Book Review: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

The narrative surrounding queerness in society today includes overcoming challenges, facing daily adversities, and experiencing more hardships than heterosexual peers. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality breaks this illusion of heterosexuality being easier than homosexuality and provides sympathy for those oppressed in heterosexual relationships. Jane Ward suggests that straightness is a means for people to access cultural and institutional rewards. However, while heterosexuality offers this privilege, it continues to be a site of oppression, violence, disappointment, and discrimination for women. Heterosexuality, from a queer lens, is just a ‘fetish for normalcy.’ Through this book, Ward reveals how heterosexuality is rooted in concepts of patriarchy, male domination, and toxic masculinity, to name a few. Ward realized she was ‘crying queer tears for straight people.’ Hence, through her research and personal experiences of being a lesbian feminist, Ward examines how queer relationships are healthier and more empowering than straight ones. According to her, ‘It’s not that it gets better for queer people; it’s that heterosexuality is often worse.’

While Jane Ward is best known for her 2021 PROSE Award Winning book, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality (New York University Press, 2020), she has written several outstanding books, including the 2016 Lambda Literary Award Finalist- Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (NYU Press, 2015), and Respectability Queer: Diversity Culture in LGBT Activist Organisations. In addition, her research has been featured in The Guardian, Huffington Post, BBC, and The New York Times, to name a few. Apart from being an author, Ward is a professor, urban gardener, baker, and parent to what she likes to call ‘one human child, one potbelly pig, nine chickens, and one cat.’ Ward has also cofounded the Altadena/Pasadena chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. She received her Ph.D. in sociology in 2003 from the University of California Santa Barbara and is now a Gender and Sexuality Studies professor at the University of California Riverside. Her teaching and writing focus on feminism, queer, and heterosexuality studies.

The tragedy of heterosexuality is caused by what Ward has termed the misogyny paradox. The misogyny paradox is where ‘boys’ and men’s desire for girls and women is expressed within a broader culture that encourages them to hate girls and women.’ (pp. 25-26) Hence, the misogyny paradox promotes stereotypical roles in heterosexual relationships, such as the dominance of men and the submission of women. Ward exposes how this oppresses straight women as ‘their sexual relationships with men have been maintained by force, both through cultural propaganda targeting girls and women and more directly through sexual assault, incest, compulsory marriage, economic dependence, control of children, and domestic violence (p. 3). The situation is worse because straight men and women romanticize this unequal gender binary.

Their romantic and erotic attachments to the misogyny paradox give rise to an entire industry of self-help books, marriage and relationship counselors, pick-up artists, and seduction coaches. These industries encourage toxic masculinity and promote the idea that women want men to take the lead and be the decision-makers in the relationship. Women are objectified, and the ideal woman is created and viewed through the male gaze- waxed, shaved, toned, etc. Hence, Ward suggests that the ‘key difference between straight culture and queer culture in this regard is that the latter does not attribute these destructive behaviors to a romantic story about a natural and inescapable gender binary.’ (p. 27). Ward proposes the concept of ‘deep heterosexuality’ as the solution for this ‘tragedy.’ Deep heterosexuality is a ‘framework for honoring and preserving what straight people experience as fulfilling about hetero sex and straight culture and for pushing further and deeper in these pleasurable hetero directions’ (p. 159). Ward pushes for the expansion of heterosexual attraction to include the sexual vulnerability of men and the humanity of women. Hence, “straight men do not need to be queered; they need to learn to like women” (158)

What I admire most about Jane Ward’s writing is her unapologetic honesty, blunt criticism, and matter-of-fact approach to controversial topics. She rips off the band-aid of ignorance and forces us to see the pain caused by the oppression and inequalities associated with heterosexuality. Her strength lies in her ability to voice deeply personal opinions while supporting them with concrete empirical evidence. Her in-depth analysis of the historical context of the self-help industry and marriage counseling in the 1900s, the deep-dive into the pick-up artist and seduction industry, the critique of books such as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (1992) make it impossible to turn a bind eye to her argument. In addition, ward does a great job highlighting and examining the intersectionality of race and sexuality, a topic often overlooked. For example, she talks about how heterosexuality is often the only privilege black women have, which they cannot afford to lose, regardless of the oppression and injustice they might face within it. She also cites the work of the South Asian American feminist scholar Shamita Das Gupta, who highlights how immigant women conceal their husbands’ violence to project an ‘unblemished’ image of their communities to prevent discrimination. Hence, her writing displays the layers of oppression associated with heterosexuality.

However, there are some topics that I wish Ward had touched upon in the book. In my opinion, the book focuses on comparing and contrasting the ways straight men and lesbian women treat and think about women. While this is a valid and current issue to be discussed, it would have been interesting to include a few other perspectives. For example, I would have loved to know how bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and transgender relationships would have played into this debate. Would there be a difference in the relationship dynamic between two straight people and two bisexual people? How would an asexual-identifying male’s opinion differ from a straight man’s opinion on women? I think including these perspectives would have made the book more inclusive and reflective of our society’s diversity of opinions and experiences.
Moreover, homosexuality in the book is depicted as a safe haven and escape from the oppression and violence associated with heterosexuality. This can lead to a dangerous trajectory of justifying violence or toxicity in queer relationships. Physical, mental, and emotional abuse can occur in all sorts of relationships, regardless of whether they’re queer or straight.

As a South Asian woman, I felt the book was centered around white American opinions on heterosexuality, where men are the bad guys and women are the damsels in distress. While I truly respect how Ward centered the book around calling out toxic male behavior and directly addressed men, I think she failed to address an equally important demographic- women! Ward suggests that a part of the problem would be solved if ‘men liked women more, but I believe that women need to like women more too. In South Asian cultures, women are often the strongest upholders of patriarchy. In my life, I’ve experienced more women shaming, discriminating, and slamming other women than men. Teachers slut-shame girls in school, grandmothers, and aunts constantly comment on bodies and clothing, and mothers train girls to believe their only role in life is to be good wives and mothers. While my dad refuses to celebrate any patriarchal Indian festivals and rituals, my mom consciously continues to partake in them for the sake of ‘tradition.’ It’s ironic how the matriarchs in South Asian culture actively promote patriarchy in the name of culture and tradition. Hence, men and women must reflect on their indoctrination of patriarchal values. It’s impossible to fight discrimination if women stand against each other rather than together and in support of each other.

Overall, I think this book provides us with a much-needed wake-up call. After reading this book, I became aware of the saturation of heteronormativity in my upbringing. I realized how the media I consumed (books, movies, social media) contributed to the romanticization of the gender binary. I think this book is a fascinating read and has much to offer to everyone. It shows us that oppression is multifaceted and emphasizes the intersectionality of feminism, queerness, race, and culture. It is one of few books that call out heteronormativity and shows us what we can learn from queer communities. The illuminating discussion and debate initiated in this book will ensure that everyone reflects on how they can better their relationships.

Book Report: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

“To the straight people reading this book, let me say with all my love and solidarity, I am your ally” (Ward, 13). Who knew that such a normalized sexuality – heterosexuality – could result in the depressing lives of both parties? In Jane Ward’s scholarly monograph The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, she examines the normalized problems inside hetero-relationships, like misogyny, toxic masculinity, and gender roles. Because of these problems, women feel like many parts of their lives are trivial compared to men; on the other hand, men don’t feel secure in their own manhood to “pick up” a woman and keep them around. Let’s dive into why Ward says such things, and why Ward ends the book with “Straight men do not need to be queered; they need to learn to like women” (Ward, 171).

Beside The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Jane Ward, a professor of Feminist Studies at University of California Santa Barbara, has written two other books: Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, which was published in 2015, and Respectably Queer: Diversity Culture in LGBT Activist Organizations, which was published in 2008. With these published books, Ward has written about various topics, such as “trans relationships”, “the evolution of straight culture”, “the meaning of sex between straight-identfied men”, and more (these topics as well as the complete information of Jane Ward will be linked). Because of these previous works, Ward knows the reality of, in this case, straight people and their couple troubles. She has been aware of such topics early on, to which one could say she has an expertise in these fields. Even if not straight herself, Ward seems to know more than enough than one might expect.

As the book starts, Ward tells the reader that she views the life of “‘straight culture’…through a queer, feminist lens.” To put the problem of “straight culture” into perspective, Ward, as a queer person herself states, “Straight women’s lives are very, very hard. It’s not that it ‘gets better’ for queer people; it’s that heterosexuality is often worse.” With this line, I kind of reflected and thought how true it is – of course queer lives get better, but never realized how hard heterosexuality actually is. Growing up and accepting the fact that one is queer is already hard enough, but to put this context into the actual world of men trying to get with women is already depressing enough. This idea of sexism and toxic masculinity takes over straight culture, to which women and men can not have a successful life with one another because of these coinciding problems. How can men expect more from women when they can not expect more out of themselves? Men are too scared to break out of this heteronormative shell to which they resort of to the seduction of women and plain sexism. 

There is a shift from women doing things to themselves – dieting, shaving, waxing, dying – to deem themselves worthy of a man’s “love,” now to men who realize that their bodies may not be enough to attract a woman’s love, such as being too bald, too short, or too fat. Because of this shift in men’s views, some men have started going to get help from pickup artists, which is, essentially, the idea of “how fast am I able to inappropriately touch you?” During this rise of pickup artists, Strauss’s book The Game was introduced; because of this, the pickup industry expanded into bootcamps, allowing for usually men to give men a lesson on how to get “game,” which is the same idea of seducing woman – how to get a woman into you and getting with her the same night (Ward, 87). As years passed, men slowly started to realize this isn’t what girls need or what – they want to feel seen, heard, and reassured; as a matter of fact, we know women don’t want to be seduced because women have developed “survival strategies…to manage sexual objectification” – these strategies being “bitch shields (i.e., being rude to, or ignoring, men) and shit tests (i.e., insulting men)” (Ward, 99). Women want men who are capable of showing these range of emotions, not the typical self-destructive men who needed a woman to “save” them and make them feel like woman actually had a job other than sex (Ward, 109). Like said earlier, as time moved, these pickup artist industry got more progressive (at least some of them, like Project Rockstar, who had better – younger, more attractive – instructors teaching men how to properly “game”: “thinking beyond consent to consider the quality of women’s sexual experiences, and using spot-on metaphors to help each other conceptualize good, humanizing sex” (Ward, 115). With this shift to a more progressive pickup artist industry, 

One strength about Ward’s writing is her tendency to use others’ work as examples, which strengthen Ward’s own argument. For example, during chapter 4, Ward uses her queer acquaintances and friends as more opinions onto straight life and its culture; with these opinions, she is able to reinforce her own perspective to something more reliable and accurate. She’s also able to draw out something more from these different opinions and perspectives. Additionally, another strength with Ward’s writing is critique a problem – with detail – within straight culture, and is able to offer a solution or workarounds to be able to enjoy a relationship where men actually love women and vice versa. 

While I admire almost everything about the book, one weakness about the book is  the lack of perspectives coming from the other side. Yes, I agree this is something that shouldn’t have another side, and that dismantling this patriarchy is ultimately the step that allows for something more in these relationships. However, one effective strategy, I would say, is that Ward would be better off using rebuttals to her perspective, and counter those arguments, which also give the mentality of “Nothing-to-lose.” Here’s what I mean: for example, within the pickup industry, some men had “that nothing-to-lose frame of mind that allows men to approach women they would otherwise find intimidating” (Ward, 104). By refuting these opinions coming from the other side of this battle, we can then give women and men a same state of mind, allowing them to try these new, which they somehow deem “queer,” like exploring sexual, such as polyamory or “pegging.”

After reading this book, I realized that some of these issues did not occur to me. While I am queer myself and know there has always been issues within straight relationships, I never knew what specifically. Reflecting on my past years, I recognize how little my life has been filled with straight relationships and their problems. I have three sisters, so of course I’ve been exposed to that of hetero couples, but have never actually noticed the problems embedded within. This book has put out more than I realized could be wrong with straight relationships, such as how men are scared of hurting their manhood in any way and would rather dismiss their female partner and their feelings and/or interests (I knew men were scared of hurting their manhood, but did not know until now how they would treat their partner just to protect themselves). While this book has a specific audience range consisting of mostly straight people, I say anyone with an open-mind should read this book. While some people may not consider themselves straight, I think this book provides a great opportunity to know more of the world around us revolving around straight culture. To some degree, I would not say there is a specific audience; although it mostly takes place within these hetero-relationships and they should be the one to fix it – through communicating and experimenting – I think those outside of the straight community also play as a role to disassemble this hetero-patriarchy: as Ward, a queer person, says herself, “I wish for them that their lust for one another might be genuinely born out of mutual regard and solidarity.” For straight women, this book does a great job at giving light to these problems; it can be freeing to have a book dedicated to the ways your life can be improved. Thus, I think this book has something in store for everyone, and we could all learn a thing or two as the principle of love is something mentioned, even if towards straight men. 

Works Cited

Ward, Jane. “Jane Ward: Scholarship for the Feminist Future.” Jane Ward,

Ward, Jane. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. New York University Press, 2020.

Reversing the Ally Relationship: Straight Women’s Gendered Suffering and “The Tragedy of Heterosexuality”

About a year ago, I went through my first real breakup. I was in a toxic, straight relationship with a man for nearly three years, and since our breakup, I have often wondered: how unique was my experience? Reading Jane Ward’s monograph, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, I was struck by the degree to which my former relationship was indicative of a larger problem with straight culture, and the ways my experience aligned with many other women’s experiences. Ward outlines the patriarchal structures and influences of rape culture that inform straight men’s violence against and general lack of empathy toward women. She goes on to connect these structures and influences to the widespread dissatisfaction (at best) of women in straight relationships. Ward proposes that straight women are in danger and calls for a reversal of the ally relationship in which queer individuals become allies to straight women.

According to Ward, straight culture’s impact on straight women has elicited queer concern and confusion for decades; members of the LGBTQIA+ community have often described straight relationships as, at best, boring, but often toxic, and at worst, violent. Ward talks about her love for her queer life and argues “that the basic premise of the question—that heterosexuality is easier than queerness—requires renewed investigation” (Ward 2). Ward centers lesbian feminist scholarship and cites that the “tragedy of heterosexuality” is “a critical but still largely overlooked consequence of the drowning out of lesbian feminist ideas and experiences” (Ward 4). By centering lesbian and queer feminist perspectives, Ward posits the tragedy of heterosexuality is that “straight life is characterized by the inescapable influence of sexism and toxic masculinity” (Ward 8).

The Tragedy of Heterosexuality’s overarching argument is that heterosexuality is “a system equally organized around love and abuse,” and rooted in white supremacy and patriarchal structures (Ward 12). Many straight women, according to Ward, are unhappy—so what entices them to stay? By outlining the historical and structural contexts of straight culture, Ward situates straightness as a “fetish for normalcy” (Ward 15). Heterosexuality has often been framed as the norm, reinscribing gender roles and biological essentialism, among other sexist narratives that permeate straight culture. Ward argues we must address the ways in which heterosexual relationships reinscribe these narratives—the “we” presumably being individuals across the spectrum of sexuality.

Ward quickly addresses that her focus is straight culture, not necessarily sexuality itself. One prominent aspect of straight culture is normalized mutual dislike: “Across time and place, most forms of heterosexual coupling have been organized around men’s ownership of women (their bodies, their work, their children) rather than their attraction to, or interest in, women” (Ward 34). But Ward argues that in addition to men’s control of women, “straight women’s and men’s shared romantic and erotic attachments to an unequal gender binary” indicates a wider issue with and fear of detachment from the norms of the gender binary and sexuality, further reinforcing heterosexuality as a fetish for normalcy (Ward 22).  

Ward, who is a professor of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Barbara, “has published on topics including the marriage self-help industry, the rise and fall of pickup artists, how early lesbian feminist ideas shaped contemporary gender politics, the meaning of sex between straight-identified men, queer childhood and parenting, the evolution of straight culture, the corporatization of gay pride festivals, the race politics of same-sex marriage, the social construction of whiteness, feminist pornography, and trans relationships” (Jane Ward). In addition to The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, she is known for her works Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (2015) and Respectably Queer: Diversity and Culture in LGBT Activist Organizations (2008). Ward’s book, Not Gay, was featured in Newsweek, New York Magazine, Forbes, The Guardian, BBC, Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post, Salon, Vice, and Slate (Jane Ward). Her first book, Respectably Queer, was named by The Progressive magazine as a best book of 2008 and has been featured on NPR (Jane Ward). Ward, who herself identifies as queer, has published many works about queer existence, flipping the dominant narrative of straight as normalcy on its head.  

In Ward’s discussion of the history of straight culture, she begins with the eugenicist marital hygiene ideals of the early 20th century: “…this era also initiates straight culture as a gendered mode of consumption in which the purchase of beauty products and relationship advice were vital to maintaining the delicate balance” (Ward 47). Then, midcentury advertising campaigns and educational films capitalized on these gendered modes of consumption to add more pressure on women: “…advertisers skillfully connected their products—from cosmetics to electronic dishwashers—to the project of heterosexual repair…” (Ward 53). Ward finishes out the historical context with the late-century explosion of a self-help industry “built on biopsychological claims about gender difference,” which further normalized heterosexual misery (Ward 30). To explore these circles of the late-century, and more recent iterations, of self-help, Ward discusses pickup artists and seduction coaches, and their redevelopment of a “woke masculinity” (Ward 31). Ward outlines the motives and degree to which these self-proclaimed dating experts contribute to the tragedy of heterosexuality: “Seduction coaches, at some level, know that heterosexuality’s continued fragility and failure produce a demand for interventions that can build a women’s sexual desire for average men and increase average men’s capacity to elicit that desire” (Ward 87).

Starkly contrasting the perspectives of seduction coach culture are the queer subcultural materials and interviews with queer people. For instance, one portion of the queer testimonials is entitled “It’s Sad How Much Women and Men Dislike Each Other,” in which queer individuals talk about the heartbreaking ways straight culture normalizes mutual dislike and straight women’s dissatisfaction with their male partner. As a rebuttal to the tragedy of heterosexuality, and particularly the issue of mutual dislike, Ward discusses the concept of “deep heterosexuality,” in which straight men would essentially take notes from lesbians and identify with women to develop a deep mutual regard (Ward 158).  

The Tragedy of Heterosexuality’s greatest strength as an academic work is its grounding in reality, not the theoretical. Ward takes an anthropological approach, using real human testimonials supported by lesbian feminist scholarly literature; her inclusion of queer perspectives in the chapter “Sick and Boring Life” exemplifies the degree to which this work is rooted in lived human experience. In addition to these queer perspectives, her interviews and described interactions with modern pick-up artists and dating coaches emphasize the humans behind and the humans suffering because of hetero-patriarchal structures. What makes the book so powerful is the way in which Ward marries the academic and the personal; I related to nearly every single tragedy of heterosexuality—but before reading this I did not know these experiences were a part of a larger system. I thought it was normal and inevitable to feel stuck with a boyfriend who disappoints you, relies on you for therapeutic counseling, and acts in controlling, manipulative and misogynistic ways. Ward shows straight women (and men) that there is another way.

Though I heavily related to the content of this book, I find that one thing it was missing was the perspective of straight women. Much of the discussion of straight women’s experience is rooted in academia and considering this is a work about straight women, a lot of the included perspectives were not theirs. From Ward, we learned how queer people feel about straight relationships and how some straight men feel about straight relationships (although, not the ones who indicate an inclination toward deep heterosexuality), but to “save” straight women, do we not need to understand the feelings tied to the tragedy of heterosexuality, too? I think a chapter like the queer perspectives chapter, but with anecdotes from straight women, could have made the work stronger.

As a personal reading experience, I found this book to be very validating and liberating. As a scholarly experience, I found the book immensely enlightening in how Ward breaks down the structures that cultivate oppressive realities for straight women in heterosexual relationships. Any straight women or women who have been in a straight relationship should read this book to understand why straight relationships function as they do; frankly, they should read The Tragedy of Heterosexuality to understand that many of the shortcomings of their straight relationships are not their fault. I also think straight men could benefit from reading this book; Ward provides insight into the situations they place women in and outlines how heterosexual misery is not an inevitability.

As Ward calls for queer allyship, queer individuals should at least read excerpts from the book (potentially excluding the queer perspectives chapter if they are very well-versed in the realities of heteronormativity and the tragedy of heterosexuality). Examining the tragedy of heterosexuality from a queer lens is an example of why it is critical to view normative, dominant structures from those who have been marginalized by them. Queer people understand their own existence and straight existence, and the insights they can provide, as outlined by Ward, are invaluable in turning the tragedy of heterosexuality into healthy relationships bonded by deep heterosexuality.

Works Cited

Jane Ward: Scholarship for the Feminist Future,

Ward, Jane. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. New York University Press, 2020.

Stef M. Shuster: Trans Medicine, The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender

GSS Book Review

Hale Robinson

            Although the emergence of trans-medicine as a discipline and the discourse surrounding it appears rather recent, transgender healthcare has existed since the early 20th century (Schuster 23). Despite this, physicians and other medical professionals are both hesitant and inexperienced in regard to the treatment of transgendered individuals. The book Trans Medicine, The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender details how and why this disinclination to treat transgendered patients has occurred and the consequences of medical authority over gender and sexuality. Furthermore, the author seeks to identify practices and ideologies that have been normalized and “legitimized” in the decades of trans-medicine. Through this short publication, Schuster analyzes both contemporary and historical trans-medicine systems and norms in addition to specific examples highlighting the interactions between varying forms of healthcare and their implications on trans-medicine as a whole. From this we can understand how trans-healthcare provides a middle ground for intersection of personal values and scientific thought.

            To compile the examples and evidence presented in the book, author Stef M. Schuster used a multi-sited research design (Schuster 11). The majority of Schuster’s research is his collection of correspondence between healthcare providers in the 20th and 21st century (Schuster 2). Schuster also relies upon biological artifacts, collections of discourse, and other forms of scientific literature. (Schuster 6). Additionally, the author is an associate sociology professor at Michigan State University with a M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology and has conducted a number of interviews with both therapists and physicians as well as attended scholarly conferences on the topic of trans-medicine (Schuster 12). His final source of data collection came in the form of analyzing clinical guidelines, standards of care, and diagnostic criteria used by both contemporary and historical physicians (Schuster 13). Finally, the author notes that terminology surrounding gender and sexuality is fluid and specific word choice in the book may not be representative of the terminology used in the past or future.

            Early development of trans-medicine began in the mid-1950s in the post-World War II era (Schuster 23). Public trust in scientific communities to solve social and biological ills was at an all-time high (Schuster 23). According to Schuster, this increase in medical authority over gender and sexuality and the power difference between doctor and patient is one of the root causes of why trans-medicine has made little progress from the 20th to 21st centuries (Schuster 24). While there have been attempts to decentralize authority of medical providers, many still hold the view that the “doctor knows best” (Schuster 9). In terms of trans-healthcare, this mindset has resulted in a number of subsequent issues. Medicalization refers to “the process of how non-medical problems become defined and treated as medical problems” (Schuster 9). Through medicalization and especially regarding transgender-healthcare, social issues about bodies and bodily autonomy become scientific issues.

Schuster argues that the medicalization of transgenderism resulted in early physicians perceiving transgender patients as “severely troubled” and transgenderism was understood in terms of symptoms of “delusional thinking” (Schuster 24). On one hand, Schuster details how the medicalization of trans-sexuality excited physicians as it was a new uncharted form of medicine. On the other hand, many physicians were hesitant and felt unequipped to treat transgendered patients. As Schuster details in chapter 1, few endocrinologists and physicians in the U.S. were willing to assist transgender individuals out of fear of criticism from peers, revoking of medical licenses, and possible patient regret and future lawsuits following procedures (Schuster 24). It is from this medicalization and hesitance to treat patients that specific guidelines and evidence-based medicine (EBM) emerged. Providers began placing increased expectations onto their transgender patients in an attempt to ensure that the patient was truly willing to undergo hormone/surgical procedures. Schuster states that from these expectations, new scientific language, approaches, and guidelines for trans-medicine were created (Schuster 64). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the World Professional Association for Transgender Healthcare (WPATH) sought to define transgenderism and create a step-by-step protocol to treating transgender patients respectively (Schuster 80). While guidelines may serve as a “handrail” in other forms of medicine, Schuster explains that the steps outlined in the guidelines suggest a linear pathway, while gender transitions tend to be anything but linear and vary from individual to individual (Schuster 105). Furthermore, standardizing and defining transgenderism is ineffective as trans people’s experiences and self-concepts may not fit into binary modes of thought. Not all transgender patients have similar experiences and the notion that gender is fluid (not just extremes) is hard to process for many.

In addition to the medicalization of trans-sexuality, Schuster argues that certain strategies and mindsets have become normalized in trans-healthcare. One of these strategies is what he calls the “fake it till you make it” mindset (Schuster 131). Because few providers are trained in the social contexts and manifestation of gender, this lack of understanding causes discomfort amongst medical professionals. Many have trouble admitting their lack of knowledge in a field which further causes incorrect practices to become normalized over time (Schuster 134). Schuster also details the trope of the “self-assured expert” who present information in ways that leave little room for discourse and change (Schuster 138). Additionally, some solely follow clinical guidelines and understand trans identification as a clear, straight pathway “from point A (assigned gender at birth) to point B (undergoing a physical transition to the “other” binary gender)” (Schuster 138). The final and perhaps most prevalent strategy that Schuster recalls is “gate-keeping” and defining who is “truly” transgender (Schuster 106). To protect themselves from being sued by a patient, many providers were strict (and still are today) about who is able to obtain treatment procedures (Schuster 94). Schuster identified the following techniques that providers used to determine who would be able to receive hormone therapy. To begin, individuals who did not engage in illegal or risky activities indicated to providers that they could function as a “normal” person upon transitioning (Schuster 72). Second, those who were able to pass the “real life test” or live their life as if they had already received transgender treatment proved to providers that the patient was committed to go all the way with the procedures (Schuster 39). Finally, trans-patients whose ideologies closely aligned with traditional gender roles were significantly more likely to receive hormone therapy and surgical interventions (Schuster 16).

Schuster argues that progress in transgender medicine in recent times has been minimal. While he does not explicitly provide any solutions, he does detail specific providers who are making beneficial progress in trans-healthcare by utilizing smarter and favorable practices. He defines “flexible interpreters” as providers of trans-medicine who are able to “embrace the uncertainty in trans medicine and interpret the guidelines in ways that puts patients’ needs, and their varied ways of identifying as trans, first” (Schuster 117). In other words, these are medical professionals who are able to find a balance between social values and scientific fact and who refer to guidelines as recommendations rather than laws (Schuster 117). According to Schuster, flexible interpreters realize that guidelines take away focus on the individual and their healthcare needs (Schuster 118). When considering that each patient is unique, it is impossible to follow clinical guidelines exactly.

Schuster’s book thoroughly and concisely explains the emergence and history of trans-medicine from the 20th to 21st century. It highlights specific examples of social and medical trends that have impacted trans-healthcare over the years. For example, the book delves into topics such as the medicalization of sexuality through the DSM and WPATH and explains how this has had an effect on treatment strategies. Schuster draws upon various sources to formulate his claims and arguments with one of the sources being scholarly/medical conferences. However, the most convincing sources are direct quotes and letters of correspondence from the 1960s. These primary sources allowed the author to form arguments with supporting examples. This is demonstrated on page 31 in which Schuster presents a letter written by a transgender patient, “This letter is no trick and all I write is the truth and not made up. I want you to understand that my need to have this operation is not in passing, but is something of the deepest importance to me and has been for a long time…” This quote directly supports the author’s argument of the trope of transgender “trickster” where transgender people deliberately misrepresented information about themselves in order to gain access to hormones and surgery (Schuster 31). The abundance of direct quotes and examples make the book an informative and credible read.

While the author’s support of “flexible interpreters” is clear, the author says little about potential solutions and courses of action for the future of trans-medicine. Instead of offering specific solutions to the problems in trans-medicine that have been normalized over the years, Schuster simply critiques and summarizes these issues. While proposing healthcare solutions may be beyond the author’s expertise, with the immense amount of research collected to write this book, I would have expected the author to describe future plans and implications of his findings. In the conclusion and in the section titled “Redefining the treatment of gender,” the author states that “changing the protocols and shifting attention away from trans people as a problem to fix enables some providers to redefine the ‘treatment’ of gender in a way that shifts the attention to broader social inequalities that trans people experience in everyday life, rather than perpetuating inequalities in healthcare encounters” (Schuster 164). While I agree with this claim, it is a simple blanket statement that does not enact any specific changes or solutions.

Overall, Trans Medicine, The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender, by Dr. Stef M. Schuster was an enjoyable and informative read. The book answers the questions of how medical authority over gender has occurred as well as what practices have become normalized over the years in trans-medicine and their specific consequences. While the author takes a clear stance against the current and past states of trans-healthcare, he does not dive in depth into solutions. In summary, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history and specifically in the history of medicine and sexuality. Furthermore, I feel it is imperative that those pursuing a career in healthcare read this book. As healthcare and social values are increasingly interconnected, it is critical that our future healthcare providers adapt with the times to help serve diverse communities.

Works Cited

Shuster, Stephen M. Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender. New York University Press, 2021.

Sex Education’s New Show in Season 3

Season 3 | Sex Education Wiki | Fandom
Sex Education’s Season 3 Promotional Poster

I remember waiting for the third season of Sex Education to come out – I was reposting the promotional posters on my story on Instagram and sending it to my friends. When Sex Education finally came out, I was surprised at how different this season was from its previous seasons. Sex Education started as a show navigating the life of Otis, whose mother is a sex therapist. Because of this, Otis has learned the techniques of how to talk to someone. He then tries this at school with an unexpected friend at the time called Maeve. As a result, they both start making this a regular thing after success. Moving on from this, in season 3, the sex therapist students are not quite as much in this picture but are rather dealing with Moordale’s new principal Headmistress Hope who moves Moordale in a backward way, removing self-expression and promoting heterosexuality, while shaming anything different. Cal and Headmistress Hope are two of the new characters this season, and they are complete opposites, to say the least. Hope’s backward idea of how to run a school is a great reason to show why such classes like GSS exist.

One episode in particular that struck me was a scene from this seasons Ep. 4:

(Video won’t seem to load so here’s the link:

Firstly, this scene I want to talk about in particular. Prior to this scene, Headmistress Hope tells Viv, her student assistant, to tell the people of Moordale to separate themselves into two lines based on their gender. However, because Cal is non-binary, they don’t separate themselves into a line and have an argument with Hope. Cal then goes on to say “So we go to the vagina or penis line? Is that what you’re saying?” This itself shows how bent Hope’s thinking is: there are only two genders and that it depends on your genitalia. For centuries, we have always decided to look at someone’s genitalia and say “They are a boy” or “they are a girl,” and it’s time we step away from this disgusting perspective. 

Sex Education Season 3, Ep. 4. Screenshot from video stated

Focusing more on this scene, the boys get a talk about homophobia and stating that homosexuals have a higher chance of getting an STD. Meanwhile, the girls are getting a talk about how sex is scary and can ruin your life. Maeve, one of the earliest main characters, however, tells the group speaker of the girls group that sex isn’t and shouldn’t be scary. Maeve gives a progressive speech suggesting that students should instead see that sex gives them insight into their body, like what they like, and that girls shouldn’t be the only one getting the talk of “sex is a mistake because it leads to unwanted pregnancy.” This ties into the idea of Foucault where the idea of sex shouldn’t be talked about and that people should be shamed for having these ideas and thoughts. And, further in this episode, the students of Moordale are scared because they’ve been involved in sexual activities prior to this meeting and that their lives could be in danger just because of what they’ve been told. Society makes sex seem as a bad thing and that only bad things will happen if you engage in the act of sex, but nothing will happen if you go about it in a safe direction.

Sex Education" Episode #3.6 (TV Episode 2021) - IMDb
Sex Education Season 3, Ep. 6

Another interesting part of season 3 lies within episode 6. Hope decides to publicly shame students who caused a bad reputation for Moordale. While she shames 3 students, Lily, a student who writes sexual stories about aliens and such things, and Cal in particular are shamed for being themselves. To explain, Cal is told that they are a messy troublemaker when all they have done to “disrespect” Moordale is ask for equity. Cal is constantly reminded by Hope to fit in a certain category by her forcefully putting labels on their gender when they are non-binary, but never lashes out against Hope. For Lily, she is told that she has brought shame to her peers with “dirty and disgusting words,” which comes from Lily’s sexual fantasy stories. Again, especially for teenagers in high school going through puberty, students should not be shamed for having sexual desires. Additionally, the idea of fantasies and fetishes shouldn’t be shamed either. Lily is a great character at showcasing these fantasies and, earlier in the season, Lily used to wear makeup and style her hair to indicate this love for her fantasies. 

Season 3 was something entirely different, but I did enjoy it. It helps show how different people are from one another, and that we shouldn’t be putting others down for having differences or looking different. We should be encouraging these differences and seeing how much more a society could be if individuality was promoted. Sex Education does a great job in this season to showcase this.


I’ve grown up watching my father do all the household chores. To many, this may be the ‘bare minimum,’ as it rightly is. However, patriarchy is so deep-rooted in Indian culture that such behavior is considered abnormal. Family members visiting our home would become physically uncomfortable watching my father cook, wash dishes, clean, and do the laundry, because that wasn’t ‘his job.’ In Indian society, men partaking in domestic chores is an alien concept.

This gender stereotype was challenged by an award-winning #ShareTheLoad initiative by an Indian laundry detergent company, Ariel, in 2015. The company launched this campaign through impactful advertisements, spotlighting the everyday, normalized gender inequality experienced in Indian households. They aimed to create “happier households where men and women Share The Load equally.”

In the advertisement, we see how a young child observes the polar opposite realities experienced by her parents. The daughter notices how her mother is never asleep next to her at night and is up late doing household chores. In the morning, her mother wakes up unrested, hastily tossing breakfast for her family. She returns home after a long day of work only to face the endless to-do list on her phone. Yet, her mother never lets her professional commitments come in the way of looking after her family. She’s seen tucking her daughter into bed, reading to her, and preparing materials for the next school day.
In contrast, the daughter watches her dad get a good night’s sleep. He enjoys a relaxed morning, spending quality time with his daughter before heading to work. He seems carefree and unburdened. He is also oblivious to the amount of work his wife completes ‘behind the scenes’ at night to provide him with a comfortable lifestyle.

We can see the woman working- what Marxist feminist sociologists call- the triple shift. This refers to the idea that women in capitalist societies are expected to do paid and unpaid work and cater to their families’ emotional needs. Women are expected to juggle professional and familial responsibilities mechanically. Hence, the rise in the percentage of women employment in India is progressive only at face value. The reality is that there has been no change in the social expectations put on women. Women must work, be the best wives and mothers and conform to all social norms. Multi-tasking is glorified and regarded as a skill that ‘successful’ women have, prompting others to achieve this unrealistic standard.

In the advertisement, the daughter is the change initiator. When she notices her overworked mother, she wakes her father up and ushers him to the laundry room. The girl symbolizes the literal wake-up call that Ariel wanted to give India. The father is shocked to find his wife, completely exhausted, dozing off near the laundry machine in the middle of the night. He realizes how his lack of contribution affects his wife and makes an immediate change by taking over the laundry. The advertisement ends with a display of empirical evidence to support its argument. It draws a connection between the unequal division of household chores and women’s health, stating that 71% of women sleep less than men.

Apart from highlighting the unequal distribution of domestic work between men and women, the advertisement also emphasizes how children unconsciously pick up gender norms and roles. Children internalize gendered behaviors, roles, and activities by watching their parents. This advertisement was applauded for its ability to convey a meaningful message in a minimalistic way. It illustrated a scene that most Indians were familiar with and could relate to. It showed the Indian population that making a change doesn’t always entail grand gestures. One can change the status quo by something as simple as sharing the laundry with their partner.

However, the advertisement is far from perfect. In my opinion, the ads create a one-step forward, two-step back situation. The campaign fails to address the issue’s root- that household chores are not a woman’s job. The phrase ‘ShareTheLoad’ implies that household work is a woman’s job or ‘load’ to begin with and that men should ‘help’ them by ‘sharing’ the burden. It encourages the depiction of men as saviors who go out of their way to help the women in their families. Household work continues to be portrayed as a gender-specific role. The idea that domestic work is a life skill everyone should have regardless of gender is not translated through the screen.

Moreover, the campaign is very heteronormative. It does not do an excellent job of representing queer individuals and families. While the ad does a great job of exposing the inequalities faced by women in households, it continues to reinforce the idea that families can only consist of heterosexual couples. 2018 was a monumental year for LGBTQ+ rights in India. Article 377 of the Indian Penal code (which criminalized any form of queer sex) was struck down and deemed unconstitutional. However, removing the law did not manage to remove the social stigma around the LGBTQ community in India. The fear of representing queer relationships in mainstream media remains evident through the continuous display of heteronormativity.

Nevertheless, the campaign marked a significant first step towards encouraging companies to use their mainstream platforms to advocate for gender equality. I hope to see a more mainstream representation of the Queer community in India in the future!

Is All Representation Good Representation?: an Analysis of Power Imbalances in Call Me By Your Name

1983. Northern Italy. As soon as the opening credits roll, audiences are swept into the entirely different world of Call Me By Your Name. It’s a world of soft hues and cool breezes in the leisurely Italian countryside. A world of endless time and music and exploration. A world of romance and self-discovery. 

Yet this 2017 coming-of-age film is more than just the captivating cinematography and aesthetic landscape. Based on a 2007 fiction book written by Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name depicts the story of Elio, the 17-year-old son of a professor, whose father spends the summers doing archaeological research in Northern Italy. While his father works, Elio takes a break from his Parisian life and occupies his time by reading, transcribing music, riding his bike around the countryside, and spending time with his childhood friends. Except the summer of 1983 is different. Elio’s father hosts a graduate student as a summer research assistant, who stays with the family and does archaeological work for a number of weeks. As soon as Elio lays eyes on Oliver, the tall, confident, 24-year-old American who is to stay with the family, he is captivated. Soon enough, Elio and Oliver begin a whirlwind summer romance that leaves Elio confused, heartbroken, and hopeful. 

Though Call Me By Your Name may be a love story with a captivating ambiance, a leisurely pace, and just enough suspense to keep the viewer engaged, it is more than its beautiful storytelling. As a popular coming-of-age queer film, Call Me By Your Name had a large impact on the LGBTQ+ community and its representation. While Elio and Oliver may have had a beautiful love story, the film completely ignores a glaring red flag in their relationship: their large age gap. While their relationship is legal and consensual in the film, is it ethical? The difference between a young, inexperienced 17-year-old and a 24-year-old adult creates serious power imbalances in their relationship. Oliver is not only 7 years older, but also works for Elio’s father, and is much more experienced, both in sex and romance, than Elio is. On the other hand, Elio is a mere 17-year-old, who is just discovering his sexuality for the first time. In fact, Elio shares his lack of experience with Oliver before they ever begin their romance. In the scene at the monument to the Battle of Piave, Elio says to Oliver “If you only knew how little I know about the things that matter.”  Oliver bluntly asks, “What things that matter?,” and Elio responds quietly, “you know what things,” clearly referring to his lack of knowledge about matters of love, sex, and romance, as well as his lack of experience in homosexual relationships. Oliver bluntly tells Elio that they can not talk about such things, yet soon after, they begin their romance. This situation presents a very concerning power imbalance in their relationship, where Elio is not only 7 years younger, but also much less experienced than Oliver, yet the film never fully addresses it. Instead, it is glossed over, as the viewer is meant to focus on the beautiful landscape and the sweet, romantic aspects of the film.

Yet, by not addressing the concerning aspects of Elio and Oliver’s relationship, Call Me By Your Name is not only perpetuating unhealthy relationships, but also suggesting that an age gap is standard and normal for gay male relationships. This perpetuates harmful stereotypes about gay men, including that they are predatory towards younger people. 

Call Me By Your Name could have very easily been a beautiful coming-of-age film about discovering one’s sexuality and having new experiences, but it is ruined by the inappropriate, and largely unaddressed, age gap relationship. This negative representation actively harms the LGBTQ+ community and perpetuates negative stereotypes about gay men. Despite the beautiful and innovative cinematography, Call Me By Your Name simply missed the mark as a queer film. 

“Love My Way”: Homophobia and Internalized Shame in “Call Me By Your Name” 

Call Me By Your Name (2017), set in the Italian countryside during the summer of 1983, displays a passionate and complex romantic relationship between 17-year-old Elio and his father’s research assistant, Oliver. Before returning to the states, Oliver must travel to a different city in Italy to complete his summer’s research. Elio’s mother, seeing how close Oliver and Elio have gotten, suggests the two of them travel together. Though they remain relatively discreet with their displays of affection, being away from the local town where people know them and could out them, or worse, brings out a carefree side to the lovers. We see them dancing, embracing, and kissing in alleyways; however, there is a sense that this newfound freedom is fleeting as their unavoidable farewell rapidly approaches.

(approximate timestamp: 01:47:55)

Elio and Oliver dance in a cobblestoned alleyway and then embrace one another. Oliver breaks the embrace when he hears the song “Love My Way” by the Psychedelic Furs playing in the distance; earlier in the film, this was a song that both Elio and Oliver danced to at a party with female partners. The coincidence of hearing this song rings as a reminder of the moment’s impermanence—that the two of them have not always felt this free and will not always—but it simultaneously feels like a beautiful, cosmic sign that the two of them are connected in a meaningful way.

As they approached the strangers playing the song, the cement poles on Oliver’s left (in the green shirt) caught my eye. Their shape is phallic, and the coincidence of two, upright phallic structures juxtaposing Elio and Oliver’s figures left me with the impression that even in these moments where the two may “pass” as heterosexual, their gay identity is omnipresent.

(approximate timestamp: 01:48:36)

The feminine stranger is dancing alone, as the masculine stranger leans against the car smoking a cigarette, effortlessly cool and unphased, he is the epitome of suave, heteronormative masculinity and sexuality. Oliver’s instinct to dance with the woman strikes me as a performance of his own claim to masculinity and sexuality—he is carefree, fun, and charismatic, which are qualities that drew Elio to him. Almost immediately as he dances with the woman, the music is interrupted by a church bell ringing.

(approximate timestamp: 01:48:48)

Oliver grabs the woman’s arm, taking her to dance in front of the church where another version of the phallic symbol appears, this time with a chain attached. Oliver steps over this chain, as though crossing the threshold and submitting to the pressures of normativity. The heartbreaking conclusion to the film is Oliver calling Elio months after the end of summer to tell him he is getting married to a woman.

(approximate timestamp: 01:49:08)

Oliver has found a “ball-and-chain,” while Elio observes from the sidelines. Both Elio and Oliver are intoxicated, but Elio feels it more than Oliver, which hints that Elio is more naively intoxicated by their summer romance, and optimistic in ways that further break his heart in the end. Questioning Elio’s naivety, one wonders if there is an element of dishonesty in their relationship. We find out that Oliver has been in an on-again-off-again relationship with his ultimate fiancé for three years. Was it Oliver’s plan all along to submit to heteronormativity? Presumably, Elio momentarily changed Oliver’s mind, but he ultimate crosses the threshold at this moment.

(approximate timestamp: 01:49:21)
(approximate timestamp: 01:49:45)

Elio gets sick from the alcohol, and Oliver’s initial response is to laugh at Elio. He’s separate from Elio—safe from the optics of homosexuality. Oliver seems to laugh because he is also intoxicated, and finds humor in Elio’s vulnerable, very human moment, but there is something more sinister that comes about upon further thinking. The power dynamics in their relationship are questionable—a teenage boy and an older, college-aged student (presumably Oliver is pursuing a master’s or PhD). Laughing at Elio feels twisted and inappropriate, considering this could be his first time sick from alcohol and is certainly his first moment drunk and vulnerable with an older, male lover.

Call Me By Your Name operates under the assumption that privilege does not eliminate all forms of heteropatriarchal oppression and pain. This assumption is fair, though the film leans into a potentially problematic romanticization of wealth, prestige, whiteness, and academia. An assumption within these moments is that for young, formative queer people, many (presumably around half) will make the decision to pass for straight, or many will have a formative queer experience with an older lover. Call Me By Your Name leaves the impression a sacrifice of queer identity for the security of “fitting in” was commonplace, and highlights an immense dependence on family values and upbringing as determining whether someone makes this choice or not—almost implying it is naïve to think someone will not make the choice to pass if given the option.

Call Me By Your Name is heartbreaking, and worth watching if you want to understand a dynamic, albeit a very privileged one, between young gay lovers in the 1980s. It is a beautiful film to watch and a beautiful representation of young love and heartbreak.

Brandon Reid Token: Campus Drag Show

On Saturday, April 9th, I attended the drag show at Rusk’s eating house in Patterson Court. This event was co-hosted by Queers and Allies and Rusk Eating House. During this event, there were many different drag performances. Some of the performances were done by professional drag performers, while others were performed by Davidson College students. The event was emceed by a member of Queers and Allies, who helped add context to the performances by introducing the performers and providing some narrative of what the performers would perform.

Before attending this event, I completed some personal reading on drag. Specifically, I sought to learn more about the history of drag. According to Wikipedia, the first known drag balls in the United States were in Harlem in the 1920s. The Wikipedia page also said that in this show and others that happened around that time, gays and lesbians impersonated members of the opposite sex and competed in fashion contests. Today, and then, drag shows are forms of entertainment, as they are skits that involve impersonating members of the opposite sex. These skits are filled with both serious stories and humorous ones.

This event was relevant to our class’s content, because it involved conversations and actions that push against heterosexual norms of our society. In class, we have become deeply aware of heterosexual norms and how they function in our society. As a student in GSS 101, I have become even more invested in working against homophobic norms, and supporting this event and engaging with the event’s content was a way of doing so. When it comes to course readings, this event most reminded me of our readings on intersectionality, as there were many intersecting identities in the performances.

Further reflecting on the event, I am glad that many students came to support the drag show. However, I still wish that there was more attendance from those on campus who are actively supporting homophobic trends.

Brandon Reid: Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex, and Law in the Caribbean

In the book titled, Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex, and Law in the Caribbean, Andil Gosine takes an interesting approach to demonstrate a global issue of homophobia and general exclusionary attitudes that societies have adopted towards marginalized communities. In this piece Gosine describes these global issues in a way that incorporates experiential storytelling on their experiences, and broader data, laws, and systemic forms of oppression. Before even diving into the book, Gosine’s book cover greets students with an intriguing image of a person blending into a jungle, while holding a rooster. By starting with this image, Gosine invites readers to pause and contemplate the message that is being conveyed, as it pairs beautifully with what is represented in the actual book. In this book report, I will share my perception of the work’s content.

Continue reading “Brandon Reid: Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex, and Law in the Caribbean”

    Book Review: Legalizing Sex: Sexual Minorities, AIDS, and Citizenship in India 


“Legalizing sex” by Chaitanya  Lakkimsetti reflects the everyday struggle, difficulties, and discrimination faced by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Kothi Hijara (LGBTQKHI) Community, on the social, political, and economic level in India. It presents the conservative, discriminative and unwelcoming culture of the LGBTQKHI community in India. Lakkimsetti introduces a new term “LGBTQKHI “instead of the renowned term “LGBTQ” where she includes men who have sex with men, the Kothi, and the hijra (MSMKHI), marginalized sex workers neglected by the government. Lakkimsetti effectively portrays the reality and the constant struggles of the transgender, sex workers, and the gay community in fighting for their rights and class in society. 

Lakkimsetti questions the ghettoization of sexual minorities in India. She questions the position of sexual minorities in society by presenting the everyday struggles of the sexual minorities. She collaborates with the LGBTQKHI community, several organizations, and the government to promote equal protection, control the pandemic, and fight for the rights of the marginalized sexual minorities. She reflects on the unsupportive government, its sardonic anti-homophobic laws, and a discriminative society in marginalization and stigmatization of the LGBTQKHI community. Her research and surveys around various parts of India such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai gather the data on sexual minorities that reflects the reality of the discrimination in civil, political, social, and economic rights of LTBTQKHI people in India.  

She also reflects on the boorish nature of the government and how the pandemic shifted the position of sexual minorities in India. Sexual minorities once discriminated against and marginalized by the Indian government come to attention as “high risk “groups to combat HIV/AIDS to create an effective response in the mid-1980s. This book reflects on how unsupportive government, homophobic laws, and discriminative society have led to several social, political, and economic barriers to sexual minorities. Such barriers have left them with no choice but to fight for social, political, and basic civil and political rights demanded by the state government of India. It reflects the heterosexist perspective of society as demands and protests by the sexual minorities for their right results in shock to the government with how previously stigmatized and marginalized groups could stand up for themself and make demands.  

Chaitanya Lakkimsetti is a professor specializing in gender, sexuality, law, and citizenship. She is renowned for her studies in sexual and gender inequalities in a global context using transnational and intersectional approaches. Her expertise in the field of gender inequality has contributed to her book “Legalizing sex” where she successfully addresses the demand for political and legal change by the gender minorities in India. Her wider extended research on the sexual minorities in contemporary India has highlighted the contemporary struggle for social and political justice in relation to the anti-sodomy. She provides a social and political approach to ending the injustice and suppression of sexual minorities legally.  

The first chapter reflects on how sexual minorities are drawn into the category of “high-risk group” to develop a strategic approach to control the HIV/ AIDS pandemic. After the first detection of HIV/AIDS on sexual minorities, they are taken into serious consideration as a threat, blamed, hatred, and even punishment. The same marginalized group is later given a leadership position in combating the pandemic by the Indian government. The second chapter – “Challenging bare life” emphasizes abuse and incessant violence especially arbitrary police violence supported by the criminal laws against sexual minorities. It presents the ways in which sexual minorities negotiate for accountability and redirects the government’s attention towards the protection of the rights of marginalized groups.  

Chapter 3 “Empowered Criminals” focuses on the mechanism of resistance as a means for negotiations with the Government regarding the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It addresses the success of sexual minorities as they become able to gain the support of several HIV/AIDS organizations and from the federal state ministry of health. This chapter elaborates on legal acts as important implications for the rights of the sexually marginalized group. Lakkimsetti successfully scrutinizes the everyday policing of the non-generated class and emphasizes the struggles of gay groups and transgender/ Hijara focusing on two judgments. Those two judgments include the Indian supreme court, the Koushal that declared section 377 constitutional, and NALSA(National legal services agency) that granted rights to transgender people. The closing chapter “Interconnected rights” presents the need for cooperation and active participation among the sexually marginalized groups for the transformation of goals of sexual minorities with a focus on a welfare discourse. It includes the success of the sexual minorities who have been protesting against section 377 for two decades and finally supreme court of India makes it unconstitutional in September 2018.  

One of the greatest strengths of this book is that it successfully presents the reality of the constant struggles and fights for legal change by the sexual minorities in India. Through her experiments, research, interviews, and collaboration with several organizations is able to reflect on several homophobic laws, discrimination, and homophobic society resulting in discrimination, unfairness, and harassment of sexual minorities not only in India but in the entire world. She mostly emphasizes the homophobic laws in chapter two with how Such laws freely consigned sexual minorities to death by depriving resources and made it extremely harder for the sexual minorities to stand up for their right and place. She portrayed that such violence reveals the internal contradictions in the Indian government, the cusp of the juridical and biopower. She not only includes the difficulties and the suffocation of sexual minorities but also points out some success and positive changes that took place after the mid-1980s after the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a global issue. For example, in chapter one, she includes the repeal of section 377 in 2009, which marks a significant history for sexual minorities as a victory in a legal battle for their social, political, and economic rights.  

Despite some positive changes and success, she presents the reality of how the homophobic perspective of society remained the same, and they are still marginalized and stigmatized in today’s modern world. Although the author effectively communicates the struggle and reality and their oppression of LGBTQKHI people, it does not provide a fully comprehensive account of minorities such as lesbians and bisexual people. She emphasizes more on the Gay, transgender, hijra leaving behind bisexuals and lesbian community. Such has left a small room with not much understanding of the reality of bisexual and lesbian people and their struggle and class in society. It would be better if she had emphasized including all the sexual minorities in the category of the LGBTQKHI community and not just Gay, transgender, and sex workers. 

Overall, its intersectional nature provides the deep root stigma, discrimination, and struggles associated with the marginalized sections. The author does an excellent job as she helps us understand how activism can influence and change the different political discourses and the dominant politics in bringing positive legal change. She emphasizes how active cooperation, active participation, and fighting for a change play a vital role in achieving a goal. The book successfully presents the existence of discriminatory and biased laws against sexual minorities and encourages its views to thrive for a change and fight for rights and equality. I would highly recommend anyone interested in the field of sexuality read this book. 


Legalizing Sex: Sexual Minorities, AIDS, and Citizenship in India, Chaitanya  Lakkimsetti , 2020

Intimate Eating: Racialized Spaces and Radical Futures: A Review

Crunch. Bits of crushed-up peanuts add an element of surprise as I chew. The chunky texture intertwined with the smooth layers of peanut butter creates a satisfying experience. Extra crunchy peanut butter. A treasured delicacy of mine. When the dining hall does not fill my grumbling stomach’s desires, I chow down in my dorm room alone on my favorite snack. A yummy snack? Yes. A snack that works as a form of resistance against the normative intimacies of eating in the public sphere? Well, that is an idea I had not even begun to consider until reading Anita Mannur’s 2022 monograph entitled Intimate Eating: Racialized Spaces and Radical Futures. 

Mannur, a self-proclaimed “professor, writer, thinker, recovering optimist,” works as an Associate Professor of English at Miami University. Mannur teaches interdisciplinary courses centered on race, class, gender, and sexuality. Additionally, she is the author of Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture and co-editor of Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader. Mannur received her BA in Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Mannur’s background and primary research in food studies as well as her interdisciplinary teaching approach qualify her to examine food in Intimate Eating. 

Keep on reading!

A Review of “Beyond Monogamy: Polyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities”

If asked to define an ideal relationship, most people influenced by Western and European norms would describe monogamy. They would boast of a love that is “loyal,” a devoted union between two people—usually between a man and a woman. Yet, even within the LGBTQ+ community, monogamy is an expectation, and there is a heavy stigma around having a committed relationship with multiple people. Monogamy, in fact, has been so normalized that it is often seen as the only option, and any one who breaks this expectation is labeled as deviant, as inhuman, as criminal. Polyamorous Americans, unprotected under the law, can be fired from their jobs and discriminated against in housing, healthcare, and courts for simply loving too much and too many (McArdle). However, can polyamory potentially foster more loving relationships and a more loving society? And how can examining the origins of monogamy reveal all the ways in which the institution oppresses people of all gender, racial, and sexual orientations? The 2016 novel by Mimi Schippers, Beyond Monogamy: Polyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities, begins to answer these questions and sets up a theoretical framework for identifying how compulsory monogamy legitimizes the dominance of white heteromasculinity. 

Beyond Monogamy challenges the definition of monogamous couples as natural and inevitable, asserting this assumption has been used to maintain the dominance of masculinity and subordination of femininity. In fact, Schippers claims mononormativity to be the central pillar that upholds heteromasculine privilege and contemporary gender relations (Schippers 25). For instance, compulsory monogamy outcasts women who cheat or have relationships with multiple partners because they threaten expectations of feminine loyalty that uphold male possession. The same can be said for race relations, since monogamy was institutionalized alongside the “eugenic constructions of racial superiority” (8). When examining the sociohistorical construction of sexual normalcy, Schippers finds that mononormative rhetoric pathologizes black Americans to be incapable of marital monogamy and therefore inferior. The author cites the hypersexualization of black women and emasculation of black men who accept the “promiscuity” of wives as examples of the racist deployment of monogamy (41). As a consequence, black, feminist, and queer communities have historically adopted monogamy into their definitions of respectability in order to be deemed worthy in a society that already demonizes them to begin with. However, Mimi Schippers’ main argument provides some hope, that polyqueer sexualities offer an opportunity for the deconstruction of gender, racial, sexual, and class hierarchies, allowing for bonding and love across difference. For individual relationships and for the entirety of society, polyamory has the potential to revolutionize how humans relate with one another. 

As a Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies and Department Chair of the Sociology Department at Tulane University, Mimi Schippers is an expert on the sociology of polyamory. Embracing sociological and queer theorist perspectives, Schippers focuses the book around how the construction of sexual normalcy is central to social structure and interpersonal relations. While Schippers builds on the work of Adrienne Rich, Michel Foucault, Gayle Rubin, and other feminist writers, she notes how there are few theoretical interrogations of how monogamy in particular is implicated in production of gender, racism and sexual hierarchies. She reorients away from radical feminist theory that positions men as oppressors and towards queer theories of monogamy as central to “regimes of normalcy” (6). Schippers likewise critiques Foucault for the omission of race and emphasizes how white supremacy is central to regimes of sexual normalcy that compel individuals into exclusivity. 

Curious of how non-monogamous relations are portrayed in various media representations and take shape in everyday interactions, Mimi Schippers in Beyond Monogamy analyzes popular texts and film along with her own life experiences dealing with polyamorous relationships. Thus, she combines multiple methodologies of auto-ethnography and deconstructionist methods of discursively analyzing fictional representations of polyqueer sexualities. By including explicit descriptions of her own sexual experiences and short fictional vignettes about polyqueer sexual interactions, Schippers helps readers imagine a polyqueer future and collapse the binary between “the profane pornographic and sacred academic” (28). For each narrative discursivly analyzed, she attempts to demonstrate the feminist, anti-racist, queer potential of polysexuality.  

In the first chapter, Schippers explores cultural narratives around “love triangles” and how these narratives dictate correct masculine behavior and establish the white monogamous couple as evolutionarily superior. In the classic erotic triangulation between two men and one women, the men are pitted against each other as rivals, fighting each other for the woman. Schippers uses the example of her own erotic triangle with her lover and his best friend to exemplify how having two male partners would conflict with hegemonic masculinity. The hegemonic assumption that men are naturally jealous and predisposed to control women’s sexuality, forces her lovers to have to determine a winner and a loser. This sprouts from the assumption that humans evolved to be monogamous in order to protect genetic investments and ensure offspring survival (54). However, not only are unions between one woman and multiple men found in every part of the world, they can be highly beneficial. Rather than taking ownership of women, many communities are better served by cooperation and resource sharing. For example, in North Alaskan Inuit societies, men who share spouses form strong bonds of friendship and protection that last a lifetime, due the nonexistence of jealousy and male possessiveness (55). Schippers examined this in her own life when her lover Ben and their friend Matthew were able to reconfigure their heteromasculinity and bond with each other through their love and desire for Mimi. They were able to release control over her and her sexuality through embracing the erotic triangulation. 

In the second chapter, Mimi Shippers focuses on the novel by E. Lynn Harris, Invisible Life, which through the narrative of a black man on “down low,” critiques compulsory monogamy and imagines a world in which bisexual black men have the freedom to express their sexuality. The “down low” refers to African American men who identity as heterosexual, but secretrly have sex with men as well as women (73). Media representations of men on the DL categorize them as dishonest, unfair to women, and selfish. In Invisible Life, compulsory monogamy forces the protagonist into secrecy, since as a black man in the 1990s he cannot be economically successful, and involved in his community and church while simultaneously exploring his sexuality with women and men. Schippers attributes this to the politics of black respectability, in which black activists and churches embraced the inherent morality of monogamy so that they could earn a place in society and defy racist stereotypes of black promiscuity (77). This suffocating construction of the monogamous “respectable” black man, forces men to hide their love of black women and men and desire to be intimate with both. The values of the gay community likewise constrained the protagonist, as gay men in the 90s adopted “politics of normalcy” emphasizing monogamy to resist negative images of gay men during HIV epidemic (78). Yet, Schippers displays the potential for polyqueer narratives to reconfigure racialized sexualities and challenge the politics of respectability and homonormalcy that uphold compulsory monogamy. Reimagining queer black men—not as confused, promiscuous, or dangerous, but as human desiring intimacy and respect—the analysis proposes a future in which polyamours people of all races, genders, and orientations can lead prosperous lives in society and openly experience fulfilling relationships. 

In the final chapter, Schippers deep dives into cultural narratives around erotic threesomes—their inherent mononormativity and heteromasculine assumptions—and how diversified sexual interactions offer an opportunity to work against racial and gender hierachies. Through her own encounters with hetersexual men and popular media representations, Schippers analyzes the common fantasy of sex between one man and two women—aka “every man’s dream.” In this hegemonic threesome, imaginary traditional Western gender structures are upheld as the women are solely objects of desire for the male gaze, not desiring subjects themselves, able to form deep, romantic connections with each other. The man is also able to maintain a sense of status since penile penetration is symbolic of power, while being penetrated is symbolic of passivity (154). Not only does the dominance of this fantasy depend on and perpetuate heterosexual expectations, but monogamous ones as well. Threesomes tend to only be considered acceptable when framed as momentary suspension of normalcy to “spice things up” in an otherwise monogamous partnership. The sexual preference for threesomes or sex among polyamorous triads are highly demonized, as are intimate interactions with two men and one woman—referred to as “devils threesomes.” However, the monograph asserts that threesomes with all men are actually the most common, yet do not dominate discourse because controlling images of what is “sexy” and “normal” embed into individuals’ subconscious (143). Schippers suggests that this erotic habitus, structed by race, class, and gender, can be dissolved through polyamorous touch and pleasure. For instance, if two straight men of differing races are engaged in a threesome with a woman, they are forced to reconfigure the meaning of racialized genders and their own heteromasculine subjectivity. Brought together by her desire for them and their desire for her, the men have the space to explore cross-racial, same-gender intimacy through the pleasure of orgasm.       

One shortcoming of this analysis however is that Mimi Schippers never addresses the logistics of how this potential could be realized. What will allow for such a dramatic shift in sexual norms that dominate every part of Western culture? With still unquestionable levels of fear and shame around polyamory in comtemporary life, how can polyamorous lovers be protected and truly accepted? Barely acknowledging the legal repercussions of polyamory in the United States, Schippers neglects to offer a feasible route for starting to reconfigure gender, race, sexual relations through non-monogamy. If Schipper’s theory proves true that polyamory can dismantle white patriarchal supremacy, the real question is: what can dismantle the oppressive system of compulsory monogamy?  

Though as a polyamorous and pansexual person myself, I applaud the attempt to prove the enormous potential of plural loving. Providing a framework that embraces the intersectionality of gender, class, and race, the monograph gives an accurate depiction of the sexist and racist origins of monogamy as a route to social control. Any audience member that takes monogamy for granted as common sense would benefit from reading the historical construction of the practice and perhaps reconsider how they truly want to relate to their partners—as possessions or free human beings? Perhaps the revolution to create a non-monogamous society starts with each polyqueer interaction at a time, one reader at a time reconfiguring their hegemonic assumptions until polyamory becomes the new norm.

Works Cited 

McArdle, Elaine. “Polyamory and the Law.” Harvard Law Today, 3 Aug. 2021,   

Schippers, Mimi. Beyond Monogamy: Polyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities. New York University Press, 2016. 

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Book Review: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

Is being queer so tragic? Clearly, there is a common narrative that idealises straight over queer relationships: “No one would choose to be queer” or “being straight is so much easier.” While there is much privilege in being straight in a heteronormative society, this “tragedy of queerness” has gone unexamined. In fact, this narrative conflicts with simple, observable situations in our society: Why do women not benefit from straight relationships as much as men do? Why are queer people proud of their queerness if it is such a tragic thing? Jane Ward takes on the challenge of examining this narrative —the tragedy of queerness— and proposes that, even more worrisome is The Tragedy of Heterosexuality.

In The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Ward argues that “under the weight of heteronormativity […] people have come to understand heterosexuality as the most instinctive and fulfilling form of sexual relating.” While she recognises the difficulties of queer relations, she questions whether straight relations bring such ease and fulfillment. For Ward, heterosexuality is the tragedy because of the patriarchal and misogynistic nature of heterosexual relations that, paradoxically, teaches men to desire and hate women while also romanticises violence. For queer people, this means that actually, heterosexual relations are nothing to wish for. But for straight people, this clearly fleshes out the problem of misogyny, to put it mildly. Thus, Ward advocates for a reconstruction of heterosexuality: “a future in which straight men like women so much that they actually like women.” This is a straight relationship that does not perpetuate misogyny.

This deep analysis of heterosexual relations is presented in a digestible and extremely engaging way. The book is written masterfully: it combines the different aspects of an academic analysis, with stories, quotes and interviews that make it easier for the reader to make the argument personal, and includes the insights of the author as a queer and Feminist scholar. She is also the author of Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men (2015) and Respectability Queer: Diversity Culture in LGTB Activist Organizations (2008). She received her PhD in Sociology by the University of California Santa Barbara in 2003. Currently, Dr. Jane Ward is a professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of California Riverside, where she teaches courses on feminist, queer and heterosexuality studies. Her experience is clearly reflected in her book, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality (2020). 

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“I Kissed A Girl”- Analysis

I recently watched Katy Perry’s music video for her 2008 hit song, “I Kissed A Girl,” on YouTube, and was intrigued by some assumptions about sexuality that were sometimes not so subtle in the video. In this blog post, I will explain those assumptions and how they were presented in Perry’s production.  

It is not completely clear who Perry’s intended audience is for this music video, however, I can infer that it was intended for pop music fans. With that said, the video likely targets young Americans, since that demographic tends to be more interested in American pop music. Continuing to discuss intention, it seems that Perry’s music video’s intended purpose is to share an experience that she had when she kissed a girl for the first time.

“I Kissed A Girl” is a song that was sang and released in 2008 by Katy Perry, a 37-year-old female pop star from Santa Barbara, California. Before diving into my evaluation of the music video itself, I want to provide a brief biography of Katy Perry. For context, Katy Perry is an American singer and celebrity who was born in Santa Barbara, California to parents who were Pentecostal (a form of protestant Christianity) pastors. Growing up, Katy Perry’s family moved homes often to different places in the western United States. Perry’s family was strictly religious, and she left home at fifteen to pursue a music career in Nashville, Tennessee. Perry’s music breakthrough took place during the early 2000s. “I Kissed A Girl” remains one of Perry’s most popular songs.

To accompany Perry’s hit song, a music video for “I Kissed A Girl” was uploaded to YouTube in 2008. In this music video, Katy Perry sings her song “I Kissed A Girl,” while flirting with other female friends in a bedroom setting. Throughout the video, Katy Perry and her friends are all wearing lingerie, and at one point during the music video, Katy Perry has a pillow fight with some of her female friends in the scene. This pillow fight is an example of a scene here that has a flirtatious undertone.

While acting in a flirtatious way throughout the video, Katy Perry sings along to her song “I Kissed A Girl,” which overall communicates a regret for kissing a girl.

For instance, in the first few lines of her song as she approaches the chorus, Perry makes the following statements: “this was not the way I planned,” “not my intention,” “lost my discretion,” and “it’s not what I’m used to.” When I first clicked on the music video on YouTube, I was aware of the title, “I Kissed A Girl,” so when I heard the first few lines of Perry’s song, I interpreted her as trying to explain to the audience that she did not want to kiss the girl. The idea that presented in my mind as I was watching was “is she apologizing or trying to plead some sort of innocence because she kissed a girl?” When making these statements, Perry is alone with a devious smile in the video.

During the chorus part of her song, Perry makes these statements: “I kissed a girl and I liked it,” “I kissed a girl just to try it,” “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it,” “it felt so wrong,” “it felt so right,” and “don’t mean I’m in love tonight.” When making these statements in the video, Perry displays a more genuine smile, while surrounded by other women.

Two key feelings are conveyed in these statements. First, it seems clear that Perry enjoyed kissing the girl. Second, it is suggested that Perry might regret kissing the girl, but it is clear that she feels that her kissing the girl was unacceptable. By saying that “it felt so wrong” and “just to try it,” and “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it,” Perry is suggesting that her behavior was in some way potentially unacceptable by her, her boyfriend, or greater society.

All the statements mentioned up to this point only make up the first minute of the music video, which altogether is three minutes. Pausing here, an observer of the video up to this point can assume some norms of society that are represented. More specifically, the first minute of this video is enough for one to correctly assume that American society views homosexuality as something that does not fit with the societal norm (heterosexuality).

Perry’s music video takes an interesting approach to homosexuality not being the norm. While the words being sang in the music video are apologetic for kissing a girl, Perry’s behavior on screen challenges the norm. If a homophobic person were to watch Perry’s video, their comfort would be directly challenged. Perhaps this impact was Perry’s intention through her music video. Maybe she wanted her words to acknowledge that two girls kissing is not the norm, and her behavior to challenge society’s conception of this norm.

The earlier mentioned statements persist throughout the remainder of Perry’s music video, along with others that are consistent with Perry’s regretful and apologetic attitude. For instance, Perry says “it’s not what good girls do,” “my head gets so confused,” and “hard to obey.” These statements are consistent with the ones made in the first minute of Perry’s music video.

Later, towards the end of Perry’s video, she makes the statement “ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent” when singing more about kissing the girl. This statement towards the end of the music video suggests that Perry has come to accept that there is nothing wrong with her kissing a girl. Instead, she asserts that society is guilty of making homophobia an unfortunately powerful norm that American systems promote and protect.