Diversity is a Corporate Strategy, Cultural Sensitivity is a Psychiatric One

(AKA Weeks 3 and 4: In Which (Some of) the Main Texts Pretend to Care About Race and Its Relevance to Sexuality Studies)


Angela Davis said, “I have a hard time accepting diversity as a synonym for justice. Diversity is a corporate strategy.” Psychiatric texts deploy the term ‘cultural sensitivity’ in a similar way. Ostensibly it’s a claim of inclusion, but functionally it serves to increase profits by extending the market (in this case, of psychiatric services) to People of Color. If the goal is to allow People of Color full access to care, including psychiatric sex therapies, we’d have to radically change what psychiatry means, not ask therapists trained in a white supremacist discipline to attend a workshop on ‘cultural sensitivity’.

A real starting point would be reworking the common understanding of the relationship between race, gender, and sexuality. They aren’t intersections that appear only when therapists map out the psyches of racialized patients. They are mutually constitutive categories of social control. In other words, you cannot understand gender or sexuality– as abstract concepts or as they are embodied in any individual– if you don’t understand race.

This is obvious if you’ve heard or read anything of the actual histories racialized peoples. Historical systems of white domination (historical meaning invented and implemented years ago but still in operation today) like chattel slavery and colonialism were justified through hegemonic ideas about the deviant genders and sexualities of racialized peoples. White supremacy pretty much invented gender oppression and sexual oppression, yet very many white sex educators give no more than lip service to race in their work. This tells you they’ve neither read nor thought much about anything other than their own sexualities.

I know because I was once such a white person. I am, obviously, still a white person, and so I’m still able to enact racial oppression and will always benefit from the racial oppression that other white individuals enact and the structure of white supremacy as a whole. It’s my responsibility as a decent human being to constantly work to understand and undermine this structure. Even if I had no ambitions to be decent, I would still need to understand white supremacy and racialized constructions of gender and sexuality to understand my own white gender and sexuality. The same goes for all white sex educators out there: we gotta stop being know-nothing assholes. That’s where this week’s supplementary readings come in.

They include four chapters from academic nonfiction books and two journal articles, and they’re only diving-off points. I hadn’t originally included Morgensen’s, Puri’s and Mann’s writing in the syllabus, because the point of this endeavor was to learn what the major texts had say about sexuality and only supplement that a little where necessary. But after reading the textbooks in weeks 1 + 2, the words of more People of Color and scholars of racialized histories felt not just morally imperative but intellectually necessary; there was SO much missing that the supplementary text couldn’t just be one work by Patricia Hill Collins. Otherwise? Reading all these shitty textbooks might just rot my brain, and I’d end up a know-nothing asshole again.

I don’t want any of us to wind up that way, so I chose texts that are all available for free online (see the reading list for sources). However, if you can afford to pay for these works or other works by these authors, you should. (That’s the principle on which I construct my alternate reading list, too.) And if you’re short on time as well as cash? Hang on, kid, this summary’s got you covered! You can also skip ahead to ‘The Fantastic Parts’ section of the notes below.


In Black Sexual Politics, Patricia Hill Collins explores the interrelated processes of racialization and sexualization. Both of these are inflicted ON Black bodies, from the beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade through to what Collins identifies as the post-Civil Rights era . Collins argues that in order to understand ‘the new racism’ (racism not explicitly encoded in the law) we must understand these historical processes and the ways they continue to play out today. Her major contention is that Black genders and sexualities are always classified as deviant under white supremacist hegemony: “African Americans have been evaluated within the context of a sex role theory that by its very nature disadvantages Black people,” she writes on page 44. Collins goes on to write against a ‘politics of respectability’ as useless to dismantling these white supremacist norms.

In the second chapter of her book, Collins gives a detailed history of Black sexual politics in the United States, and I’d make it required reading for anyone with an interest in sex education (or racial justice, or gender justice, or economic justice, or, or, or…) From “the political economy of chattel slavery” (55) which relied on commodifying Black sexuality, to “racial segregation and the rural south” (61) which justified segregation and vigilante violence through the pathologization of Black sexuality, to”racial segregation and urban ghettoization” (69) and “the post- civil rights era” (75) which are defined by gendered economic disenfranchisement and control of the surplus population through the expansion of the prison industrial complex, this whole chapter is illuminating and vital.

The history of Black sexual politics is of course present in all other racialized histories, but the exact process of white supremacist domination is never repeated exactly for other racialized groups. I chose Scott Lauria Morgensen’s article on gender, sexuality, and settler colonial studies as an introduction to this issue as it relates to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Because he is writing for an academic journal, Morgensen’s prose is denser than Collins’s, but it also offers more obvious summaries of its points. These main points are that “colonialism is produced, extended, and illuminated by gendered and sexual power” (3) and “colonialism has sexualised indigenous lands and peoples as violable, subjugated indigenous kin ties as perverse, attacked familial ties and traditional gender roles, and all to transform indigenous peoples for assimilation within or excision from the political and economic structures of white settler societies” (4). Morgensen takes care to note the limitations of his academic knowledge production and acknowledges marginalized experience as a site of knowledge production that can “displace the epistemic frame of settlers” (3).

From this marginzalized knowledge production comes definitive answers to questions that White Feminism cannot stop arguing over, such as the validity of transgender identities. Guess what? They’re valid! When we understand that the cissupremacist gender binary is a Western construct that is violently imposed on indigenous societies, there’s no debate as to whether denying trans women’s identities is violent; it is a function of settler colonialism and cultural genocide, so of course it is. Morgenson helps us understand how this violence was operationalized. He explains that this Western gender binary was not incidental to settler colonialism. Rather, “the targeting of persons who today might be called Two-Spirit for violent elimination instantiated colonial heteropatriarchy and a sex/ gender binary as a precursor to establishing a new economic and legal system”  (14) (italics in the original). Cissupremacism is a central aspect of white supremacist violence, and it is only now undeniable to white people because of the work of Two-Spirit activists and queer indigenous scholars.


I chose Morgenson’s and Collins’s writing to fill in general gaps in knowledge about race and gender, but I chose Susan Mann’s and Jyoti Puri’s pieces directly in response to the first round of readings. Remember the Sexuality Now account of ‘Sexuality in Ancient Asia‘ that amounted to no more than brief list of stereotypes? Puri’s “Concerning Kamasutras” and Mann’s Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History are here to put them to rest. First, Puri’s blistering account of how Victorian-era British colonists essentially invented the Kamasutra as part of their orientalist colonial project and how 20th-Century Indian nationalists attempted and failed at reclaiming it because they were working from “androcentric nationalist impulses that sought to establish a compatibility between a select national tradition and Western, colonial modernity” (621). Puri’s article is a particularly focused and illuminating account of how white supremacist patriarchy exoticizes and pathologizes the sexuality of racialized peoples to subjugate and control both colonial subjects and white women.  Puri also explains how this process instills or strengthens forms of structural subjugation within colonized societies, in this case casteism and Islamophobia in India. Sexuality Now! couldn’t even acknowledge the existence of Muslim peoples within India, because acknowledging pluralism in racialized nations would complicate one-dimensional stereotypes.

The preface and introduction of Susan Mann’s book-length history of modern (19th + 20th Century) Chinese gender roles also includes a necessary discussion of pluralism and subjugation within China. Mann gives an account of the Manchu conquest of the majority Han ethnic population that begat the Qing dynasty.  She also hints at the great regional cultural variation within China, mentioning all-female households in the Canton delta and sisterhoods of women in southern Hunan province (12), and cites the various influences of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism on Chinese gender idiologies– a welcome correction to Sexuality Now!‘s inane ‘yin and yang’ summary.

Sexuality Now! also failed to offer an insightful analysis of the practice of footbinding, but Mann illuminates the history of the practice in her discussion of the subjugation that followed the Manchu conquest. After Manchus banned the practice, Han women began to engage in it as form of anti-colonial resistance; what had started as patriarchal paradoxically became a way to defy hegemonic control, as Han women used it to express ethnic pride and affirm their marginalized gender performance (17). Mann explicitly offers at the end of her introduction that this historical understanding of “sexuality and gender relations in a different cultural context … challenges the universalizing claims of Western modernity” (23).


Imagine a DSM-5 that captured any of these histories in the Sexual Dysfunction, Paraphilic and Gender Identity Disorder categories. You can’t, really, because then these three sections would mostly cease to exist.  The American Psychiatric Association has been forced over decades to acknowledge cultural difference in constructions of pathologies, but they mostly do so where it opens up possibilities for further pathologization. For example, the DSM-5 includes a section on Cultural Formulation, which explores how culture affects “key aspects of an individual’s clinical presentation and care” but it never questions whether that care (or ‘care’) is even necessary  within other cultural understandings (750). And of course it doesn’t, because if ‘the individual’ is already in the room, the clinician can’t just let her leave; he has to bill her. Ultimately, culture may affect someone’s diagnosis or treatment protocols but it won’t be allowed to interfere with continued insurance payments.

 Like their unwavering guide, the DSM, the sex therapy textbooks also must address (minoritized) cultures. Each contains one chapter on ‘cultural sensitivity,’ and neither attempts to impart any historical understanding of how white supremacy operates on sexuality or through the field of psychotherapy. Instead, they both offer liberal blandishments about being open and understanding (how one can understand without the prerequisit background knowledge is anyone’s guess).

At the beginning of New Directions‘s cultural sensitivity chapter — after the author has made a tasteless joke about the differences between Christian, Jewish and Muslim women’s sexuality in order to illustrate how wrong it is to make such tasteless jokes!– the reader is confronted with a quote from ‘Pope and Vasquez’ that “‘Therapists who ignore cultural values, attitudes and behaviors different from their own deprive themselves of crucial information and may tend to impose their own worldview and assumptions on clients in a misguided and harmful approach’ (p. 227)” (161) (italics mine). Here is the underlying philosophy of sex therapy, the classic liberal fallacy that neutrality is not only a possibility but a virtue. A radical approach– a decolonial approach, which decenters Western enlightenment notions of scientific neutrality– would not seek to do the impossible and eliminate personal bias but to expand personal viewpoints through education while acknowledging their constructions and limitations. This may be the major difference between sex therapy and sex education: the former is a necessarily liberal project and the latter can be approached from any ideological standpoint. In order for sex education to be radical, the understanding and destruction of white supremacist philosophy must be a foundational aspect of the project.



The Profoundly Questionable Parts


  • The ultimate goal of performing a cultural formulation assessment that may identify culturally-bound syndromes is still to offer a diagnosis from the DSM-5. For example, if you read the Glossary of ‘cultural concepts of distress’ [see the ‘Actually Useful Bits’ section for what this means] and recognize a cis male patient from a South Asian culture is presenting with Dhat syndrome (a cultural explanation revolving around semen loss), you will not formally diagnose him with Dhat syndrome, but probably with ‘unspecified sexual disorder’ (759). You will still offer treatment from within a framework that acknowledges the patient’s understanding of their own distress, but you can’t bill for that.
  • “Individuals and clinicians who appear to share the same cultural background may nevertheless differ in ways that are relevant to care” (751). This isn’t problematic in and of itself, but I include it here because in all my decades in therapy, I, as a white American from a Christian background, have never had a therapist attempt to do a cultural assessment on me. This is one of those large gaps between principle and practice that becomes painfully obvious while reading the DSM: cultural assessments are not neutral tools but are mostly deployed in ways that ‘other’ patients who are racialized or ethnicized.

Principles and Practice

  • Throughout P&P and New Directions the word ‘culture’ quickly takes on new meaning, as when (white) people proclaim their love of “ethnic food.” Say what you mean: the cultures and ethnicities of racialized and minoritized people, People of Color, Muslims, Jews, immigrants– everyone who is not a white Christian North American. Otherwise you insinuate that white Christian North American people have no ethnicity or culture instead of acknowledging that we are invisiblized because we are the norm.
  • “[In Chapter 15] Hall and Graham challenge both clinicians and researchers to view culture as central to understanding sexuality” (334). HOW grim are the state of things that this is issued as a challenge?! Isn’t this… one of the first things you learn in Psychology 101?
  • “Recognizing that culture is not the problem but part of the solution […]” (334). Hang on, wait, check this out: what if culture can sometimes be part of the problem AND sometimes be part of the solution?
  • P&P gives several examples of how cultural definitions of sexual problems can influence suggested treatments. One illustrative example is ‘premature ejaculation,’ which is more often considered a problem among men in rural Iran even when the timing of their ejaculation is above the standard of 2 minutes. Why? “Zargooshi and his colleagues noted that with the high unemployment rate in rural Iran, sex was one of the few pleasures accorded to married men, and they wanted it to last as long as possible.  The opinion of Iranian wives was not solicited, and therefore it is unclear whether they shared a desire for longer lasting vaginal intercourse” (338). Meanwhile, among Western men, the concern over premature ejaculation is more about “the fact that they lack control over the timing of ejaculation” (338). Therefore, the treatment protocols in Iran should focus on extending the length of intercourse and the treatment in Western countries should focus on helping men control ejaculation– a subtle but important difference.  But wait. At no point do the authors suggest talking with clients about the cultural constructs of desirable sexual performance, or about soliciting the input of these men’s partners, or about coping with unemployment and even advocating for economic justice.
  • The text emphasizes the importance of (implied white) therapists attaining cultural sensitivity towards (implied People of Color) clients but never offers the option that the white therapist may simply not be the best therapist for the job. There is a difficult balance to attain between white people putting in the work to achieve compentence with clients of Color in order not push too many of these clients onto too few therapists of Color AND white people recognizing when they are not the best fit for clients of color and recommending therapists of Color instead. I wish the text had talked about this, but good luck getting a white professional to ever admit they’re not best for the job.

New Directions

  • Fill in the blanks: I grew up in a ____ (Christian, Jewish, Moslem) neighborhood, and when I went out with (Meghan, Miriam, Mariyah), she told me there, in the back seat, all there is to know about how ____ (Baptists, Conservative Jews, Sunnis), you know, do it. What’s more to learn? While that back seat may have provided fondly remembered educational moments, becoming a culturally sensitive sex therapist takes additional effort” (161). *Insert one million awkward emoji faces* The guy who wrote this is Jewish, which makes it, I guess, 50% less offensive, which means it is still 50% offensive. What really bugs me is the idea that someone who makes a comment like this would moderate his misogynistic, Islamophobic stereotyping with the clarification that it was only all Sunni Muslims who fuck a certain way (161).
  • “Every red-blooded male wants to last longer, right?” (162) Anyone who ever laughed at this man’s jokes is being held personally responsible for this entire chapter.


The Blatant Lies


  • Under the description for  Maladi moun, a cultural explanation of distress in Haitian communities that attributes “illnesses such as psychosis [and] depression]” to forms of revenge sent by enemies, the DSM authors list related conditions in DSM-5 as Delusional disorder, persecutory type and schizophrenia with paranoid features. This seems wildly unfair. Like, it basically obliterates the very purpose of having cultural explanations of distress (835).

Principles and Practice

  • “Examples of [culturally bound syndromes] include Dhat syndrome (excessive worry about penis shrinkage due to masturbation), found on the Indian subcontinent” (338). This is not how the DSM-5 defines Dhat syndrome. First, the DSM calls it a cultural explanation of distress, not a culturally bound syndrome. Second, the DSM identifies its origin as “South Asia,” which is much broader than ‘the Indian subcontinent.’ Finally, the DSM lists among Dhat syndrome’s diverse symptoms, “anxiety, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, impotence, multiple somatic complaints, and depressive mood” and identifies the primary symptom as “anxiety and distress about the loss of dhat (semen), which is identified as one of the seven bodily fluids in Ayurvedic medicine” (833). It’s quite possible that the DSM is the liar here, but if that’s the case, P&P should acknowledge the difference in definitions.  More likely, the P&P authors attempted a quick summary and got it wrong, and the editors didn’t bother checking.
  • Throughout the text, the authors refer to various cultures– ‘Western,’ ‘Indian,’ ‘Italian’– as singular and coherent values systems.
  • “When the couple presented together, they seemed to be a bit of a mismatch.  Suleman was tall, light-skinned, athletically built, and very attractive … Nasreen was short, plump, and rather plain, with a dark complexion…” (347).  I see what you’re doing here, and it’s racist and gross to link weight and skin color to attractiveness

New Directions

  • “If we cannot say that all men desire women, then certainly any determinant less basic than a male sex organ must be seen as endlessly variable” (165). I… have some news for you about penises, guy: they are actually extremely variable and not always male.
  • “Each year I ask my students how they feel about a 25-year-old man having sex with a 15-year-old girl. As expected, they express unambiguous condemnation of such behavior.  I then ask the students of Ethiopian or North African descent at what age their grandparents or great-grandparents married […]” (165).  Fuck you EXTREMELY. First of all, in what universe is your classroom located that there is ‘unambiguous condemnation’ of this scenario, because that reflects my experience not at all? Second, what an incredibly racist thing to do, singling out East and North Africans as sexually deviant when this same scenario happens in most cultures? This is exactly the function of  white supremacy in education: to exert dominance and reify racist structures in the classroom.
  • “…some treatment situations may warrant consideration of more specific and less neutral terminology. For example, a transgender client may wish his or her current gender identity to be acknowledged by the therapist through the use of gender specific rather than inclusive language” (166- 7). This is a great example of how ‘neutral’ actually means ‘the hegemonic norm.’  Because to claim that correctly identifying a trans person’s gender is NOT inclusive is absolutely absurd by any meaning of the words ‘inclusive’ or ‘absurd.’ And this is the textbook that does not include a chapter by Kenneth Zucker!


The Actually Useful Bits


  • Here’s a proper definition of culture! “Systems of knowledge, concepts, rules and practices that are learned and transmitted across generations … [Culture] includes language, religion and spirituality, family structures, life-cycle stages, ceremonial rituals and customs as well as moral and legal systems” (749).
  • There’s also an acknowledgement that “in the contemporary world, most individuals and groups are exposed to multiple cultures, which they use to fashion their own identities,” and so it’s both useless and really fucking offensive to try to determine exactly what someone believes based on certain aspects of their heritage (749).
  • Culture, race and ethnicity can be related to psychological distress because of racism and discrimination but they can also be sources of support and healing (749).
  • There are three kinds of ‘cultural concepts of distress’: ‘cultural syndromes,’ ‘cultural idioms of distress’ and ‘cultural explanations,’ which are being differentiated for the first time in this edition of the DSM (758).  Sometimes, one term may be used to explain several concepts, such as ‘Depression’ (which can be either a syndrome or an idiom).
  • A cultural assessment should try to attain the following information: the patient’s cultural identity, their cultural conceptualization of distress, cultural features of vulnerability and resilience, cultural features of the relationship between the patient and clinician and a summary of implications for management and treatment (pp. 750- 752).

Principles and Practice

  • “The first report of a large multinational comparison of sexual dysfunction was the Pfizer-funded Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors … (2005)… the cross-cultural GSSAB did not assess distress about sexual functioning, but only the presence of symptoms” (337). This says so much about the state of funding for sex research in so few words.
  • But if we wanted to say a few more words: “The tendency to compare other countries to the standards of the West plagues cross-cultural research… The GSSAB asked specific ‘Western-defined’ questions about sexual difficulties” (338). This means that non-Western cultures, and Asian cultures in this particular case, “will appear lacking” when it comes to sexuality (338). The study design apparently confirms stereotypical biases of white supremacist orientalist notions of Asian sexualities.
  • Good to know: “Epidemiological surveys have often resulted in inflated reports of sexual difficulties because both transient, short term sexual problems (which are very common) and more persistent problems (which are less frequent) have been assessed …” (337).
  • “Clinicians need to be sensitive to the dual allegiance to heritage and mainstream culture and to be aware that despite assimilation of some aspects of mainstream culture (clothing, occupation, language) clients may retain heritage values with respect to family and sexuality” (340). In other words, don’t make assumptions about the extent to which patients have acculturated or which aspects of the ‘mainstream’ culture they’ve adopted. Don’t rely on stereotypes.
  • There are three ways culture “influences psychopathology”: the phenomenology of symptoms (how distress is experienced), the syndromization of symptoms and the diagnostic process (341). Notice how this maps onto the DSM-5’s cultural idioms of distress, cultural syndromes, and cultural explanations of distress.
  • It’s important not to force a Western meaning onto other cultures’ processes of psychopathologization but to instead find a shared understanding of these psychopathologies and to treat the underlying stressors they are indicative of.
  • Cultural competence “denotes the capacity to perform and obtain positive clinical outcomes in cross-cultural encounters” whereas cultural sensitivity “recognizes the centrality of culture in shaping sexuality” and helps attain “a shared meaning … between therapists and clients” (346- 7). The authors argue in favor of the latter, “which stresses a flexible attitude, rather than [competence] which emphasizes knowledge and behavior” (347).

New Directions

  • The author of this chapter notes a difference between a religion’s norms and a client’s religious norms (170).
  • There are six guidelines for clinicians when addressing race and ethnicity in therapy:
  1.  “Suspend preconceptions about clients’ race/ ethnicity/ gender/ sexuality and that of their family members
  2. Recognize that clients may be quite different from other members of their racial/ ethnic/ gender/ sexual group
  3. Consider how racial/ ethnic/ sexual and other differences in background and experience between therapist and client might affect therapy.
  4. Acknowledge that power, privilege, racism, and sexual prejudice might affect interactions with the clients.
  5. When in doubt about the importance of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in treatment, err on the side of discussion; be willing to take risks with clients.
  6. Keep learning (173)”

The only changes I’d make (besides adding #7: Overthrow the psychiatric establishment) would be to move ‘keep learning’ to #1 and add onto #4 to work to undo systems of power in your therapeutic practice.


The Fantastic Parts

Black Sexual Politics

  • Collins gives an example of the historical conflation of Blackness, disability, animality and monstrousness in her account of the abuse of Saartje Bartmann (Trigger warning for descriptions of racist abuse): “One eyewitness recounts with horror how Bartmann endures poking and prodding, as people try to ascertain for themselves whether her buttocks are real.  In the context of popular London shows that display as forms of entertainment, talking pigs, animal monsters and human oddities such as the Fattest Man on Earth, midgets [sic], giants, and similar ‘freaks of nature,’ these reactions to Bartmann’s exhibition are not unusual” (26).
  • Collins also hints at the political economics of freak shows, writing “What Bartmann lost by being displayed as a ‘freak’ is far clearer to us through our modern sensibilities than what she might have gained for herself and her family” (28). I’d love to read more about disability, enfreakment, sexual labor and its intersections with race and gender in the freak show if anyone has sources.
  • Although far from progressive on issues related to sex work and prostitution, Collins nods at the white supremacist history of anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking laws: “When authorities discovered that [Jack] Johnson was having an affair with an eighteen-year-old blonde from Minnesota, they charged him under the Mann Act with engaging in white slavery” (27).
  • More on racialized sexual economies: “In antebellum Charleston, South Carolina and New Orleans, Louisiana, White men desired quadroons and octoroons as prostitutes because such women looked like White women, but they were actually Black women, with all that that implied about women’s sexuality” (29- 30).
  • THIS THIS THIS on the white supremacist misogynist construct of the fragility of white womanhood (Trigger warning for racial slurs): “Ideas of pure White womanhood that were created to defend women of the homeland required a corresponding set of ideas about hot-blooded Latinas, exotic Suzy Wongs, wanton jezebels, and stoic native squaws” (30). Clearly there is no such thing as the liberation of white women without the liberation of all women and all racialized people.
  • “Patterns of desegregation and subsequent resegregation of African Americans in the United States resemble the decolonization and recolonization that characterizes the gobal context” (34).
  • An actual definition of “family values” (which Collins notes resembles “colonial discourse from the 1600s”): “1) all sexual practices should occur only within the confines of heterosexual marriage; 2) the fundamental purpose of sexuality is procreation; and 3) children should be protected from all sexual information with the exception of abstinence as the preferred form of birth control before marriage” (37).
  • How white supremacist logic evolves with the times but remains the same at its core: “In the context of the new racism, cultural explanations for economic success and poverty substitute for biological arguments concerning intelligence or genetic dispositions for immorality or violence” (41). Legal discrimination has become social discrimination; biological explanations have been replaced by cultural explanations but racism is always and still economic in nature.
  • The sources of Black sexual stereotypes (Trigger warning for rape and slavery): “The institutionalized rape of enslaved Black women spawned the controlling image of the Jezebel, or sexually wanton Black woman. […] Because Black men did hard manual labor, justifying the harsh conditions forced upon them required objectifying their bodies as big, strong and stupid […] White elites created the controlling image of the buck” (56). In contrast, there are also “controlling images of Uncle Tom and Mammy as prototypes of asexual, safe, assimilated, and subordinated Black people” (57).
  • Slavery also constructed white sex roles: “Masculinity became defined in patriarchal terms, namely, their performance as masters at home and in public activities of commerce and government … The ability of White men to whip and kill Black men at will and force them to witness violence against their female partners and children served not just as a tool of racial control, but violence also became deeply embedded in the very definition of masculinity” (58).
  • Post-emancipation, “Lynching and rape emerged as two interrelated, gender-specific forms of sexual violence” (63).
  • The fundamental problem with a ‘politics of respectability’ is that “it fails to directly challenge the system of ideals itself”; it relies on appealing to white norms that Black people will never fully meet (74).

“Gender, Sexuality and Settler Colonialism”

  • Colonialism is “[produced] within localised, relational situations defined by the power of gender, sexuality, race, class, and nation.” As such, “[Ann] Stoler … wrote against misreading her emphasis on gender and sexuality as ‘intimate’ complements to empire or capital, whereby the latter conversely (and erroneously) appear ‘non-intimate’ until the former are discussed” (7).
  • A definition of ‘franchise colonialism’ (as distinct from ‘settler colonialism,’ which ideologically requires genocide): “[it] governs by preserving a subject people for racialised labour exploitation” (8).
  • Methods of genocidal elimination of indigenous people include “regulation of sexual relations, gender identity, marriage, reproduction, and genealogy” (10).
  • Methods of decolonial resistance include “unlearning heteropatriarchy, empowering women, or reclaiming Two-Spirit histories” (12).
  • Again, you cannot understand white sexuality outside of white supremacist regulation of People of Color: “settler sexual modernity arose as a method to contravene indigenous sovereignty” (12). This is expanded upon on page 14: “We know that settlers indigenise [i.e. structurally replace indigenous peoples and convince ourselves we are ‘American’] when they imagine that their replacement of indigenous peoples is ordained by the progressive expansion of universal principles,” like LGBT equality– even though we are the ones who necessitated such a project in the first place. See also: homonationalism.

“Concerning Kamasutras”

  • “The Kamasutra reinscribes oppositions between the ancient East and the contemporary West, between contortionists and inspired couples, but also serves as a link between orientalist fantasy and female and male sexuality in the United States. To wit, the politics of historical, unequal relationships based on discursively constructed differences are elided” (604).
  • At the time of Puri’s writing, there was only one major feminist critical text of the Kamasutra, by Kumkum Roy. Roy’s writing compares “the Kamasutra from when it was believed to be compiled between the second and fourth centuries C.E. to more recent translations” and explores “the limits of the normative original” as well as “the tensions between the original and its more modern translations” (606).
  • Puri is as critical of the original Kamasutra as she is the first major modern translation, by colonialist Richard Burton, and the second modern translation, by Indian nationalist S.C. Upadhyaya, and remarks on how “that which is historical is made ‘natural'” when really “these texts are products of their times” (607- 8).
  • Of Burton’s text, she writes “[it] promotes romanticized views of ancient India while effacing tentions of colonialism: discourses of nationalisms, race, sexuality, and gender that are the effects of colonial narratives” (609). She continues, speaking of Upadyhaya’s version, “Left unchallenged, these discursive narratives of history ressentialize national, racial, sexual and gendered categories in postindependent India” (609).
  • She ends by “disrupting these metanarratives of history by writing counterhistories”, in this case a “history of ancient India that thoroughly disputes any possibility of the Kamasutra as a celebratory text on sexuality” (610). She places it in its original historical context, the post-Vedic period of 800- 600 B.C. that “was stratified with the collapse of the tribal economy and polity; the establishment of private control over land; patrilineal systems; the preservation of caste purity, which entailed a strict monitoring of the sexual behavior of certain categories of women; and the dominance of husbands over wives” (628). The Kamasutra was, ultimately, a text of “regulation and management” of sexuality for the purposes of hierarchical control (631).

Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History

  • It’s difficult to study the history of sex because little of it is recorded outside of documents that list what not to do (or, in the case of the Kamasutra, the acceptable ways of doing it). But as Mann quips, “We can be certain that some people were doing some of [whatever was proscribed]” (xv, italics original).
  • Another problem in studying the history of sexuality in China is Eurocentric periodization. “Such habits of thinking about historical time, and the questions they raise, have invited scholars and students in Euro-North America to imagine that temporal change is not only linear but convergent. In other words, eventually– as time marches on– the Chinese will somehow become ‘just like us'” (xvi).
  • Mann sums up the three major aspects of the cultural construction of gender and sexuality in modern China: 1) “the movement of women toward work and study outside the home after 1900 was the most significant and sweeping change in China’s sex-gender system”; 2) “the Chinese conviction that sexual activity is an essential part of a health human life softened and defused the conflicts about homoerotic desire; and 3) “government policies promoting heteronormative reproductive marriage have merely grown more pervasive, and even coercive, in the course of the twentieth century” (xvii). Clearly, Western homophobia and notions of historical progress towards greater acceptance of marginalized sexual practices do not apply here.
  • During the Qing dynasty (the 19th C.), there was “easy slippage between masculine and feminine bodily styles and performances” that “make ‘queer’ difficult to apply meaningfully in any historical context” (xix- xx).
  • More on terminology: “until the twentieth century there was no word in classical or vernacular Chinese for ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality,’ or ‘sex.’ When the modern concept of sex was introduced to Chinese readers, translators borrowed from modern Japanese translations and redefined the term ‘xing'” (22).
  • “The sex and gender system in nineteenth-century China revolved around cloistered women”; space was heavily gendered and gender was constructed in terms of private and public spaces (3).
  • As in most societies, marriage and family life in 19th-Century China was partly a means of social control. “Unmarried men without wives or children– rootless ‘bare sticks,’ as they were called– were feared by respectable people in settled communities and closely monitored by the government” (5).
  • Mann gives an elaborate account of occupational social status as it relates to space. Women’s “work that had to be performed outside where a woman would come into contact with men, including farm work, threatened a woman’s potential to move up in the marriage market” (7). Other stigmatizing professions included “yamen runners, actors, prostitutes and singing girls, [and] butchers” (6).  The few women who could “cross the boundaries of respectability” were brokers, matchmakers, shaman-healers, procuresses, drug-sellers, midwives, Buddhist nuns, Daoist nuns, and soothsayers, because they “made contacts in, conveyed information about and arranged access to the world outside” (12). In other words, they transgressed literal physical space between the private, feminine sphere and the public, male sphere.

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