Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW) launches the first publication emerging from its most recent round of transnational analyses on sexual politics, which started in 2015. Authored by Cynthia Rothschild and Susana T. Fried, the first working paper of the series is titled Sex at dusk and the mourning after: sexuality policy in the United States in the years of Obama. The SPW exercise was not exclusively about US sexual policies. But we have chosen to begin the series of publications that resulted from it with the US case study to mark our fifteen years of existence and because US sexuality policies were the focus of our first research major publication, the report Global implications of US domestic and international policies on sexuality, written by Françoise Girard and published in 2004.
At that point in time, the dynamics we were critically examining predominantly reflected undercurrents of previous decades: democratization in the global South, the unexpected effects of HIV and AIDS and the intense global debates on social issues and human rights, including in with regards to gender and sexuality, which ensued at the end of the Cold War Era. But, we had already entered somber times when gender and sexuality frays were no longer played at the extremities, but rather in battles fought at the core of national and global power dynamics. Since then, this tendency has not exactly relented in its pace. Rather, we have seen the multiplication of forces as well as of cultural and political dynamics that are increasingly averse to sexual freedom, gender plasticity and reproductive autonomy.
The exercise that brought us here examined what has changed in sexual politics arenas.
While charting the ways in which past trends interweave with present undercurrents, it avoided linear interpretative pathways that suggest we left behind a luminous time of progress to enter an epoch of shadows. This complexity and the paradoxes it implies are perused through a variety of lenses in the collection now being launched, which comprises three additional working papers and two edited volumes that look into critical issues – abortion, sexual rights and sex work – and contextual dynamics of sexual politics in its multiples expressions in regional and nationals settings.
The wealth of the collection is especially illustrative of the intellectual and epistemological plurality of gender and sexuality research and thinking in the global South. Just as importantly, it compellingly reflects the commitment of all researchers and activists engaged in the SPW exercise to alter the state we are immersed in, characterized as it is by entrenched patterns of inequalities and injustices that are unequivocally traversed by genders and sexualities. We especially want to thank the partners and collaborators who have generously made possible this excellent outcome.
Sonia Corrêa and Richard Parker
The mapping of trends, tensions and pitfalls in sexual politics always requires us to take into account their longer cycle, to search underneath the surfaces of easy interpretations, and to be attentive to both structural dimensions and details as well as to explore subtle nuances. These requisites are certainly fulfilled by the case study carried out by Cynthia Rothschild and Susana T. Fried on sexual policies designed and implemented during the years of Obama – a period that has been, to a large extent, couched domestically and internationally as an era of progressive sexual policies, particularly in respect to LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.
While recognizing and analyzing these gains, Rothschild and Fried carefully excavate beneath and around these more visible, at least on the surface, state-led politics in search of contradictions, traps and pitfalls. The analysis also makes an admirable effort to locate the US state’s sexual politics in relation to global structural trends, such as the War on Terror, the 2008 financial crisis, the surge of populisms that goes hand in hand with the so-called return of the religious and the shrinking of civil society. They do not refrain from naming US global hegemony and its implications.
But the greatest merit of the study is to have sustained its pace and direction even when caught by the 2016 US presidential elections that immediately altered the country’s gender and sexuality political arena. We thank and compliment Cynthia and Susana for their caution and sobriety in that regard.
“Sex is always political”, and its politicization involves the continual attempt to draw boundaries between “good” and “bad” sex, based on “hierarchies of sexual value” in religion, medicine, public policies and popular culture. These hierarchies “function in much the same ways as do ideological systems of racism, ethnocentrism, and religious chauvinism. They rationalize the well-being of the sexually privileged and the adversity of the sexual rabble.” But in some historical periods, negotiations over sexual “goodness” and “badness” become “more sharply contested and more overtly politicized” (Gayle Rubin, 1984). (1)
We are living in one of those periods. The ethical and political conflicts that Rubin warned us about, far from being resolved, are more prevalent today than ever—on a global scale. In the current context—with the revival of religious extremisms of all kinds, backlashes against women’s and LGBT movements, the “war on terror” and its rationalization of unrelenting militarism and torture (including sexual torture), US economic and military hegemony (especially with a Christian fundamentalist at the helm), and an atmosphere of unbridled power—the victims are peacefulness, human rights, and environments where people can live full and pleasurable lives.
Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW) is a global forum composed of researchers and activists from a wide range of countries and regions of the world. Launched in 2002 as the International Working Group on Sexuality and Social Policy (IWGSSP), in 2006 the forum changed its name to Sexuality Policy Watch.
Since its establishment, SPW has undertaken a series of strategic analysis devoted to the critical mapping of conditions prevailing in sexual politics landscapes globally and locally. It has also consolidated itself as a credible source of up-dated information on facts, research findings and public debates around a wide gamut of sexual rights areas, such as: abortion, gender-based sexual violence, sex work, LGBTI rights, HIV and AIDS. In 2013, SPW began a cycle of capacity-building programs on the linkages between sexuality research and political change.
SPW Secretariat is based at the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA).
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