Rethinking Sex

This March, scholars in gender and sexuality studies gathered at the University of
Pennsylvania to reflect on the history of the field and to consider its contemporary strengths and potentials. The conference brought together over 30 speakers along with nearly 700 participants to consider the intellectual and political gains of movements for sexual freedom over the past decades.
The conference celebrated the 25th
anniversary of the publication of Gayle Rubin’s essay, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” The essay was originally published in the collection Pleasure and Danger (1984),
edited by Carole Vance, which came out of the Barnard Conference on Sexuality in 1982. Both Gayle Rubin and Carole Vance spoke at the conference, addressing the
afterlife of the feminist sex wars of the 1980s as well as current struggles for sexual
justice. Rethinking Sex began with a keynote address by Rubin, Blood Under the Bridge, in which she reflected on the original
publication context of Thinking Sex as well as the relevance of its claims today.
Over the course of the next two days, scholars
from several disciplines addressed a variety of topics including the intersections of sexuality with gender, race, class, and
disability; neoliberalism and sexual politics; transgender lives; queer diasporas; health and the management of bodies and populations; pedagogy and the institutionalization of gender and sexuality studies; sexual practice, pleasure, and community; new imaginaries
of kinship and sociality; transnational sexualities; histories of HIV; the politics of emotion; and the queer afterlife of conflicts in feminism.
In Thinking Sex Rubin called for an
“autonomous theory and politics specific to sexuality.” Thinking Sex brought scholars
together to address the history of sexual theory and politics since the 1980s and the
forms that it might take in the 21st century to honor Rubin’s crucial contributions to the making of our field, and to imagine new solutions to the challenges of the present.
Speakers at the conference included:
Marisa Belausteguigoitia, Lauren Berlant, Leo Bersani, Deborah Britzman, Lisa Duggan,
Lee Edelman, Steven Epstein, Gayatri Gopinath, Larry Gross, Judith Halberstam, Lisa Henderson, Neville Hoad, Sharon Holland, Nan Hunter, Janet Jakobsen, Robert McRuer, Martin Manalansan, Joanne Meyerowitz, Michele Mitchell, José Esteban Muñoz, Tavia Nyong’o, Jasbir Puar, Lisa Rofel, Gayle Rubin, Dean Spade, Susan Stryker, Jennifer Terry, Valerie Traub, and Carole S. Vance. The conference also featured a film screening by Abigail Child and a performance by Matmos.