Thinking Sex and Justice
When Gayle Rubin declared in her now- famous 1984 essay, “Thinking Sex,”
that sex “has its own internal politics, inequities, and modes of oppression,”
she was highlighting the urgent need for a coherent analy sis of sex on its own
terms.1 Reacting against an analy sis of sex couched solely in terms of gender,
she proposed that scholars and activists needed to come up with new terms
for understanding how sex becomes an impor tant site of social control, adju-
dication, and — ultimately — oppression.
Much has changed since 1984. Gay men, lesbians, and transgender people
have made impor tant strides in achieving legal and social equality as sexual
identity and, more recently, gender identity have become widely recognized
as illegitimate bases for discrimination. At the same time, hiv/aids has
claimed millions of lives and created new fears about sex, adding fuel to long-
standing public debates over sexual morality. Yet, despite these shifts, very
little has been done to realize Rubin’s vision for analyzing and politicizing sex
in its own terms — both within and outside of the acad emy.
Outside of academia, social movement organ izations such as the New
York– based group Sex Panic! or the sexuality- focused Woodhull Sexual Free-
dom Alliance are rare. Many of them have typically focused on sexual health
and do not generally frame their work in terms of social justice or civil rights.
This is changing, as the groundbreaking activism highlighted in the pages that
follow demonstrates. But there is much work that remains to be done.
Within academia, scholars studying relevant issues tend to work within
disciplinary and professional bound aries. The tendency and academic pres-
sure to publish in disciplinary journals in many ﬁelds means that their work is
not often read by scholars outside their immediate ﬁeld. Conferences also
tend to be or ganized within disciplinary bound aries, further compounding
the prob lem.