. Slade, a former mainstream gospel artist (known as Tonex) uses his artistic work to incorporate a distinctly Black gay and gospel aesthetic that challenge the notion that Christianity and SGL identities are at odds. Through his music and persona he also deconstructs the uses of accepted dichotomies like secular/sacred, male/female, etc. in Black life.   Additionally Chester will demonstrate the subversion evident in Black SGL men artistic work through a scene in Robert O’Hara’s Booty Candy, where the pastor “reads” the congregation for their homophobia and hypocrisy. Chester argue that these works shows an evolution of Black sexual thought as it pertains to the Black Church as well as demonstrates a new era where Black SGL and queer people are not only demanding inclusion but refusing to be silent or ashamed of their sexualities.

Sara Clarke Kaplan- Is that Your Mama on the Pancake Box?
Sara Clarke Kaplan’s “Is That Your Mama on the Pancake Box?” uses the fraught cultural and commodity icon, Aunt Jemima, as a starting point from which to explore the dynamic, and sometimes contradictory, processes of abjection and affection, dispossession and desire, commodification and consumption that have been integral to the construction of blackness since the inauguration of the African slave trade. Kaplan argues that Glenda Dickerson and Breena Clarke’s 1993-4 performance piece, Re/membering Aunt Jemima: A Menstrual Show, provides a parodic, fantastic, and anachronistic genealogy of this “Grand Mammy of American Myth” that combines the forms and archetypes of 19th century minstrelsy with contemporary feminist performance methods. By refashioning the minstrel show into menstrual show, Kaplan contends, Re/membering Aunt Jemima denaturalizes normative categories of race, gender, sex, and sexuality, and resignifies racialized tropes of femininity, reproductivity, and embodiment. In so doing, it restages what she dubs the Black reproductive: the constellation of national discourses, state policies, and individual practices through which Black sexual and reproductive acts, capacities, and labor have been imagined and administered in the United States for nearly 350 years.

Cecilio Cooper- Gender and Its Voids: Impaired Black Capacity for Gender Differentiation
Drawing from cultural criticism and anatomical science, Cooper argues that a constitutive element of New World blackness is an impaired capacity for gender differentiation. If blackness inheres vulnerability to exorbitant violence, membership within an undifferentiated mass whose components are interchangeable, and disciplining of the body; then the black body’s limitless exposure to brutality is also constituted by forceful ordering and management through gender. The prevailing modernist ethos deifies sexual dimorphism, a complementary relation of two in which male and female are mirrored without parity. As the foils to Western gender systems, black persons are often understood as being stripped of these polarized genders (i.e. black males are emasculated or black females are denied their femininity), are inappropriately endowed with a gender inconsistent with their genital sex (i.e. black men are feminized or black women are masculinized), or that the young are hypersexualized such that black childhood becomes continuous with adulthood. The gender troubles that vex communities of African descent are also pathologized as intramural antagonisms between males, females, and gender non-conforming persons. Instead, Cooper’s research finds that the consequence of this stripping, accumulation, and classification is an impaired capacity for gender differentiation. Black gender expression becomes illegible.

Ariane Cruz- Playin' Race: Race Play, Black Women and BDSM
Playin’ Race: Race Play, Black Women, and BDSM examines the phenomenon of race play and its representation.  Focusing on the sexual performances of black women, Cruz reads race play across multiple sites such as pornography, narratives in online fetish social networks, and interviews with black female doms.  She reveals performances of Black female sexual aggression, domination, humiliation, and submission in BDSM as critical modes for and of Black women's pleasure, power, and agency.  Playin’ with the boundaries between mind/body, black/white, pleasure/danger, trauma/recuperation, affection/abhorrence, and fantasy/“reality,” black women BDSM-ers evince the highly charged territory of black sexual politics via their race play.  Cruz examines race play as a particularly problematic yet powerful BDSM practice for Black women, one that illuminates the contradictory dynamics of racialized pleasure and power via the eroticization of racism and racial sexual alterity while exploiting the symbolic and erotic power of the miscegenation taboo.  Race play irradiates the fantasies and enactments of racialized violence (mytho-historically conceived) that sex and sexual performance across the color line recite, particularly within the realm of BDSM.

Pier Dominguez- Racial Queering the Dramedy: The Pleasures of Melodramatic Spectacle in Noah's Arc
Through an analysis of Noah's Arc, a dramedy focused on queer of color men in Los Angeles, this paper contends that the dramedy genre is transformed to accommodate anxieties created by the placement of a black bottom at the center of its narrative arcs, which provokes theorizing about problematic intersections of gender, race and sexuality, such as devaluations of femininity in the black gay community. Given the way melodrama has depended on exaggerated performances of racialized gender, new kinds of pleasure are produced by staging these performances on queer of color characters and through the program's self-reflexivity about the performativity of race and sexuality. The dramedy genre's new mixture of melodrama and comedy enables new intersections and configurations of race and sexuality, serving as an important archive for considering queer racial affect in the post 2000s culture industry.

Shea DunhamEmotional Skillfulness in African American Marriage: Intimate Safety as a Mediator of the Relationship Between Emotional Skillfulness and Marital Satisfaction
Over the last 30 years African American families have experienced significant changes, particularly within the institution of marriage. According to the 2003 U.S. Census, between 1970 and 2000, the percentage of African Americans who decided to marry in their lifetime declined from 64% to 55% among men and 72% to 58% among women. The decline in African Americans choosing to marry and the increase in African Americans deciding to divorce is juxtaposed against a dearth of research on African American marriage. This paper examines emotional skillfulness theory and the possible impact emotional skillfulness may have on marital satisfaction and the intimacy process among African Americans. 

Erica Edwards- The Performative Economy of Loyalty and the Visual Economy of Black Wives
This paper is a meditation on the representations and subversions of new black feminininty in two contemporary reality television series, The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Basketball Wives. Turning to Evelyn Lozada’s famous toast to “friendship and loyalty” on Season 4 of VH1’s Basketball Wives—perhaps the most conflict-ridden Wives season to date—Edwards links theories of affect and visuality by Sara Ahmed and Kara Keeling to the performance of loyalty as a problem for both global capital and feminist theory. If, as Sianne Ngai argues, “competitiveness between women continues to be a political embarrassment to feminism,” is it not also the case that the forms of staged affiliation, female homosociality, disaffiliation, and social consumption that propel the serial spectacularization of black women’s sociality in contemporary television also inspire our, as well as the characters’, good and bad feelings? Theorizing loyalty as a link between the performance of social affiliation and the increasingly biopolitical production of black femininity in U.S. popular culture, Edwards will argue for the importance of black feminist theory’s own loyalty to “bad” objects of black women’s cultural production.

Jordache Ellapen- Theater of Trangression and Confession: Subverting Masculinities in Gay, Interracial, Bareback Pornography
In this paper Jordache A. Ellapen suggests that alternative film mediums, like Internet pornography, have a role to play in shaping how we imagine and relate to raced bodies in the age of HIV/AIDS. By examining the performances of black and white queer masculinities, particularly focusing on the ways in which these performances unsettle the “symbolic order,” in a Freudian sense, Ellapen argues that interracial bareback gay pornography can enable us to understand the complexities of sexual subjectivities in the age of HIV/AIDS.  He is particularly interested in theorizing “semen-exchange” in bareback pornography and understanding the broader implications of this for gay sexual subjectivities in the age of HIV/AIDS. This paper examines the Internet pornography films made by He also examines the film Niggas’ Revenge (2011) staring Bobby Blake. This paper complicates the works of Stephanie Dunning (2009) on interracial sexuality, Linda Williams (1998, 2004, 2008) on pornography and Daeriek Scott (2011) on abjection, to theorize new relationships between race, pornography and bareback or “raw” sex. 

David Green - Girl That Method is Snatched! An Intellectual History of the Erotic and the Quest for Black Lesbian Herstories
As a mediation on Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic As Power,” this paper explores possibilities for a lesbian intellectual history within Black Queer Studies. Taking Sharon Holland’s The Erotic Life of Racism as the central theoretical text and Cheryl Clarke’s Living As A Lesbian as a “lived text,” I attempt to problematize the erotic and disciplinary practices within the field of Black Queer theorizing. I ask: What constitutes a lesbian intellectual history and where does the erotic fit within its ranks? With a degree of pessimism, I move with and against recent trends in the field of Black Queer Studies, searching for, in the process, a “quare” place/ space where the black lesbian, ergo Cheryl Clarke, exists with her mind, body, and soul.

Kai Green - Mapping the Erotic Terrain: Black Lesbians Imprint/In Print Culture
In this paper, Green examines the Black lesbian erotic publication, Black Lace. This is a spinoff publication of BLK magazine, a Black LGBT publication out of Los Angeles that began in 1988 and ran until 1994 (41 issues). Green examines the ways in which Black lesbians take up the erotic as an important site of struggle in a time of crisis—a radical act of revaluing Black Queer bodies that were devalued because of their blackness and queerness and their proximity to illness/death.  He gives a history of BLK magazine and the spinoff publication paying particular attention to the ways in which Black lesbians use the erotic terrain to talk about desire and pleasure as hard work. The erotic terrain is a site where sex, work, desire, pleasure and the body intersect. He focuses on how the gender binary that organizes this terrain is both reified and challenged, both acts highlighting gender anxieties. Theses anxieties produce a productive tension that make space for Black Queer transgressions—and this is the space of Black Queer geography that encompasses Black LGBT bodies and spaces yet also always exceeds those boundaries.

LaNita Gregory Campbell- Lady in Red: Black Women, HIV/AIDS, and Down Low Discourse
Disproportionately impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Black women comprise the second highest risk group in categories of heterosexual and/or intravenous drug user directly under Black males. This paper engages with humanities and public health scholars to create a developed critique of the ‘down low’ discourse to address how black sexual politics and damaging representations of Black women are reified by moral panics. I will draw from Black feminist theory to aid in my examination of how constructions of Black sexuality aids in the understanding of how seropositive Black women become the cultural dupe.  I analyze Tyler Perry’s 2010 film, For Colored Girls, as it incorporates a storyline of an African American man “on the down low” who transmits HIV to his wife. A critical examination of the character The Lady in Red will illuminate how ‘down low’ discourses that do not interrogate representations of African American women and HIV are actively participating in continuing a historical tradition of marginalization and stigmatization. Rather than focusing on duty to warn and disclosure, I posit that the deviant or deceitful predator is in fact this popular discourse surrounding the down low that “exacerbates stigmatization of blacks in general” (Ford et al. 2007, 212).
Henry Hamilton- Queer Desire in Black and White: Isaac Julien's Nocturnes
How do mutual desire, consensual exchanges of criminal intimacy, and the deliberate eroticized exploration of dominance and submission complicate filmic representations of political and economic marginalization, and race relations? This paper positions key scenes from two films by prominent Afro-British filmmaker and video installation artist Isaac Julien, as a case study through the lens of which we can interrogate the social manifestations of the complicated nexus of race, sexuality, intimacy, power and the commodification of sexual activity. Isaac Julien’s 1989 film Looking for Langston, represents the artist’s attempt to “queer” history by asserting and inserting an invisible or unacknowledged black gay subjectivity into the Harlem Renaissance. The artist’s 1991 theatrical release Young Soul Rebels explores some of the same themes and questions, moving forward in time, while still remaining in the past, this time London in the 1970s. Rebels begins with an interracial sexual encounter fraught with danger that ends in murder. Both films allude to the dangers and pleasures of sex in public, illicit cruising, safer sex (or the lack thereof) and the potential risk of public intimacy in darkened corners, and hidden, seamy, sordid places, transformed momentarily into intimate spaces. 

Jillian Hernandez- Style Blues: Young Black Lesbians Theorize Masculinity
Based on community arts outreach work and ethnographic research on the topic of sexual embodiment with queer young black women in Miami--Florida, Hernandez’s paper theorizes the “blues,” the pains and pleasures that attend the practices of masculine dress performed by her study participants. Despite the loss of the social protections and privileges afforded to young women who embody normative femininities, the gender nonconforming participants in her study described how their masculine styles afforded them social status and erotic fulfillment.  Through discussions about the photography of queer South African artist Zanele Muholi with these young women, she also learned that they craft their own normativities regarding sexual aesthetics, and their derision towards an image of a black lesbian with facial hair revealed the limits of their willingness to signify gender, race, and sexual difference. Hernandez draws from her participants’ theorizations of masculinity to examine the complex ways in which they negotiate embodiment, sexual pleasure, and policing in a neoliberal society that makes their lives precarious. 

Cheryl Hicks- The Amazing Story of Hanna Elias: Interracial Intimacy and Black Sexual Politics in Plessy-Era New York
This paper addresses the case of Hannah Elias who was involved in the sex trade, became the mistress of one her customers, and the response of black New Yorkers to her 1904 arrest for extortion. Elias, whose white Central Park West neighbors believed she was Spanish, was charged with extorting $685,000 between 1896 and 1903  from her older white lover John R. Platt.  Eventually she wins her case in  court but the incident raises crucial issues about interracial intimacy and racial identity in the urban North.  As a result, Hicks explores the varied and complex public responses of black New Yorkers who supported as well as rejected Elias. Although one might argue that Elias chose the sex trade because of extreme poverty, Hicks also explores the question, posed by scholar Kimberly Springer, how do we understand the vagaries of desire as lived and experienced under power imbalances?

Amanda Hobson - G-Girls and Pillow Fights: The Representation of Black Lesbian Identity in Dunye's Stranger Inside
“You know what they say, the darker the berry?” “How about skins versus shit?” These questions foreground two core issues in writer and director Cheryl Dunye’s Stranger Inside: lesbian identity and race. How does the collision of the prison industrial complex, black lesbian identity, and racism impact representations of race, gender, and sexual orientation? Stranger Inside, which premiered on HBO in 2001, examines black lesbian identity, black family structures and motherhood, and the prison industrial complex. Hobson will discuss the role racialized and sexualized violence within the narrative and how those tropes define and are defined by black lesbian identity. The collision of Treasure’s race, gender, and sexuality manifests through violence and racist ideology and plays a pivotal role in understanding how the black female body upholds these structures. Hobson will focus on two key pieces that demonstrate Dunye’s exploration of intersectionality of external and internalized oppression in Stranger Inside: the prison as the buttress of violence and oppression and the use of discursive and physical race and gender based violence to reinforce these constructions. A question remains, though: is Dunye’s Stranger Inside a exposé of the systems that create and enforce the racist, sexist, and homophobic structures or does it merely work to strengthen the stereotypes, prejudices, and oppressive frameworks that exist in American culture?

Kwame Holmes- The Impossibility of Black Homophobia: Postwar Urban History and the Geography of Sexual Anxiety
This essay engages the history of post World War II suburbanization and ghettoization to illustrate that homophobia, as historians of sexuality have defined it, is a raced and spaced sexual subjectivity which cohered in the postwar suburb.  Building upon Marlon Ross’ examination of “the closet” as a raced paradigm, I read psychological concern around “momism” and panics around gay male sexual predators as dependent upon the assumed racial invisibility of white gay men in "safe" suburbs. By contrast, black sexual anxiety after World War II emerges within the precarity of black life in the urban crisis; conditioned by the cramped spatial dimensions of public housing and directed towards inner city sites that symbolize the sexually and economically exploitative relationship between suburbs and the ghetto.

Zakiyyah Iman Jackson Organ(ic) Matters, Genealogical Mutations: The Art of Wangechi Mutu
Recently, feminist new materialism, despite its nascent development, has come to what amounts to a consensus: The primacy afforded “representation” in poststructuralist informed feminist theory has begun to produce diminishing returns. Such criticism contends that feminists’ critical attention to politics of representation has itself become complicit in the blindness and even violence of the very discourses they claim to call into question. Moreover, they maintain that in light of this excess discursivity, and despite poststructiatualism’s now mechanical interpellations, the force of matter invites us to reckon with its magnetizing pull. Although they rightly note that “matter” is potentially rendered void in some iterations of poststructuralist theory, can we, feminists, afford to jettison matters “representational,” and what’s at stake when we attempt to invert the representation-matter hierarchy? Furthermore, are the politics of gendered sexual racialization merely representational? In this presentation, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson argues that matters of black female sex/uality and reproduction are best understood as discursive and organismic interactivity. Wangechi Mutu’s Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors and Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals crucially and generatively reveal the limits and stakes of this interactivity as it pertains to the semio-material history of the black female body and sexuality as linchpin and opposable limit of “the human” in scientific taxonomies and medical science.

Amber Jamilla Musser- Kara Walker, Mollena and the Possibilities of Black Female Mascochism
This talk reads two controversial figures—the artist Kara Walker and the S&M activist Mollena—together in order to ask how we can think about the possibilities, not just of black female sexuality, but of black female masochism—the willful and desired submission to another. Masochism is a difficult subject to broach, but black female masochism is even more so because it threatens to produce subjects who are embrace myriad systems of historical and cultural forms of objectification. Further, black female masochism is difficult to theorize because masochism as a concept requires an understanding of agency, which has been elusive for black women to claim. Musser works through discussions that frame Walker’s work as either romanticizing masochism or performing its own version of masochism and the discomfort that surrounds Mollena’s activist work in BDSM communities. By looking at the ways in which discussions of masochism have been framed among several communities, Musser argues that we can understand black female masochism as a practice of critical historiography. In this way we come to understand black female sexuality as historically situated and sexual agency as a mode of relating to that history.

Amber Johnson - Confessions of a Video Vixen: An Intersectional Approach to Black Sexuality and Desire
The video vixen holds a special place in American society's underbelly. Good hair, firm breast, round ass, slim waist, and pouty mouth, she is beautiful according to European and African American standards. She is both reprimanded and applauded for her roles as the model, the part-time prostitute when necessary, the vixen who steals married and taken men. She personifies sex. I never wanted to be her, until I saw Case serenading and proposing to Beyoncé in his R&B video "Happily Ever After." I wanted that heteronormative fantasy happen to me. I wanted someone to plan an excursion around New York City, doll me up, make me feel beautiful, and ask me to be his wife. Even if I was going to say no, I wanted to be desired. If I couldn't have that in real life, I wanted the fantasy to be memorialized in a video. Nelly was my chance, or so I thought. In this autopoietic narrative, I use performative writing to confess my short-lived career as a video vixen. My intention is to complicate hyper/heterosexuality, race, class, and gender in an ongoing struggle of performing what it means to me to be a Black, queer, middle-class, post-heterosexual, hip-hop loving woman.

Jennifer Jones- The Ultimate in Survival Against a Hostile White World: African American Physicians, Homosexuality, and the Quest for Communal Well-Being
In a 1972 Journal of the National Medical Association article, psychiatrist Roland S. Jefferson argued that therapists should “understand the dynamics of [a black gay man’s] castration and the safety of his homosexual role as the ultimate survival against a hostile white world.” This paper examines the efforts of Jefferson and other African American mental health professionals to treat and understand homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder from the 1940s through the 1970s. Jones argues that that these efforts were intimately linked to the black medical profession’s concern over the impact of racism on African American health. Attempts to “cure” homosexuality, although adhering to contemporary medical practice, were part of a larger political campaign to improve black mental health and reinforce black medical professionalism. Further, a small number of physicians linked same-sex desire and certain kinds of gendered behavior to an inability to adjust to modern living, various socio-economic demands and racial discrimination. Focusing on black medical communities in Tuskegee, Alabama, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, this paper contributes to the historiography on African American sexuality and medicine in the middle of the twentieth century.

Rosamond S. King- Collapsing Identities, Coalition Politics, and the Political Economy of Black Queer Studies
In recent scholarship there have been several gestures towards the notion that African-Americans in the USA are always already excluded from the white ideals of heteropatriarchy, and thus have a close affinity to more obviously nonheteronormative queer people and their relationships.  These arguments threaten to collapse numerous sexualities and sexual identities into black queerness.  While King disagrees with this approach, she believes that the intent of such work is not only to convince black people of different sexualities that they have more in common than they might think, but also to build coalitions among black people of different sexualities.   She will argue that we need not claim similar identities to pursue the same political goals.  Indeed, a true coalition politics, a politics that organizes across difference, can be stronger and more effective than one that insists we must belong to the same group or identity to work together.  The political economy of the title refers to the economics of political organizing and behavior.  This paper will consider how black queers are “spending” our political capital in discussions about identity, community, and justice while connecting the theory and practice of intellectual work.

Jennifer Leath- Believing Deviance: Theorizing Quare Praxis and Faith
Black folks constitute one of the most “religious” ethnic demographic groups in the United States, with an overwhelming majority of black folks also identifying themselves as Protestant Christians.  The majority of these black Christians are members of historically black churches and/or denominations.  With respect to queer subjects, black majorities have been amongst the least affirming, but are now showing increasing support for certain LGBTQ+ rights.  Still, a “politics of respectability” continues to over-determine racial theories and practices of blackness in a way that deeply impacts black sexual identities and sex practices.  This paper both analyzes the relationship between deviance and respectability and considers particular terms of sexual otherness such as “quare.”  While it evaluates the limitations of “quare” language even with respect to the most deviant objectives of black religiosities, it also articulates the normative potential of “quaring” black religion.  Especially drawing on the work of Audre Lorde, E. Patrick Johnson, Emilie Townes, M. Jacqui Alexander, and Cathy Cohen this paper also presents “normative” black religious deviances from a theo-ethical perspective in order to support and inform the development of black quare theory – and alternative embodiments of blackness and religiosity in general.

Jared LeightonFreedom Indivisible: Black Gays and Lesbians in the Civil Rights Movement
Leighton will examine the role of black gays and lesbians in the African American civil rights movement in the pre-Stonewall era.  His work seeks to more thoroughly document the role of gays and lesbians in the black freedom struggle and look beyond just one or two major figures by drawing attention to gays and lesbians at the grassroots level.  His paper also attempts to discern to the interplay of racial and sexual identity among black lesbian and gay civil rights activists and the role their activism played in their identity formation.  Moreover, he identifies the ways black gays and lesbians acquired the consciousness and strategies in the civil rights movement to use in later activism for lesbian and gay liberation.  His work draws on oral history, manuscript collections, organizational records, gay and lesbian periodicals, as well as existing secondary sources, which remain scattered, and brings them together in a more focused analysis of LGBT participation in the civil rights movement.  This work adds a new dimension to our understanding of the civil rights movement and goes beyond the parallels drawn between the black freedom struggle and gay liberation by examining the lives of activists who were involved in both.

Shannon Miller- When Homophobia Turns Violent: African American Queer Women Recount their Mothers' Sexuality and Gender Policing
A significant body of scholarship explores the processes that African-American mothers employ to promote their daughters’ positive race and gender identities. There is a lack of attention given to understanding how mothers respond to daughters who desire to live beyond their mothers’ ideals of black womanhood, particularly how mothers respond to their queer and gender nonconforming daughters.  In this paper, I draw on data from a qualitative study exploring African-American queer women’s experiences in the context of family and community. A theme of physical and emotional violence emerged in participants’ accounts of their mothers’ attempts to police their sexuality and gender identities. I use a framework of historical trauma to consider mother-on-daughter violence as a manifestation of emotional and psychological injury directly linked to historical oppression. Through this lens, African- Americans women’s violence is seen as a brutal outcome of communal oppression. This paper will not contribute to discourse that vilifies black women as mothers; instead I draw our attention to the historical and social conditions that lead some black mothers to believe that violence is a viable option to controlling their daughters’ identities.

Marlon Moore- In the Life, In the Spirit
In this paper, Dr. Moore offers highlights from her manuscript, In the Life & In The Spirit, which argues for new considerations of the ways 20th-century writers engender spiritual engagement in fictional literature. Applying Caribbean literature scholar Melvin Rahming’s formulation of the “spirit-centered” narrative as that which functions to evoke or dramatize spiritual conditions and spiritual activity, and working from his assertion that one must approach such cultural products with a methodology that “explores avenues by which the text conveys its spiritual matrix,” Dr. Moore offers insight into the “spiritual agenda” of novels and short stories which center spirit and same-sex eros (and/or LGBT identity) as dual themes. Authors may include Becky Birtha, Ann Allen Shockley, Jewelle Gomez,  Langston Hughes, and Octavia Butler.

Jennifer Nash- Race Pleasure on the Pornographic Screen: Reading Sex World
In “Race Pleasure on the Pornographic Screen: Reading Sex World,” Jennifer Nash closely reads a popular Golden Age pornographic film, Sex World, for the film's representation of black women's embodied pleasures in blackness itself.   Nash's reading of Sexworld argues that racial stereotypes, fictions, fantasies, and hyperbole can be sites of black pleasures, offering ways of naming longings, staging sexual encounters, and locating desires. Indeed, the “controlling images” of black female sexual alterity that black feminists have long critiqued can function as sites of play, performance, and pleasure even as they injure, constrain, and wound.

Angelique V. Nixon- Searching for the Erotic: Boundaries of Male Same-Sex Desire in Caribbean Film
This paper examines the difficulties of representing same-sex desire and eroticism among men in Caribbean film and visual culture because of the specific and particulars of place.  Nixon focuses on male same-sex desire to situate roots of homophobia located at the intersections of misogyny, fear of the erotic and the feminine, and heterosexist patriarchy.  Drawing from Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic,” Nixon theorizes the ‘visible feminine’ in gay Caribbean men, which elicits fear and (at times) outrage over male same-sex desire and any perceived disruption of established normative gender roles; she argues that this ‘visible feminine’ ultimately reflects a hetero-sexist and patriarchal fear of the feminine and the erotic.  She analyzes two recent films that portray Caribbean male same-sex desire – Children of God (2009) and Riding Boundaries (2012).  The primary investigation is on the feature length film that ultimately reveals the burden of representation in its specific place (The Bahamas); whereas the analysis of the short film reveals a different burden in its specific place (Trinidad and Tobago). Nixon searches for the erotic in these cinematic representations and asks when it is possible to imagine and represent the expansiveness of the erotic, of desire, of love outside the bounds of religion, patriarchy, and colonial violence.

Ianna Owen- Searching for the Black Asexual
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network functions simultaneously as a message board based community and as an advocacy organization advancing the claim that asexuals are “just like everybody else.” In this context, black asexuals on AVEN have created threads/posts seeking out other black asexual users. Non-POC responses in these threads have employed various color-blind strategies that reveal the trouble the black asexual poses to the campaign of fusing “asexual” with “everybody else.” After nearly ten years of isolated posts/threads, a permanent thread was created to centralize posts by asexual people of color. In light of this newly institutionalized nexus of black and asexual, this paper meditates on the oft-cited asexuality of the historical figure of the Mammy and asks how thinking through her constructed image might become valuable to the project of finding the black asexual. This paper intends to engage issues of temporality, relations of power, and the ethics of “using” the Mammy. Ultimately I hope to address the question: What is black about a black asexual? 

Emily Alyssa OwensFantasies of Consent: Black Women's Sexual Labor in 19th Century New Orleans
This paper links sexual economies across the 19th century in New Orleans—using Storyville, New Orleans’ notorious and legal sex district, as a gateway to understanding the sometimes nebulous, sometimes formalized institutions of sexual commerce of the antebellum era. Arguing that these sexual economic systems were both distinct and importantly linked, this paper attempts to crack open the cultural norms that underwrote complex transactions of sex, money, freedom, and power across the 19th century. This paper theorizes the fantasy of consent—the sale and purchase of the fantasy and performance of volitional sex in contexts that utterly obliterate its possibility—as the heart of these eroticized transactions. I attempt to destabilize categories of “rape” and “consent” for the antebellum period, turn to an archive of mostly court documents to preliminarily scaffold the institutional structures of “the fancy trade,” and Storyville, and trace the life of the fantasy of consent as it is expressed within and between these sexual economies.

Shana Redmond- Gospel Drag: The Dress that the Blues Built
Seamstress Nettie Dorsey was keenly aware of the negotiations she was making as she sewed and hemmed the dresses of her husband’s most famous protégé, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey. Her religious faith was held in tension with the secular and sexual world in which her husband and her clients worked, causing no uncertain number of provocations or compromises. The life of this object—the dress—and its relation to sound is what motivates this presentation. Redmond is interested in investigating the close proximities between pious respectability and working-class nonheternomativity, laboring femininity and sonorous vocalities that exist through the costumes sewn by Dorsey and worn by Smith. How did these dresses carry with them the types of quiet (and not so quiet) protests that are indicative of both the Black church and the Blues stage? How did its materiality capture and mediate the voices of its maker and its wearer? A deeper reading of the life of this object begins to unveil the significance of aesthetics in sound production and the intimacies shared between these two unique women.

Alison Reed- The Whiter the Bread the Quicker You're Dead: Fetishization of Black Sexuality and Claims to Postwhite Injury in Queer Studies
Taking seriously James Baldwin’s aside on sensuality in The Fire Next Time, which critiques the ways in which whiteness depends on fetishizations of Black sexuality to define itself through the metaphor of bland white bread, or “blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber,” this paper interrogates the uncritical use of racialized bodies as spectacular markers of queerness. Despite mounting evidence of homonormative complicity with and assimilation into the state, existent oppression along the lines of gender and sexuality fallaciously bolsters a victim narrative to displace white queer identity from the social and economic wages of whiteness. This disavowal of privilege produces white queers who performatively align themselves with a racialized so-called “otherness.” As Chandan Reddy and Kenyon Farrow have theorized, white queer politics hides white privilege behind legalistic analogies between race and sexuality, not to mention the violence of “Gay is the New Black” mottos. Ultimately, this paper expands Robyn Wiegman’s notion of prewhite injury to what Reed terms “postwhite injury” in a queer studies context, which advances the critique of suturing spectacular performances of sexuality to the racialized body by looking at the insidious racialization of the term injury itself at the intersection of trauma studies and critical race theory.

Quincy James Rineheart - Daddy's Little Boys: Bishop Eddie Long and Negotiations of Control Through Homoeroticism in the Black Church
This paper will focus on the case of Bishop Eddie Long who in 2011, it was alleged, had engaged in a sexual relationship with four male youth—all the while perpetuating negative notions of homoeroticism. This paper explores how Eddie Long’s use of “Daddy” functions in two ways (1) In the conventional sense of a spiritual mentor, and (2) In the homoerotic sense of a dominant sexual partner. He will further explore Bishop Long’s use of control through providing enticing luxuries such as clothes, cars, expensive trips, and money to manipulate boys into having sexual relationships with him. This paper will develop this thesis by analyzing a sermon preached by Bishop Long to show the theological dysfunction and ontological contradiction of the Black Church around notions of sexuality. In particular, the paper will address the hypermasculinist ethos that perpetuates a dread of the homoerotic. This paper will, therefore, critique the Black churches’ perpetuation of homoeroticism and homophobia from a Womanist reconstruction of power structures, which suggest an alternative nurturing for a healthy church.

J. N. Salters- The Personals are Political: The Politics of Sex Work, Privacy, and Black Women's Citizenship
While much recent literature on sex work has begun to take a more nuanced, cultural studies approach to the study of commercial sex—moving beyond the exploitation/empowerment dichotomy to locate sex work within broader sociocultural and political-economic contexts—there remains a paucity of research on the ways in which such local and global processes distinctively frame and shape the experiences of black women in the sex industry (who exist at the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, and the economy). This essay intends to redress this recurring omission by employing ethnographic research conducted at a predominantly African-American massage parlor to explore black women’s experiences of structural inequality, shame, stereotypes, (de)valuation, and surveillance, as well as the multiple strategies of resistance black women adopt in an attempt to survive and profit within America's neoliberal marketplace. As a space for work, pleasure, survival, production, and consumption, the massage parlor offers an opportunity to assess the complexities of black women’s labor in underground economies, contemporary gender, race, sexual and class politics, and the enduring legacy of black bourgeois politics on black women’s conceptions and performances of black sexuality and womanhood. Grounding my empirical findings in theories of privacy, citizenship, queer performativity, and critical race feminism, I suggest that the experiences of these black women sex workers sheds light on the ways in which black women strategically conform to and resist historicized stereotypes and racist, patriarchal capitalist norms to capitalize within already-existing systems of oppression and inequality. 

Tanya Saunders- The Black Lesbian International: A Comparative Analysis of Black Lesbian Activism and Hip Hop Feminism in Brazil and Cuba
Dr. Tanya L. Saunders is an Assistant Professor in the Department of African American and African Studies at the Ohio State University in Columbus, OH.  She is a sociologist whose work centers on the ways in which the African Diaspora, in the Americas, uses arts-based social movements as a tool for social change. She is particularly interested in how these movements challenge racism, coloniality and heteronormativity as mutually reinforcing axes of oppression. She has published in Latin American Perspectives, Black Women Gender and Family, SOULS: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, the Caribbean Review of Gender Studies, and in the 2012 anthology Black Genders and Sexualities.

Sami Schalk- Is Alien Sex Queer Sex? Queer Pleasures in Octavia Butler's Science Fiction
In this paper, Sami Schalk offers a queer of color reading of sex, sexuality and pleasure in the science fiction texts of Octavia E. Butler. While none of Butler’s central heroines explicitly identify as lesbian, bisexual or queer (though characters who have same-sex sex do exist), throughout her novels and short stories, black women and others obtain pleasure from a variety of non-heterosexual interactions. From human-alien threesomes  in the Lilith’s Brood trilogy to hyper-empathetic second-hand pleasure in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talent, Butler’s futuristic and fantasy worlds open up possibilities for black women’s pleasure and desire which are not reliant upon heteronormative, patriarchal conceptualizations of sex and sexuality. In this paper, Schalk argues that Butler’s depictions of fictional futuristic sex and pleasure can both challenge and expand our notions of queer sexuality realities today through consideration of issues of reproduction, disability, disease and monogamy. Schalk focuses particularly on pleasure and the possibilities that Butler’s work offers queer sexuality and identity with its meaningful expansion rather than destruction of categories.

Darieck Scott- Big Black Beauty: Black Male Figures in Gay Erotic Comics
This talk examines gay erotic cartoons, focusing on one short strip by the cartoonist David Barnes, but also including references to the work of Belasco and Patrick Fillion. Scott discusses how imagining the desirability of a black person in gay erotic cartoons, which are in part public, collective fantasies, seems to require positioning its community of co-fantasizers "outside" blackness, or it requires articulating the desire from a non-black, default-white, interpretive standpoint. This positioning of the reader/viewer confirms the fundamental racism of the (at least) American fantasmatic, and yet also offers up as a template for fantasy and as an object of desire a kind of excessive, ideal, and arguably divine blackness: what Scott calls Big Black Beauty.

Kai Small - Basketball (Non)Wives: Failed Hetero-normativity and Performative Repertoires of Violence
While reality television reconstitutes historical fixations upon black feminine bodies, gestures and “behaviors,” it has precipitated a proliferation of (black) anxieties and discourse that lament the rise of “stereotypical,” “violent,” and/or “deviant” stars. Over and against this lamentation, this paper offers a reading and viewing practice of VH1’s hit reality show, Basketball Wives, that displaces the trope of “positive representation” in order to trace the ways in which (black) anxieties over (black) pathology and (non)heternormativity puts under erasure the violence of “propriety” that has constituted black feminine bodies as the proper objects of various scales of violence.  I center Basketball Wives’ breakout star Evelyn Lozada taking up her various “deviant” performances as raced/gendered/classed objections in order to consider the excesses of her “violence” as performative refusals of the binary logics and structures of power which attempt to render her legible -- as proper/improper, positive/negative, classy/ghetto.  Furthermore, I juxtapose these refusals with discourses that have variously sought to rationalize and spectacularize the domestic violence incident between Evelyn and her now ex-husband Chad Ochocinco in order to complicate understandings of the ways in which violence circulates around the public consumption of black feminine bodies and black women as figures of (non)heteronormative deviance.

Christopher Smith - On a Politics of Authorization: Black Queer Cultural Production as Sociological Intervention
This paper interrogates how historic economic relations have conditioned the circulation of texts, and artistic expressions of “black (male) homosexuality”, in particular. Understanding, literary and filmic texts as sources of sociological reflection on and documentation of black queer lives, this study asks how might scholars discuss the constitutive boundaries of literary, artistic, and intellectual tradition(s) differently? Further, if a search for a “usable past” is premised on a notion of self-authorship, how does one account for representations of black queer sociality/sexuality that are authored by a purported “outsider”? Through a comparative reading of John R. Gordon’s novel Skin Deep (an examination of queer life in 1990’s London), celebrated by Rikki Beadle Blair alongside Valerie Martin’s novel Property (a neo-slave narrative from the perspective of a white slave mistress), priority is given to the reception of these works by canonical literary figures, (Gordon, 1997; Martin, 2003).  In both works, a meditation on the psychic legacy of Trans-Atlantic slavery structures representations of black homosexuality. Gordon, self-defined as a “white-africentrist”, and Martin praised by Toni Morrison, occupy a peculiar position within a canon we might provisionally call “black gay literature”. What is at stake in this analysis, then, is a refiguring of scholarly debates about representation (Keeling, 2005), such that the cultural work of black queer artists, are not merely understood as a counter-response, but rather indicative of the plethora of black sexualities and embodiments?

Erica L. Williams- No Bodily Rights Worth Protecting: Transnational Circulations of Black Hypersexuality in Brazil
This presentation explores the transnational circulation of notions of black hypersexuality in Brazil and beyond. It focuses on three sites of analysis that explore how cross-cultural perceptions of sexual difference are produced and perpetuated in the tourism industry. First, it explores Oswaldo Sargentelli’s Oba-Oba mulata shows, which situated the mulata on stage as an eroticized spectacle for the consumption of white male foreigners. Second, it analyzes a Youtube video that depicts a young Arnold Schwarzenegger on stage dancing with a woman of African descent who is dancing samba. Seeing her scantily clad, he takes the opportunity to grab her behind. Finally, the presentation reflects on the Marcha das Vadias (SlutWalk) that has occurred in Salvador for the last three years (2011-2013). In these three sites of analysis, women of African descent, like “sluts” and sex workers, are seen as having no bodily rights worth protecting. This presentation draws upon often overlooked scholarship on black Brazilian feminisms to address how black Brazilian women “recuperate and re-imagine their own sexualities” within a transnational tourism industry that depends upon their bodies and their emotional and sexual labor.

Tsione Wolde-Michael- Weavings of an Intimate Nature: Affects in American Slavery, 1820-1895
This presentation explores the transnational circulation of notions of black hypersexuality in Brazil and beyond. It focuses on three sites of analysis that explore how cross-cultural perceptions of sexual difference are produced and perpetuated in the tourism industry. First, it explores Oswaldo Sargentelli’s Oba-Oba mulata shows, which situated the mulata on stage as an eroticized spectacle for the consumption of white male foreigners. Second, it analyzes a Youtube video that depicts a young Arnold Schwarzenegger on stage dancing with a woman of African descent who is dancing samba. Seeing her scantily clad, he takes the opportunity to grab her behind. Finally, the presentation reflects on the Marcha das Vadias (SlutWalk) that has occurred in Salvador for the last three years (2011-2013). In these three sites of analysis, women of African descent, like “sluts” and sex workers, are seen as having no bodily rights worth protecting. This presentation draws upon often overlooked scholarship on black Brazilian feminisms to address how black Brazilian women “recuperate and re-imagine their own sexualities” within a transnational tourism industry that depends upon their bodies and their emotional and sexual labor.

Back to Conference Home Page