Study for Struggle: The Regulation of Desire

When I introduce Gary Kinsman to people who don’t know him, I usually say that he is a leading scholar of state regulation of sexuality in the Canadian context. He’s also a long-time queer liberation, anti-poverty, and anti-capitalist activist from whom I’ve learned a great deal. This past month I spent some delightful time reading Kinsman’s first book, The Regulation of Desire: Homo and Hetero Sexualities, published as a revised edition back in 1996 by Black Rose Books. I now see how this book established Kinsman as a leading scholar! He offers a really helpful analytical framework – historical-materialist in the best sense – for looking at gender and sexuality, and he rigorously applies this framework to tracing the emergence and development of “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality,” deeply enmeshed in state relations, in the Canadian context. Drawing on oral history interviews, activist publications, court proceedings, parliamentary debates, and other sources, Kinsman tells the story of state categorization, regulation, repression of sexuality, and the determined resistance of those who have fought for what we now would call queer liberation. This is an instructive book on a surprising number of levels; it’s definitely worth checking out!

Here’s one gem from Kinsman:

There is no need to code difference as disadvantage or deviance. We need to focus instead on social transformation and ending violence and the abuse of social power, not on dividing consensual sexualities into “deviant/normal” forms. The aim of this socialist-feminist pluralism would be to democratize sexuality by expanding the possibilities of non-exploitative sexual choices. This approach transforms the sexual agenda toward collectively clarifying the criteria on which to build our sexual communities and lives. An emphasis on choice, relationships, context, social equality, pleasure, and consent – taken together – could provide us with the initial basis for alternative sexual policies. One aim of such a perspective would be to expand the possibilities of choice and consent in people’s erotic lives and to ensure that these words have a real social meaning.

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