Recorded on February 22, 2023, this video features a lecture by Professor Kadji Amin, Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University.
In this talk, “Training Bourgeois Selves: Magnus Hirschfeld and the Subsumption of Pederasty,” Amin discusses a key architect of Modern Sexuality, the German Jewish homosexual sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. Amin argues that Hirschfeld’s work allows us to track the process by which the bourgeois Western notion of sexuality as a form of innate selfhood subsumed sex as a social and spatial practice. By turning to Hirschfeld’s work, Amin’s talk argues that the fundamental problem of queer of color critique — that of how sexuality conceals and transacts more salient hierarchies of power — was born with the epistemological invention of sexuality.
The event was co-sponsored by Social Science Matrix and the UC Berkeley Department of French. Additional support was provided by the Department of Ethnic Studies and the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture. The event was organized and moderated by Professor Salar Mameni, a Matrix Faculty Fellow.
[SALAR MAMENI] Good afternoon, everyone. Hi. My name is Salar Mameni. I’m assistant professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies. And I’m also a faculty fellow here at the Matrix for this year.
So this talk is first of a series of talks in transgender studies that are being hosted here at the Matrix. I’m very excited to have Professor Kadji Amin here with us today. I have a few people to thank before I introduce Professor Amin.
So the event today is co-sponsored by the Department of French. I’d like to thank Professor Michael Luisi for organizing this event with me. Other co-sponsors are the Department of Ethnic Studies and the Center for the Study of Sexual Cultures. I’d also like to acknowledge everyone here at Matrix who have made this event possible, in particular Eva Seto, Julia Sizek, and Marion Fourcade.
Professor Amin is associate professor in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University and the author of Disturbing Attachments– Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History. The book was published with Duke University Press in 2017 and won an honorable mention for Best Book in LGBT Studies from the GL/Q Caucus of the MLA. For those of you who have not read Disturbing Attachments, it is a study of Jean Genet’s coalitional politics with the Black Panthers and Palestinians foregrounding outdated modes of attachment, including pederasty, racial fetishism, nostalgia for prison, and fantasies of queer terrorism.
Professor Amin is currently at work on a second book project tentatively titled Transmaterialism Without Gender Identity. He’s also the author of many articles in a number of journals, including TSQ, GLQ, Social Text, differences, and Representations. He’s the co-editor with Amber Jamilla Musser and Roy Perez of a special issue of ASAP on “Queer Form.” He also serves on the editorial board for TSQ and Gender and Women’s Studies and is the state of the field reviewer for GLQ.
His talk today is titled Training Bourgeois Selves– Magnus Hirschfeld and the Subsumption of Pederasty. Please join me in welcoming Professor Kadji Amin.
[KADJI AMIN] So first of all, thank you, Salar, and also Michael Luisi for having me over here. It’s really great to be at Berkeley in person. I was here virtually about a year ago, I think. And it’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces as well as a lot of new ones.
So I’m presenting today some new work that is in process. And I’ve condensed quite a bit into this paper. So I hope that you’ll just hold on and go along for the ride.
This talk argues that the fundamental problem of queer of color critique, that of how sexuality conceals and transacts more salient hierarchies of power was born with the epistemological invention of sexuality. I turned to a key architect of modern sexuality, German-Jewish Homosexual Sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld to track the process by which the bourgeois Western notion of sexuality as a form of innate selfhood subsumed sex as a social and spatial practice. I then turn to the sexological debate over the mujerados of the Pueblo Indians to consider how Hirschfeld’s project of subsuming non-Western and Indigenous cultural practices continues today.
But before I can continue, let me explain my use of the Marxist term “subsumption.” For Karl Marx, as capitalism expands its geography, it subsumes precapitalist labor forms such as family handicraft work and small-scale peasant farming, as well as, I would add, forms of unfree labor that become racialized under capitalism, such as slavery and indenture. Subsumption explains the heterogeneous nature of capitalism, the fact that capitalism is defined not by the universalization of wage labor but by the incorporation and sometimes transformation of precapitalist labor forms under the hegemony of capitalist accumulation.
Subsumption, therefore, presents itself as a useful term for queer of color critique, which, in Rod Ferguson’s materialist lineage has always been concerned with capitalism’s racialization of labor and of the social forms that sustain it. In The Specter of Materialism, which was just now published in 2023, Petrus Liu extends subsumption from a description of the labor and production process to an index of the social kinship, racial, and sexual arrangements that sustain these production processes.
One might say, for instance, that in the late 18th through the 20th century, the sexual arrangements that sustained bourgeois hegemony in Europe subsumed those that sustained plantation slavery, migrant indentured laborers, and Indigenous agriculture in the Americas. This is how the sexual preoccupations of the bourgeoisie during this time with eugenic marriage, the presexual and sexually vulnerable child, and those perversions of the sexual drive that threatened bourgeois marriage and property relations were able to become hegemonic, definitive of sexuality itself despite their distance from the then equally significant sexual worlds of the plantation, the prison, the streets, and the migrant laborer.
Also significant to queer of color critique is the fact that subsumption bifurcates the temporalities that coexist under capitalist hegemony. Under bourgeois sexual hegemony, the life worlds of the plantation, the prison, the streets, and the migrant laborer would be consistently deemed backward and barbaric by the reformist observers. Subsumption might, therefore, be used as an analytic of sexually heterogeneous geographies as Liu demonstrates and as one of sexually and temporally heterogenous race and class social forms.
If with regards to labor processes, subsumption means being made disposable, appearing irrelevant to the development of capitalism as Liu writes. With regards to sex, subsumption means being made irrelevant to the epistemology of sexuality itself. This is why the monstrous intimacy is, to quote Cristina Sharpe, “of the plantation the apparent anachronisms,” to quote Reg Kunzel, “of prison sex,” and the “bachelor subculture,” to quote George Chauncey, of the streets of 19th and 20th century US port cities as well as the intimate dependencies, to quote Nayan Shah, “of migrant laborers” have been so persistently difficult to square with the hegemonic epistemology of sexuality as a form of selfhood.
What all of these sexual life worlds have in common is that in them, sexuality was not primarily a form of selfhood but rather a social and spatial practice. Sex was social for it expressed properly social relations of domination, violence, solidarity, mentorship, pedagogy, and protection. Sex was spatial for it took place due to spatial concentration, incarceration, isolation, and anonymity as well as the masculinization and sexualization of urban public space.
What’s more, populations who were confined to or who circulated predominantly within these life worlds likely experienced and understood sex as social and spatial rather than as an expression of selfhood. This talk recasts the story of so-called modern sexuality as that of the subsumption of social and spatial forms of sex by a bourgeois epistemology of sexual selfhood. But what was so bourgeois about sexual selfhood? Or to ask a better question, why did sexual selfhood prove a significant thesis in the making of what Christopher Chitty has called bourgeois hegemony.
Michel Foucault provides the canonical answer. Writing of sexuality first being used to enhance and distinguish the value of the bourgeois body and later being extended in a more disciplinary fashion to the European working classes. However, as Greta LaFleur and Christopher Chitty have pointed out, sexuality first emerged in the late 18th century as an object of statistics through efforts to control prostitution, the spread of venereal disease, and sites of urban interracial and cross-class sex.
In Foucault’s terminology then, sexuality first emerged in efforts to control racialized, class, and gendered populations, not through the techniques of introspective discipline that would later be trained on bourgeois bodies themselves. To rephrase this in the terms of this talk, sexuality was first targeted in its social and spatial manifestations, not in the selves later thought to anchor it.
It was not until the late 19th century that sexologists at last began to theorize sexuality in the terms that most interest Foucault as what anchors and individuals the self while opening it to the normalizing technologies of outside experts, including psychoanalysts and sexologists. This shift, however, was predicated on an even more significant prior shift, that by which the bourgeois men learn to understand themselves as possessing unified interior selfhoods in the first place.
The sexological and psychoanalytic conception of sexuality as the core motivating secret of the individual self was accessory to the production of bourgeois interiority. A production historians have dated to the late 18th century in Western Europe and the US, why did a new conception of interior selfhood not only emerge at this time but also become so hegemonic as to render prior understandings of selfhood virtually unintelligible within a few short decades?
Post-revolutionary France offers the clearest example of both the political utility of this concept of selfhood and the speed with which it was– with which it subsumed prior conceptions of the self. Historian Jan Goldstein explains how a new model of selfhood as interior, unified, and agential emerged in post-revolutionary France and rapidly attained hegemony, eclipsing 18th century models of selfhood in the process. One such 18th century model of selfhood was that of the corporate self.
During the demonstrants of the Parlement of Paris against the 1776 royal edict abolishing guilds and trade corporations, the parlement advanced the argument that the integrity of the self was sustained by membership in a corporation. In their protest, the Paris glovemakers asserted that, quote, “each person, particulier, has an existence only through the corporate body or corps to which he is attached.” The dominant fear at the time was that selves without corporations would wander off in total enemy without moral norms or standards of craftsmanship, prey to their impressionable imaginations.
Materially, this sphere was the product of a shift to a laissez-faire economy in which individual artisans would sell their wares to strangers without a mediating corporate body to guarantee quality and trustworthiness. Soon, this economic shift would be hitched to a revolutionary overturning of the old regime and a set of experiments in Democratic governance.
Once all property-holding male citizens became eligible to vote, a means was needed for them to internalize forms of discipline that under the monarchy had been guaranteed by external bodies and hierarchical superiors. This means would be a new philosophy of selfhood as innate, internal, authentic, and unified. A self possessed of all of these qualities would be a sturdy unit of governance in a newly atomized laissez-faire Republican France.
In France, the philosopher who popularized this model of selfhood was Victor Cousin, a professor at the École Normale Superieure and the Paris Faculty of Letters, who preach the gospel of selfhood to overflowing auditoriums. He was something of a youth guru. Goldstein argues that Cousin’s project was that of repairing itself compromised by the outside in model of selfhood characteristic of impressibility in order to set a Republic bruised by a revolutionary decade onto a more stable foundation.
Cousin explicitly theorized selfhood as a model for bourgeois property ownership. John Locke is typically credited with originating the legal doctrine of possessive individualism. However, whereas Locke’s model of possession and property rights begins with the body, Cousin locates the grounds of possessive individualism in the moi itself. “Our original property is ourselves, our moi,” Cousin proposed. “Our first step to free personal thought is the first act of property.”
He went on to pose free personal thought, the characteristic activity of the self, as the basis of an expanding circle of property rights in things. Given that Cousin posed private property the quintessential mark of bourgeois status as the natural extension of selfhood, it is not surprising that he restricted the ability to perceive one’s selfhood to bourgeois men. He consistently suggested that the working classes were incapable of introspective reflection and, therefore, of empirically locating the self within them.
In Goldstein’s analysis, Cousin’s doctrine asserted a fundamental distinction between the selved and the unselved as a distinction that mapped neatly onto that between the bourgeoisie and the working classes. While Cousin himself did not seem interested in asserting racial distinctions, his devoted disciples would have had no trouble discerning where most racialized peoples, some of whom, after all, were legal property at the time fit into his selved/unselved binary.
Cousin did not just convince bourgeois youth to believe they had selves. He required them to discern and activate these selves through his psychological method. The psychological method consisted essentially of looking within, witnessing the free activity of thought, and thereby empirically verifying the existence of one’s selfhood as innate, unified, and agential.
From 1832 onward, the philosophy class of the third and last year of the French lycée system opened with Cousinian psychology positioned as the foundation of philosophy itself. Until the 1880s, the lycée system designed to train all civil servants, including teachers, admitted only bourgeois boys. Ascertaining oneself became a literal rite of passage for bourgeois boys.
To pass the dreaded baccalaureate examination, which certified them as fit for public service, students after 1832 had to pass an examination in Cousin’s philosophy. Henceforth, to become fit for public service, all bourgeois boys would have to learn to discern and activate an elite class selfhood.
Though France provides the clearest example of the class politics of selfhood and its role in sustaining bourgeois hegemony, the shift to understand– the shift to an understanding of individually anchored agential selves seems to have occurred throughout Western Europe and North America between the 18th and 19th centuries as these regions underwent interlocked transitions to bourgeois capitalist hegemony.
This set of parallel transitions suggests that newly atomized capitalist social orders in the West banked on inculcating bourgeois men with innate agential and individual selfhoods as a basis for self-governance. By the late 19th century, a bourgeoisie trained to perceive itself as possessing unique internal selves would prove fertile soil for the implantation, to use Foucault’s word, of a new model of sexuality based on inner sexual selfhood.
This new model of sexuality would have to subsume a prior and ongoing understandings of sex as ontologically social and spatial. Modern pederasty is one such social and spatial understanding of sex. It’s a plug for my book.
Unlike institutionalized pederasty in ancient Greece, an institutionalized modern pederasty was a flexible form that could accommodate greater or lesser differentials of age, age-differentiated sexual relations that continued well into adulthood, reversals of the expected power differential between elder and younger partner, and slippages in the expected correspondence between active/passive sexual roles and superordinate and subordinate social roles.
In Disturbing Attachments, I use modern pederasty as an overarching umbrella for a dominant form of male same-sex practice animated and structured by eroticized hierarchies of age, class, race, and knowledge. Modern pederasty names the practice and epistemology of sex as primarily social. It was understood to be about transactional sex, mentorship, protection, pedagogy, coercion, patronage, blackmail, and the pursuit of some social or economic advantage to a greater extent than as the expression of a unique sexual subjectivity or of a sex drive-oriented toward a particular object.
The story of the subsumption of pederasty by modern homosexuality is, therefore, the story of the subsumption of sex as ontologically social by sex as an expression of inner selfhood. The significant historical shift, I would argue, is less from sodomy to inversion than from pederasty or sex as primarily social to homosexuality or sex as the expression of an internal sexual subjectivity. Only the latter is what would come to be known as sexuality.
This new epistemology was distinctively white bourgeois and male. But it was ancillary to the innate individual agential self that white bourgeois men had only recently been trained to perceive, although some educated women and people of color would attempt to lay claim to it as well.
The Homosexuality of Men and Women published in 1914 is indicative of the intellectual labor required to subsume prior spatial and social models of sex by a new epistemology of sexuality as an expression of inner selfhood. The book was based on early data from what was to be the largest study of sexual behavior of the early 20th century. To gather this data, Hirschfeld created a 127 question-long psychobiological questionnaire that he administered to more than 10,000 people.
Hirschfeld’s questionnaire is paradigmatic of the technologies of the self, by which, in Foucault’s words, “The 19th-century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology.” Responding to the questionnaire in full demanded an exercise in gender-sexual introspection. And throughout, I’m going to use the word gender-sexual with a dash in between them to signify that at this time, gender and sexuality were not understood as separate from one another.
So to respond to the questionnaire in full demanded an exercise in gender-sexual introspection that began with one’s ancestry; turned to one’s childhood gender-sexual development; covered one’s history of sexual experiences, desires, and fantasies; described one’s current sex to morphology in gender-sexual character; and concluded with one’s own judgment about one’s sexuality. And this is a small portion of this long survey.
Throughout leading questions encourage respondents to narrate and interpret every possible bodily characteristic and personality trait as either masculine or feminine. And therefore, depending on one’s sex, as indicative of either sexual normalcy or sexual variation. The questionnaire is so comprehensive that Hirschfeld follows its reproduction in The Homosexuality of Men and Women. And this is with the sample answers of somebody that he said was a obvious female homosexual.
So he follows it with the acknowledgment, “It may appear to many people an unfair demand to request a conscientious answering of so many questions, a task that claims many hours, even days.” He continues, “But experience has shown that many people, particularly educated ones, have found direct and deep satisfaction and relief in this manner of confronting themselves.”
Referencing one exemplary response that comprises no less than 360 pages of tightly written quatre pages and that took nearly 6 months to complete, the fact that more than 10,000 people responded to such a comprehensive and time-consuming survey may be more significant than Hirschfeld’s theory of sexuality itself. Or it gives us a sense of how far reaching Hirschfeld’s project of sexual objectification was.
The questionnaire walked respondents through a process of self-inquiry and self-reflection worded so as to ensure the discovery of gender-sexuality as the hidden principle of the self. As a technology for the discernment and discovery of sexual selfhood, the psychobiological questionnaire drew on and redirected prior technologies for the discernment and production of bourgeois interior selves, such as the journal, the memoir, and the novel as well as Cousin’s own psychological method.
And indeed, the selves Hirschfeld helped produce were distinctively bourgeois. To be capable of responding to such a detailed questionnaire, particularly in writing required education, leisure time, and a quiet solitary space. It was greatly facilitated by a prior training in introspection and self-reflection and a learned ability to discern the contours of a unique selfhood within.
Although exceptionally motivated exceptions did exist, particularly among the transvestites, such requirements would have ensured that nearly all of Hirschfeld’s respondents would be bourgeois or aristocrats. Training in sexual selfhood was anything but equitably distributed. For it built on the new forms of sexual selfhood, the new forms of selfhood characteristic of the bourgeoisie. If the aristocracy had based its class distinction on the mythos of blood, the bourgeoisie’s blood was itself before it could become its sex.
Hirschfeld’s psychobiological questionnaires were scientifically super productive. They yielded the first diagnostic distinction between homosexuals and transvestites, the seed of what would become in the mid-century United States the now canonical distinction between gender and sexuality. They also yielded two extensive taxonomies of types of biologically innate sexual being, the second, which is published in The Homosexuality of Men and Women, focuses on the categorization of homosexual men and women.
Hirschfeld attempts to account for pederastic sexual practices in the second rank of this taxonomy– orientation to distinct age groups. It is intriguing that Hirschfeld includes age as a type of orientation at all, ranking it second only to sex-based orientation. In the history of sexuality, age-differentiated male-male sexuality is often understood to be part of a circa Mediterranean pederastic model that spans Southern Europe and North Africa.
As I demonstrate in disturbing attachments, however, modern pederasty exceeds this narrow region by far. Hirschfeld’s Germany is well outside of the Mediterranean basin, not to mention the conventional early modern historical periodization of pederasty. And yet, age-differentiated sexuality is a central concern within The Homosexuality of Men and Women.
Within Germany, Hirschfeld’s theory of homosexuality as a form of biological sexual intermediacy is often contrasted with pederastic masculinists, who promoted pederasty unlike medicalized inversion as a natural extension of virile and even patriarchal masculinities. The contrast between the two camps, however, is not black and white. Hirschfeld after all was an empiricist with the ambition of creating a classification system that could account for all homosexual behavior.
As a homosexual himself, he was well acquainted with homosexual vernaculars, cultural practices, and haunts, mentioning in passing the Friedrichstrasse, where young hustlers could be found, a bar for soldiers in search for sex with men, and bars where transvestites would congregate. As evidence for the significance of age orientations, Hirschfeld references in group conversations in which, quote, “discussions of these criteria of discernment play a significant role.” For example, when they raise the question of whether or not one loves younger or older persons as it were to employ a phrase they frequently use with or without a beard. Or if they are homosexual women, whether or not they prefer older or younger women.
Age-differentiated sex simply had too well established of a presence within German homosexual culture for Hirschfeld to ignore it. But then, again, why would he have wanted to? For Hirschfeld himself was a pederast.
His life partner Karl Giese, the man you see here, was an upwardly mobile working class man 30 years Hirschfeld’s junior, who met Hirschfeld while the former was still a student. Hirschfeld met his second significant life partner who overlapped with Giza, Li Shiu Tung, who is in this image, a Chinese student 39 years his junior while on his world lecture tour in exile from a rapidly not so fine Germany. Both relationships conform to the pederastic teacher-disciple and patron-client patterns.
Hirschfeld first employed Giese in his Institute for Sexual Research then appointed him to run it upon fleeing Germany, a significant position for a man from a working class family. With the blessing of his wealthy father who hoped Tung would become the Hirschfeld of China, the latter abandoned his studies to travel and study sexology with his new mentor/lover.
Given his personal investment in pederasty and empirical attention to it, Hirschfeld’s ambition was not to supplant pederasty and replace it with homosexuality. It was to reframe pederasty within an overarching master theory of sexual selfhood. Modern pederasty, however, proves difficult to square with a theory of biologically innate age-based sexual orientation.
Hirschfeld suggests improbably that age-based orientations remain fixed across a life span. That is, that someone who is attracted to youth in their youth will remain so well into old age and likewise for each age group. This fails to account for the common incidence of attraction to those of approximately one’s own age, even as that age changes across one’s life. It also fails to account for the common pederastic pattern in which relationships with older men as a youth are followed by relationships with youths as an adult, except by discounting youth as a period of sex plasticity, in which one’s sexual orientation has not yet had the chance to fully emerge, which is an argument that he makes.
In the narrative portion, the topic of age preferences seems to slide as if by association into that of class preferences. Hirschfeld notes that within each age range, there are specifics, including the educational and social class whose significance for spontaneous attraction should not be underestimated and goes on to develop the notion that class-based attractions might be divided into loving those of the same class, of a lower class, and of a higher class than oneself, all of which he asserts are “so frequent that the introduction of examples is unnecessary.”
Clearly, Hirschfeld expected his readers to be familiar with pederastic patterns of cross-class sex. In turn, class-based attractions slide into the topic of intellectual attractions, including attractions to such persons from whom they can learn and towards people on whom they can have a pedagogical influence. However, if age as a tangible feature of the sex to biological body can be fitted with some difficulty into a theory of biologically innate sexual selfhood, class and intellectual ability cannot.
Despite repeated statements as to the importance and prevalence of class-based attractions, neither they nor pedagogical attractions make any appearance in Hirschfeld’s classification system. They dropped out entirely. Despite both his personal investment in pederasty and his efforts to subsume pederasty into age-based sexual orientation, neither pederasty nor age-based sexual orientation, with the exception of pedophilia, which we can talk about in the Q&A if you want– so neither of them would survive into the bourgeois sexual hegemony that Hirschfeld’s own sexology helped solidify.
Pederasty was conceptually, though not materially incompatible with bourgeois modernity for pederasty, carried the taint of precapitalist sexual arrangements. Pederasty emanated rather too obviously from the worlds of the feudal lord and his vassal, the master craftsman and his apprentice, and the master and his slave.
As Christopher Chitty writes, “Records indicate that sodomy across hierarchies of age and status was an inevitability in societies whose economies were structured by relations of dependence and servitude.” In such societies, it was obvious to all that while some men might have a particular predilection for it, pederasty was a product and a barometer of social and economic relations of dependence and direct domination between men as well as between men and boys.
Around the late 18th and 19th centuries, when the bourgeoisie came into power and capitalism became the hegemonic mode of accumulation in Europe and its colonies, the overt lens on power that pederasty provided grew embarrassing. “Cross-class cultures of sodomy were problematic to such Republican experiments,” Chitty writes, “because they dramatize the social hierarchy and inequality of their mixed social form.”
In a world restructuring itself, according to the enlightenment values of liberté, fraternité, and égalité yet riven by new inequalities between the bourgeoisie and the working classes as well as Europeans in their colonial subjects and plantations slave owners and their slaves, pederasty and the long tradition of critiques of domination that came with it testified all too blatantly to the gulf between enlightenment theory and its praxis.
The problem was not that pederasty as a sexual arrangement was not well suited to the new social hierarchies of bourgeois modernity. In fact, pederastic practices would continue to prove quite popular for another 150 years or so until they eventually proved incommensurable with the bids for legality and respectability of new movements for homosexual rights. The problem was that pederasty gave the lie to the theories of freedom and individual rights, on which the forms of domination inherent in bourgeois hegemony rested.
This is why any effort to make pederasty modern again would stake its claims on historically new terms. For Hirschfeld, that of a core and innate sexual individuality. And for boy lovers of the 1970s, that of the supposed liberation of the sexuality of children.
Such rationales would have rung false to earlier practitioners of pederasty. And, in fact, they failed to sway the majority of same-sex practitioners even during their own times. For however cloaked in the language of sexual liberation or innate sexual orientation, pederasty spoke too loudly of what had become inadmissible– sexual desires that were direct expressions of social structure rather than of the primacy of the bourgeois individual.
Sexual desires that were the product of racial class and age hierarchies continued to be elicited. And men and boys continued to act on them over the course of bourgeois sexual modernity. But they had been subsumed, rendered backward inexplicable and peripheral according to the sexual epistemology of bourgeois hegemony.
This sexual epistemology dictates that any sexual desire that does not emanate from one’s deep innate and uniquely individual sexual selfhood is not true but false– this was one of Hirschfeld’s divisions as well, true and false– not natural but criminal, and not modern and Western, the backward and racialized.
So I’m going to switch gears a little bit. And in the final part of this talk I turn to the sexological debate over the mujerados of the Pueblo Indians of what is now the Southwestern United States to illustrate the continuing colonial stakes of sex and gendered selfhood today.
This debate began in 1847 when William Hammond was stationed in New Mexico, where, as the assistant surgeon for the American army, he treated soldiers wounded while battling native tribes in the US quest for westward expansion. Details from Hammond’s service and settler colonial warfare would become retrospectively significant 50 years later when he made them the basis of a case study for sexual impotence in the male and female originally published in German in 1891.
In it, Hammond details physically examining and verbally questioning two mujerados from Pueblo tribes. Mujerado was a Spanish colonial neologism applied to Pueblo males who, in the view of Spanish colonials, had been transformed into women. Hammond’s account, however, is too saturated by settler colonial ideology to offer any insight into the role of mujerados in Pueblo culture.
In brief, Hammond asserts that Pueblo traditions decree the selection of a mujerado from among the most virile adult men of the tribe. This man is then made to ride constantly on horseback while being repeatedly masturbated. Eventually, he claims that this results in the atrophy of their genitals, impotence, bodily feminization, and the total transformation of their character from masculine to feminine.
The ultimate purpose of this tradition, according to Hammond, is to transform the mujerado into the passive recipient of intercourse during annual ceremonial orgies. Chiefs, he suggests, may also have sexual rights over them during the rest of the year. Hammond’s salacious account was a handmaiden of genocidal violence against native peoples.
It participates in the denigration of native religious ceremonies as savage sexual orgies, a trope used to ban and even criminalize native ceremonies. Both Hammond’s fanciful explanation for how the mujerados were rendered impotent and his initial surprise at inspecting the anatomy of one Laguna mujerado and discovering that they were not, in fact, a hermaphrodite are symptoms of a specifically medical colonial logic, one that insists that complex native social and spiritual roles originate from bodily abnormalities.
Hammond also draws on 18th century naturalist characterizations of natives as possessing small organs of generation and, in the Comte de Buffon’s words, an “indifference for sex that dooms them to extinction.” Indeed, Hammond reassures readers that the traditions of the mujerados will doubtless disappear ere long before advancing civilization, even if they have not already done so.
In a demonstration of the faulty empirical basis of much 19th and early 20th century science, Hammond’s politicized and dubious account inaugurated a sexological debate over the mujerados in Germany. Richard Von Krafft-Ebing included Hammond’s account of the mujerados in the chapter of Psychopathia Sexualis on acquired homosexuality and the degree to eviration and defemination. Yes.
So this was supposed to be an example of eviration. Thus, situated Krafft-Ebing recasts the mujerados as a warning to Europeans about the potentially drastic feminizing results of long-term acquired homosexuality. By comparison, Hirschfeld’s intervention in this debate might seem refreshingly liberal.
He dismisses as improbable the idea that the condition of the mujerados is caused by horseback riding and proposes that they are instead androgynous transvestites, a harmless natural variation. The principal purpose of Hirschfeld’s corrective, however, is to demonstrate the universal applicability of the two pillars of his sexological theory– one, his diagnostic distinction between transvestism and homosexuality and, two, his bedrock understanding that sex gender proclivities are only epistemologically true when they are rooted in someone’s innate selfhood.
These core tenets come together in Hirschfeld’s definition of transvestism as when, quote, “the core of the sexual individuality forms the need to live in the clothing, lifestyle, and occupation of the other sex.” Distinguishing homosexuality from transvestism, thus, amounted to nothing less than parsing the truth of someone’s core sexual selfhood, which in Cousinian fashion, Hirschfeld understood to be innate and unchanging.
The mujerados varied distance both geographic and temporal as implicitly uncivilized people from European norms of gender-sexuality is useful to Hirschfeld because it serves as evidence of the universality of his diagnostic category of transvestism. By categorizing the mujerados as transvestites, Hirschfeld projects the epistemological basis of transvestism, core and innate sexual selfhood, onto them.
However, as a tribal people who engage in small-scale agriculture and hunting, the Pueblo Indians lacked the key material conditions– capitalist political economy and large-scale Democratic state formations for the adoption of a Cousinian innate core selfhood. Without a basis in bourgeois selfhood, their cross-dressing could not have been the surface symptom of a core transvestite sexual selfhood.
Like other Western sexologists, Hirschfeld relied on what historian Durba Mitra has termed “the primitive exemplar” as evidence of the universality and, thus, the scientificity of his sexology. Indeed, the mujerados were one of countless primitive exemplars that are cited only to be subsumed into Hirschfeld’s universal theory of sexual selfhood.
We might understand sexual selfhood as akin to the money form. Like the money form, sexual selfhood is both abstract and fungible. It produces equivalences, commensurabilities, and measurable differences in degree but not the kind between sexualized and gendered practices emanating from otherwise incommensurable social and material conditions. In their very abstract universality and their fungibility, sexual and gendered selfhood continued to be used to produce such false equivalencies today. Indeed, progressive thinkers and activists today routinely employ the same logics as Hirschfeld without awareness of their colonial basis.
In Extermination of the Joyas– Gendercide in Spanish California, Deborah Miranda performs a speculative Indigenous reading of the genealogy of both the term joya and of contemporary to spirit identity. The term joya first appears in Spanish colonial texts from 18th century California to name native Chumash men wearing the dress of women.
Miranda traces Spanish colonizers campaign against the joyas back to 16th century conquest when they would use mastiffs and greyhounds to kill natives whom they then– whom they then understood to be sodomites. And this is a famous woodcut rendition of one such incident in contemporary Panama. In a central passage, Miranda argues that this colonial violence against joyas was not homophobia but rather gendercide.
Miranda uses the term gendercide to call attention to the genocidal intent and the culturally disorganized impact of these mass killings. In human rights discourse, gendercide describes not only the internationally recognized wrong of singling out victims on the basis of sex but also the terrorizing and genocidal effects of the elimination of an entire sex. If carried out to completion, gendercide would effectively become genocide since a culture without women, for example, would no longer be able to reproduce itself.
The term gendercide helps Miranda underline that far more than sodomy or homosexuality was at stake here. While joyas were not necessary for biological reproduction, like any sex class, they played a crucial role in social reproduction. Specifically, their gender liminality made it possible for joyas unlike ordinary women or men to perform burial rites for the dead without risking spiritual pollution. During a period of settler colonial violence, losing an entire class of people responsible for burying the dead and ensuring proper mourning rituals would have thrown native tribes into a state of crisis.
In using the term gendercide to draw our attention to the culturally and spiritually disorganizing effects of the mass killing of joyas, however, Miranda ends up leaning on the concept of gender identity, despite the fact that the complexity of the role of joyas, as she describes, it cannot be contained within that concept in order to extend the use of gendercide from a descriptor of the mass killing of men or women to one of the mass killing of gender-variant peoples, Miranda redefines gendercide as an act of violence committed against the victims’ primary gender identity.
It would be reductively secularizing, however, to recast the balance of female and male spiritual energies that characterized joyas as a gender identity. The very point of Miranda’s article is both to critique the harm and repair the splitting wrought by settler colonial epistemological and material violence on native peoples. In a visionary act of Indigenous historical speculatization, Miranda proposes that joyas survived settler colonial efforts at gendercide by going undercover, so to speak, and splitting the sexual from the spiritual aspects of their role.
In short, they either became homosexuals or took on a role as the caretakers and grave tenders, in her words, of native culture, keeping native history, traditions, and storytelling alive. Amidst the contemporary to spirit resurgence, she proposes that the time has come to undo the splitting caused by settler colonial gendercide and reunite the gendered, sexual, spiritual, and cultural aspects of the role of the joyas, which were historically torn asunder in order to survive colonial violence.
However, just as Spanish colonizers never grasped the intricacy of the joya rule, secularizing it in order to cast joyas as men in the dress of women or as heathen sodomites, just as Hirschfeld blithely cast mujerados as transvestites without any regard for the meaning of their practices, so the contemporary term gender identity cannot offer justice to the antecedents of contemporary two spirit peoples. To define joyas by their gender identities, even for the sake of naming the genocidal violence against them, is to separate the gendered aspect of their roles not only from the spiritual but also from the sexual, ripping them asunder in order to fit constricted colonial epistemologies once again.
The fault, to be clear, is far from Miranda’s alone. Some of the very best new texts in gender and sexuality studies referenced gender identities in the past and in the non-West, even as they include a judicious caveat explaining that contemporary transgender identity does not apply to them. Such caveats do not solve the problem for I submit that the aspect of contemporary transgender identity, that is the least universalizable is gender identity itself.
Until we historicize and particularize not only contemporary transgender and gay/lesbian identity but also the very notions of a core gender and sexual identity and an innate core self, we will find that we have continued Hirschfeld’s gesture of universalizing bourgeois Western sexology along with the intellectual and material histories it indexes. Ultimately, what we need is an alternative principle of trans politics and a rationale for trans existence apart from gender identity. And this is what I’ll be working towards in my book on trans materialism.
Hirschfeld’s slogan, justice through science, telegraphs his faith in rational scientific research as the basis for homosexual and transvestite rights. However, the diagnostic basis of homosexuality and transvestism, he purported to have empirically discovered innate sexual individuality was, in fact, produced by his very methods of inquiry. As I have shown, Hirschfeld’s psychobiological questionnaire trained his mostly bourgeois European respondents to discern a core innate sex individuality within them and to narrate it as the hidden motivation behind their every behavior and characteristic.
Hirschfeld’s theory of core sexual individuality was able to aspire to universality because he cannily allied it to a key principle of bourgeois hegemony, that of a core and innate self, the first and most significant property of the self-governing individual. Thus, legitimized as a peace with modern bourgeois common sense, Hirschfeld had only to match his diagnostic entities of homosexuality and transvestism to colonial reportage on the gender-sexual abnormalities of far-off peoples to make the case for their scientific universality.
In the process, Hirschfeld helped set into motion a bourgeois sexual hegemony that subsumed an enormous range of gendered and sexual practices, conditioned more by space and by social relations than by innate sexual selfhoods. It is today the Hirschfeld’s project of universal subsumption into bourgeois sexual hegemony is at last coming to fruition. The vectors are sexual orientation and gender identity, the contemporary versions of Hirschfeld’s diagnostic principles of core sexual individuality.
Sexual orientation and gender identity have become part of neoliberal hegemony institutionalized globally as scholarly analytics, medical entities, legal principles, human rights principles, and NGO-funding streams. However, they do not begin to describe how the vast majority of peoples across the globe practice and understand gender and sex. As scholars and activists, we must contend with the continuation of Hirschfeld’s project of subsumption if we are to develop an adequate response to sex and gender politics in the present. Thank you.
[SALAR MAMENI] Thank you so much for that wonderful talk. We do have time for Q&A, if you have questions.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hi.
Thank you so much for your presentation. It’s quite fascinating. I’m AJ. I’m a first year in the ethnic studies PhD. I work with the wonderful Salar Mameni here.
What struck out to me particularly was the notion of subsumption in Magnus Hirschfeld’s diagnostic practices. And I was wondering, if we’re to situate sexuality as a social and spatial process, how do we see sexual selfhood through the lens of the repressive hypothesis and broader eurocentric knowledge production, whether it be social theory, an égal libéral, or [FRENCH] or even continental literature from the Enlightenment and up to the late 20th century?
And another question I had is more of a personal one. For scholars that work with– that use queer of color critique as a framework, how do we grapple with this problematization of it? Thank you.
[KADJI AMIN] So your question was, how do we locate it– how we locate the sexual selfhood in the repressive hypothesis? Yeah, I mean, I think that– I think it’s a key part of the repressive hypothesis, the idea that what’s being repressed is something core to your self and that resistance to this repression would consist in expressing that core sexual self.
So I think that it’s quite– what I’m saying here about sexual selfhood coheres quite well with Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis. I’m just trying to situate specifically its class role slightly differently than he does and also try to read it backwards a little bit into the production of innate selfhood in the bourgeoisie in general.
Because once you look at that, you start to see how much it’s tied to the question of governance, how much it’s tied to certain political forms as well as certain economic forms like the laissez-faire economy. So I’m trying to really extend his inquiry a little further there. And I think you would find a vast archive of works describing sexual selfhood as something that could be repressed, if one were to look for that.
And your second question, how is queer of color critique to contend with what exactly?
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] The problematize the notion of– or problematize queer color critique effort to take sexuality for granted without destabilizing it as a social and spatial process. How do we grapple with it while using it as a framework?
[KADJI AMIN] OK, yeah. Yeah, so it’s not specifically– I’m not specifically critiquing queer of color critique here. So, in fact, I think in Rod Ferguson’s book, he is interested in sexuality not primarily as a form of selfhood or individuality. And what I’m trying to do is tell a long story about why it is that we continue to find so many exceptions to bourgeois sexual subjectivity because I feel like queer of color critics and historians of different sexual subcultures or sexual cultures can keep producing books and articles, saying, well, actually, it’s not like that like here, among this particular group of people.
But in my view, what we need is a narrative to explain why this is the case and why this is– why we’re going to keep finding that this is the case. Because we have to denaturalize this idea of sexual selfhood and also see where it comes from specifically and whose interests it serves and what kinds of subjects it was modeled on. And so that’s the part of the puzzle that I’m trying to supply here.
And so yeah. So I do hope that this will be– that having this part of the puzzle will make it easier for scholars in queer of color critique and other fields to be able to do their work without– to essentially dispense with the question of sexual subjected as they do their work rather than, say, going into something, looking for that, and then not finding it and having to come up with an explanation for why not.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you so much for a really generative talk. I’ve been writing about sex work and really thinking about why queers don’t care about the ongoing criminalization of sex work and how something like this, in fact, shifts politics. So I guess I have two questions. The first is, what do you see as the implications for politics? Because I think that’s really so core to what you’re doing.
Second part is I get, well, the selfhood not sexual selfhood. Like, is there a selfhood outside of a bourgeois selfhood, outside of the sexual selfhood that prefers spicy food, that prefers– Yeah.
[KADJI AMIN] Yeah, thank you. Great questions. So yeah, I feel like sex work in the history of sex work is really, really key here. And the more that I research into the history of sexuality, the more clear it is to me that sex work is the history of homosexuality. It is the history of transness, especially– or specifically of transfemininity.
And it should be core to those histories. And in some ways, transactional sex offers a far better basis of thinking about queer history and also those who are most marginalized in queer communities today than does sexual selfhood. And yeah.
So in terms of politics, I think that that’s the ultimate horizon of this work is that I really think a politics based on either sexual subjectivity, sexual selfhood, or gender selfhood is a bad one. And that’s what I was trying to say– part of what I was trying to say in the beginning is that the epistemological invention of sexuality as well as gender identity is a very bourgeois invention.
And much of my book will deal with the bourgeois invention of gender identity. But I wanted to do this piece on the side. So yeah. Because it makes commensurate a whole series of practices, of life worlds, of types of people, of material conditions that really have very little in common. And I think we have the work now of wonderful intersectional critics and Black feminists explaining some of the problems with the category of women or with just homosexuality as a single issue politics or as an identity category.
But I think we also have to think of– I don’t know. I guess on the one– so on the one hand, we have that. But on the other hand, I think we live in a culture, particularly in the contemporary United States in which selfhood is becoming– and sexual and gendered selfhood, particularly, are acquiring more and more outsized importance regardless of material conditions that subtend them.
And so I think part of this project is coming out of my question of why that is. And so one, why that is. And then two, what can be done to jostle people out of that. Because there’s absolutely nothing radical about any form of identification or selfhood.
So what I’m trying to do is to shift the ground of politics onto material practices. It’s always the material practices of queer people, of gender variant people, of trans people that have been policed and pathologized. The self, nobody cares about selfhoods.
Even the most homophobic Christian evangelicals will welcome people who understand themselves as having a gay inner selfhood as long as they’re not practicing. Likewise, nobody cares– people along with all these bills trying to keep trans people out of public space and take away resources or the ability to transition, particularly for trans youth, people will say– the same people who are promulgating such bills will say, well well, it’s fine. You can be whoever you want to be on the inside. We’re not taking away your identity at all.
And, in fact, there was a press conference with David Cameron– I don’t know, a session with David Cameron that I watched online, which was about the request for a gender identity document for those who didn’t identify as either male or female. And a large part of his discourse was saying, look, this doesn’t invalidate you at all. I respect you as people. And I respect your innate selfhood and your right to be a gender other than man or woman. I just don’t want to tie it to any other material rights.
So I think that that’s where the political focus needs to be as well as the intellectual focus, really, in thinking about these practices and what their relation has been historically to identities and the way that practices or identities have been used to disqualify certain practices. So specifically in the case of gender identity, being invented and used to gate keep who can and cannot access trans medical procedures.
The whole point of it was to say that drag queens are not trans women, that drag queen sex workers are not trans women and cannot transition. So thank you for asking that question because I think it points to the larger horizon that I’m working towards.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hi. Thanks for such a wonderfully thoughtful talk. You made us side comment in your talk that I was curious if you could maybe speak to a little bit more.
You mentioned when you went over Hirschfeld’s questionnaire that you could maybe understand it as something that replaced the things like the genres like the novel or the memoirs, something, a narrative that category that’s generative of bourgeois interiority. And I guess I was just curious if you could talk a little bit more about what that transition from something like fictional narratives to an analytical questionnaire might mean for the narrative categories to which we understand and express sexual identity.
And to give a little bit of ulterior motive context for this, I just finished a dissertation chapter where I was writing about Venus in Furs on the one hand and Psychopathia Sexualis on the other. And I think I can discern Sacher-Masoch received these fan letters that had fan fiction where the people identified themselves within the fictional narratives of Venus in Furs versus Krafft-Ebing b got these letters from people where they started writing these case histories about themselves where they identified themselves in his medical pathologies.
And I guess my question is where we might look for alternative models for narratives for the expression of sexuality when is there possibility in something like fictional narrative versus the analytical questionnaire or the case study because I argue that I can discern in this a model of sadomasochism that might have been– from Venus in Furs that might have been more aesthetic or teachable rather than a sexual identity category. Just curious if you had some thoughts about that.
[KADJI AMIN] Yeah. No, that sounds like a great thesis. And yeah, I think I would put it not as a transition from one mode to another but as things that were overlapping and happening simultaneously. And one thesis that I’ve been– or one hypothesis that I’ve been toying with but I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to stand behind it is the idea that these were different gendered types of technologies of the self.
The major consumers of the novel at the time were bourgeois white women. And in terms of Cousins’– what was it– psychological method, the people that those were supposed to train were white bourgeois men. And then in all the writing that is pouring out of this time about novel-reading women, it’s never a question of praising the fact that they’re acquiring this highly developed interiority, much less of seeing it as something that could be sturdy and that could help them be self-disciplining and good subjects and so on, but rather fear of their imaginations running amok or of hysteria, of nerves.
So there isn’t the same sense of a stable novel-reading subject, at least in those tracks written against women who read novels. So I think that possibly one might use that to develop as it sounds like you are a reading of some certain more fictional writing technologies as allowing actually a way out of sexual selfhood. One would have to look on a case-by-case basis and see what exactly is happening in those works. . But yeah, it does seem plausible. Yeah. Was there another part of your question that I’m missing? Or did I get it?
OK, yeah, I just realized also that I didn’t respond to the second part of Juana’s question about other selfhoods. So I just wanted to say that there are many selfhoods. And there are many different types of interiorities. Spiritual and religious interiorities are probably among some of the first recorded instances or theorizations of different types of interiority.
And so individuality, interiority, et cetera, are not terms that in and of themselves belong to the modern bourgeois era. One thing I like about the historian Jen Goldstein’s book is that she differentiates between different types of interiority to demonstrate the newness of Cousin’s idea of this innate, solid, unified interiority, which in some ways is the dumbest theory of subjectivity. We have many other theories of subjectivity that are better.
But it’s an extremely influential and powerful one because of the way– because of how congruent it is with liberal law, which, as we know, is founded on bourgeois property rights. So that link that is made at that early point is so powerful that it’s able to carry through even to today, despite all the many theoretically better but also highly differentiated in terms of culture, religion, et cetera, accounts of selfhood that we might have.
So I just wanted to clarify that there are many types of selfhood and interiority. But I’m tracking the hegemony of this certain version of it.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you for lots of sparks going off. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on how Hirschfeld’s notion of pederasty– and if I interpreted you correctly, you were suggesting that despite his efforts, pederasty could not be subsumed under the logic of interiority that he was proposing. So if I understood you correctly, I’m curious how you understand pederasty in relation to the Oedipal triangle, which represents a non-homosexual youth-adult formation that in fact does get subsumed into the production of a subject and becomes the very basis of subject formation for Freud, normative subject formation.
So that’s one question I have is, how do you understand pederasty in relation to the Oedipal triangle? And then the second question I have, I was really interested in your political, economic– sorry, I’m trying to find you– political, economic strand to your thesis on possession of the self and also, parallel to that, your thesis on the sociality of pederasty and the function that pederasty has in a social world.
And so I’m thinking about the notion of social capital, which is perhaps what something like the Oedipal triangle is producing for a normative subject is a social capital that then gets exploited in society. Is that also perhaps what’s happening with pederasty in Hirschfeld’s desire to suggest that pederasty could be subsumed in the production of an interiority, that, in fact, what is being produced as a social capital for the homosexual that previously was denied as a result of essentially not being figured into the Oedipal triangle?
[KADJI AMIN] Whoo. That’s a really interesting question. I don’t know if I’m going to do justice to it because I don’t really think in terms of Oedipal triangles. Yeah, I think one thing that I was saying in terms of Hirschfeld’s attempt to subsume pederasty into a theory of age-based innate sexual orientation was not that it could not be subsumed. Because sexologists make all kinds of terrible claims, just like really silly claims.
And so it could be yet another one of these really silly claims that nevertheless become quite important and are taken seriously. But it was not. So the question is, why was this not the case? And so rather than saying it was a logical incoherence– I mean, I was pointing out the logical incoherence. But that’s not the reason that it didn’t become influential.
I think the reason it didn’t become influential was precisely because of the way it was associated with earlier forms of political economy and of unfreedom that were dangerous. It would be dangerous to reveal that bourgeois hegemony continued to be based on similar types of structures.
Yeah, in terms of the Oedipal triangle, I don’t know. It’s very intriguing what you’re suggesting to me. But I don’t think I’m the person to do that kind of work. For me– I mean, the reason that I got interested in pederasty in the first place was that it became clear to me when I was studying [INAUDIBLE] or– yeah, to me, it became clear that we had to think about– we had to think about the effects on sexual subjectivation of structures far beyond the Oedipal triangle, especially when you’re talking about a large proportion of people who didn’t grow up in bourgeois nuclear households.
And so, for instance, in [INAUDIBLE] writing, prison is figured as a mother. And the familial– all of these highly sexualized familial dynamics that are subject to forming happen in the context of prison and in the context– well, this is a boys penal colony. So a youth prison and in the context of male-male hierarchies within the prison.
So that’s part of why I’ve moved away from thinking in Oedipal terms. But there is surely something interesting going on that I think you’re pointing out in terms of this older, younger, erotics of the Oedipal triangle and how that is subject to forming. And I would have to brush up on theories of social capital to answer that other question as well.
But yeah, I think that Hirschfeld was trying to get– I mean, as I understand it, Hirschfeld’s theory of sexuality was trying to attain a social capital for homosexuals that he didn’t think existed at the time. And that’s one of the difficult things. In all this literature– in all this sexological literature, you see that one of the big things that they’re fighting against is the notion that homosexuality is contagious, particularly through pederasty, that older men could initiate youths, and that those youths might be ruined for life and become homosexuals themselves.
And precisely the same discourse has come back around transness today, the contagiousness of transness, the vulnerability of youth, such that if they’re even exposed to the idea of transness, they might become trans. And the falseness of transness, if it’s because they learned it from a peer or an educator.
So in a sense, we’re still caught in the same political trouble that Hirschfeld was in in the early 20th century when the solution that was staked out was to say, OK, let’s say that these are congenital inverts and that they can’t help it and that they’re completely different and discrete from this other population of men who might have sex with men for gain or for money or temporarily or something like that as a way to base our rights and our non-responsibility on our innate sexual selfhood.
So I think that that’s part of the resistance to moving away from discourses of sexual selfhood or of gender selfhood is a fear of the ammunition that that might give people on the right. But on the other hand, I believe strongly that selfhood is a very poor foundation to base a politics on, particularly when– I mean, for reasons that I already mentioned, but also around the question of the unprovability of subjective, say, identification and the way that it can always be cast aside and said, well, the only reason this person believes that they’re trans is because they’re misinterpreting this or that or because it’s just a phase or because they learned it from this thing. But in reality, they’re not trans.
So in other words, I don’t think that it necessarily gets us out of that bind. And at the same time, I think that we’ve ceded ground in a way by refusing to fight the battle of the– yeah, that would argue for– yeah, that wouldn’t base the right to transition or the right to engage in homosexuality on an innate sexual subjectivity.
So a lot of the ground– a lot of the arguments that these sexologists made in the early 20th century continue to be the foundation of contemporary politics, even though we know they’re wrong and even though we know that they don’t account for large populations of people. So I know I went a little bit of field of your question towards the end there. Sure.
[INAUDIBLE]. [AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you so much. As always, absolutely riveting. And my question is about the idea of two-spirit identity. And you mentioned earlier the idea that gendercide doesn’t do justice to these antecedents of two spirit as social and ritual positions. And my question is just how you see two spirit today of negotiating the fallout of this shift from social to self, whether you see it as just a variation on non-binarity, whether it’s trying to do something else, and maybe more broadly, just what your engagement with Indigenous queer critique is.
[KADJI AMIN] Yeah, so two spirit today– I mean, I’m not the person to issue a pronouncement on what’s going on with two-spirit identity today. I think it’s very in process and very variable in terms of how individual people engage with two-spirit identity. I think that many of them who do engage it do see it as some kind of recognition of the traditional significance of this kind of role.
So it is an attempt to write themselves into native history and to write people like them into native history. And I think that they do also see it as a place or as a term for people who don’t fit into settler colonial definitions of gender and sexuality or homosexuality and transgender for that matter. So I think that– I mean, my impression is that it is operating to some extent, the way that Miranda wants it to operate. But it’s neither my object of study nor my place, really, to say what’s going on with it and what should go on with it.
So yeah, my purpose in referencing her article was more to demonstrate both the kinds of epistemological harms that were being brought by people like Hirschfeld and the fact that this continues well into the present with the– even though we might look at what Hirschfeld is doing and say, yes, I’ve seen that happen a billion times with sexologists and these primitive exemplars. That’s nothing new.
But what I was trying to do through reference to Miranda was to show how even the most progressive contemporary thinkers who are with good politics end up using this term gender identity when they know very well that it’s not what they’re describing because of the currency that gender identity has and because of what they think that they may be able to access through it. Same with sexual orientation. So I was really just using that to project us into the present and to show how salient these processes still are.
And yeah, in terms of my relation to critiques of settler colonialism, yeah, I think that I’m very on board with them. What I’m doing is– I don’t know. It’s not specifically situated within settler colonial critique. But I’m trying to see it as one instance of something that is being subsumed in this much larger project of subsumption.
And there are so many things being subsumed. Pederasty is one of them but not the only one; transactional sex; later on, drag as well as forms of transness that can’t be reduced to drag but that also can’t be reduced to gender identity. So the field is quite vast in terms of what is not being described and what is being subsumed.
In the contemporary moment, I’m interested in how gender identity is functioning in the global South. And there’s been some great scholarship on hijras in India in the way that they have not been served by recent legal wins. And so I think that all of this is very telling of the inadequacy of gender identity for politics and the way that it continues to participate in this project of fungibility and commensurability, which can sometimes come with wins, but which always comes with losses.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you so much for your talk. I was wondering if you’d speak more to the connection between a epistemology of self and a statistical epistemology of population, the ways in which Hirschfeld’s survey which surveys a population comes to construct the individuality of a self.
[KADJI AMIN] Yeah, so thank you for that question. Yeah, so I think– one thing that I wanted to emphasize in this talk was that population came first in terms of where sexuality came into focus as a kind of object of governance. But nonetheless, when self came along, population did not go away. They continued to operate in tandem.
And so it’s very common among sexologists to see a simultaneous concern with the self and the population. And the way that sexology, which was a kind of upstart science that was derided as not real science largely because it was concerned with these dirty sexual matters, the way that it attained or sought to attain legitimacy was by saying, no, we’re about the population. We’re about the reproduction of the race. That is like the white race of the Germanic race. And thus, we are talking about things that are important to the state and to governance.
So there’s always a eugenic wing to things that sexologists are saying that go along with their focus on, say, the bourgeois pervert. The bourgeois pervert is important in the first place because of the fact that they may not reproduce their social station, which is what they’re supposed to do, which is a crisis. And so yeah.
So those two things very much work in tandem. Hirschfeld’s sexual Institute had a eugenic wing that was focused specifically on eugenic marriage counseling. And I think, yeah, you’re right to point out how the survey is functioning on both ends at the same time, on the one hand in order to come up with these slightly specious statistics about what percentage of homosexuals are this or that.
And also, that’s part of his argument that it’s innate, that this percentage is going to be stable across time and place. And then at the same time, in order to incite the production of sexual subjectivities in people who take those surveys and in people who are called upon by those surveys and by other case studies to narrate their lives in those kinds of terms. So yeah. So I think they work in tandem.
[SALAR MAMENI] Thank you.
[KADJI AMIN] Thank you