DAC Black Geographies Discussion

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For this week’s discussion post, connect either black geographies or queer geographies to place-making. How does music, direct actions, congregations, literature, art, metaphors, historical trajectories, drag, or other examples we discussed for these past two weeks relate to place, place-making, or a sense of place? How are you understanding the significance of “place” in the study of geography? 

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Sex in Public
Author(s): Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner
Source: Critical Inquiry , Winter, 1998, Vol. 24, No. 2, Intimacy (Winter, 1998), pp. 547566
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1344178
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Sex in Public
Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner
1. There Is Nothing More Public Than Privacy
A paper titled “Sex in Public” teases with the obscurity of its object
the twisted aim of its narrative. In this paper we will be talking not a
the sex people already have clarity about, nor identities and acts, n
wildness in need of derepression; but rather about sex as it is media
by publics.’ Some of these publics have an obvious relation to sex: por
graphic cinema, phone sex, “adult” markets for print, lap dancing.
ers are organized around sex, but not necessarily sex acts in the usu
sense: queer zones and other worlds estranged from heterosexual
ture, but also more tacit scenes of sexuality like official national cult
which depends on a notion of privacy to cloak its sexualization of n
tional membership.
1. On public sex in the standard sense, see Pat Califia, Public Sex: The Culture of Ra
Sex (Pittsburgh, 1994). On acts and identities, see Janet E. Halley, “The Status/Co
Distinction in the 1993 Revisions to Military Antigay Policy: A Legal Archaeology,” G
(1996): 159-252. The classic political argument for sexual derepression as a conditi
freedom is put forth in Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquir
Freud (Boston, 1966). In contemporary prosex thought inspired by volume 1 of Miche
cault’s The History of Sexuality, the denunciation of “erotic injustice and sexual oppressi
situated less in the freedom of individuals than in analyses of the normative and coe
relations between specific “populations” and the institutions created to manage
(Gayle Rubin, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality
Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance [Boston, 1984], p
See also Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, vol. I of The History of S
ality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York, 1978).
Critical Inquiry 24 (Winter 1998)
? 1998 by The University of Chicago. 0093-1896/98/2402-0002$02.00. All rights reserved.
547
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548 Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner Sex in Public
The aim of this paper is to describe what we want to promote as
radical aspirations of queer culture building: not just a safe zon
queer sex but the changed possibilities of identity, intelligibility, pu
culture, and sex that appear when the heterosexual couple is no lon
the referent or the privileged example of sexual culture. Queer soc
practices like sex and theory try to unsettle the garbled but power
norms supporting that privilege-including the project of normaliz
that has made heterosexuality hegemonic-as well as those mat
practices that, though not explicitly sexual, are implicated in the hi
chies of property and propriety that we will describe as heteronorma
We open with two scenes of sex in public.
Scene 1
In 1993 Time magazine published a special issue about immigrat
called “The New Face of America.”3 The cover girl of this issue
2. By heteronormativity we mean the institutions, structures of understanding
practical orientations that make heterosexuality seem not only coherent-that is, org
as a sexuality-but also privileged. Its coherence is always provisional, and its privile
take several (sometimes contradictory) forms: unmarked, as the basic idiom of the p
and the social; or marked as a natural state; or projected as an ideal or moral accom
ment. It consists less of norms that could be summarized as a body of doctrine tha
sense of rightness produced in contradictory manifestations-often unconscious, imm
to practice or to institutions. Contexts that have little visible relation to sex practice
as life narrative and generational identity, can be heteronormative in this sense, wh
other contexts forms of sex between men and women might not be heteronormative. H
normativity is thus a concept distinct from heterosexuality. One of the most consp
differences is that it has no parallel, unlike heterosexuality, which organizes homose
as its opposite. Because homosexuality can never have the invisible, tacit, society-fou
rightness that heterosexuality has, it would not be possible to speak of”homonormativit
the same sense. See Michael Warner, “Fear of a Queer Planet,” Social Text, no. 29 (1991):
3. See Time, special issue, “The New Face of America,” Fall 1993. This analysis rew
materials in Lauren Berlant, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on S
Citizenship (Durham, N.C., 1997), pp. 200-208.
Lauren Berlant, a coeditor of Critical Inquiry, teaches English at
University of Chicago. She is the author of The Queen of America Go
Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (1997) and The Anatomy of
tional Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life (1991). Michael War
is professor of English at Rutgers University. He is the author of Th
ters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Cen
America (1990), editor of Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social
ory (1993), and has written for, among other publications, Village V
The Nation, and The Advocate. He is currently editing a volume to be call
American Sermons.
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Critical Inquiry Winter 1998 549
morphed via computer from head shots representing a range of U.S. immigrant groups: an amalgam of “Middle Eastern,” “Italian,” “African,”
“Vietnamese,” “Anglo-Saxon,” “Chinese,” and “Hispanic” faces. The new
face of America is supposed to represent what the modal citizen will look
like when, in the year 2004, it is projected, there is no longer a white
statistical majority in the United States. Naked, smiling, and just offwhite, Time’s divine Frankenstein aims to organize hegemonic optimism
about citizenship and the national future. Time’s theory is that by the
twenty-first century interracial reproductive sex will have taken place in
the United States on such a mass scale that racial difference itself will be
finally replaced by a kind of family feeling based on blood relations. In
the twenty-first century, Time imagines, hundreds of millions of hybrid
faces will erase American racism altogether: the nation will become a
happy racial monoculture made up of “one (mixed) blood.”4
The publication of this special issue caused a brief flurry of interest
but had no important effects; its very banality calls us to understand the
technologies that produce its ordinariness. The fantasy banalized by the
image is one that reverberates in the law and in the most intimate crevices
of everyday life. Its explicit aim is to help its public process the threat
to “normal” or “core” national culture that is currently phrased as “the
problem of immigration.”5 But this crisis image of immigrants is also a
racial mirage generated by a white-dominated society, supplying a specific
phobia to organize its public so that a more substantial discussion of exploitation in the United States can be avoided and then remaindered to
the part of collective memory sanctified not by nostalgia but by mass aversion. Let’s call this the amnesia archive. The motto above the door is
Memory Is the Amnesia You Like.
But more than exploitation and racism are forgotten in this whirl
projection and suppression. Central to the transfiguration of the im
grant into a nostalgic image to shore up core national culture and all
white fears of minoritization is something that cannot speak its nam
though its signature is everywhere: national heterosexuality. Nationa
heterosexuality is the mechanism by which a core national culture c
be imagined as a sanitized space of sentimental feeling and immacula
behavior, a space of pure citizenship. A familial model of society displ
the recognition of structural racism and other systemic inequalities. T
is not entirely new: the family form has functioned as a mediator a
metaphor of national existence in the United States since the eighteen
4. For a treatment of the centrality of “blood” to U.S. nationalist discourse, see Bon
Honig, No Place Like Home: Democracy and the Politics of Foreignness (forthcoming).
5. See, for example, William J. Bennett, The De- Valuing of America: The Fight for O
Culture and Our Children (New York, 1992); Peter Brimelow, Alien Nation: Common Sense a
America’s Immigration Disaster (New York, 1995); and William A. Henry III, In Defense of
ism (New York, 1994).
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550 Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner Sex in Public
century.6 We are arguing that its contemporary deployment increasi
supports the governmentality of the welfare state by separating the
rations of national belonging from the critical culture of the public sphe
and from political citizenship.’ Immigration crises have also previo
produced feminine icons that function as prostheses for the statefamously, the Statue of Liberty, which symbolized seamless immigra
similation to the metaculture of the United States. In Time’s face it is not
symbolic femininity but practical heterosexuality that guarantees the
monocultural nation.
The nostalgic family values covenant of contemporary American politics stipulates a privatization of citizenship and sex in a number of ways.
In law and political ideology, for example, the fetus and the child have
been spectacularly elevated to the place of sanctified nationality. The
state now sponsors stings and legislation to purify the internet on behalf
of children. New welfare and tax “reforms” passed under the cooperation
between the Contract with America and Clintonian familialism seek to
increase the legal and economic privileges of married couples and parents. Vouchers and privatization rezone education as the domain of parents rather than citizens. Meanwhile, senators such as Ted Kennedy and
Jesse Helms support amendments that refuse federal funds to organizations that “promote, disseminate, or produce materials that are obscene
or that depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual or excretory
activities or organs, including but not limited to obscene depictions of
sadomasochism, homo-eroticism, the sexual exploitation of children, or
individuals engaged in sexual intercourse.”8 These developments, though
distinct, are linked in the way they organize a hegemonic national public
around sex. But because this sex public officially claims to act only in
order to protect the zone of heterosexual privacy, the institutions of economic privilege and social reproduction informing its practices and organizing its ideal world are protected by the spectacular demonization of
any represented sex.
6. On the family form in national rhetoric, see Jay Fliegelman, Prodigals and Pilgrims:
The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority, 1750-1800 (Cambridge, 1982), and Shirley Samuels, Romances of the Republic: Women, the Family, and Violence in the Literature of the Early
American Nation (New York, 1996). On fantasies of genetic assimilation, see Robert S. Tilton,
Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 9-33, and Elise
Lemire, “Making Miscegenation” (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1996).
7. The concept of welfare state governmentality has a growing literature. For a concise
statement, see Jtirgen Habermas, “The New Obscurity: The Crisis of the Welfare State and
the Exhaustion of Utopian Energies,” The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticism and the Histori-
ans’ Debate, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge, Mass., 1989), pp. 48-70. Michael
Warner has discussed the relation between this analysis and queer culture in his “Something Queer about the Nation-State,” in After Political Correctness: The Humanities and Society
in the 1990s, ed. Christopher Newfield and Ronald Strickland (Boulder, Colo., 1995), pp.
361-71.
8. Congressional Record, 101st Cong., 1st. sess., 1989, 135, pt. 134:12967.
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Critical Inquiry Winter 1998 551
Scene 2
In October 1995, the New York City Council passed a new zoning
law by a forty-one to nine vote. The Zoning Text Amendment covers adult
book and video stores, eating and drinking establishments, theaters, and
other businesses. It allows these businesses only in certain areas zoned as
nonresidential, most of which turn out to be on the waterfront. Within
the new reserved districts, adult businesses are disallowed within five
hundred feet of another adult establishment or within five hundred feet
of a house of worship, school, or day-care center. They are limited to one
per lot and in size to ten thousand square feet. Signs are limited in size,
placement, and illumination. All other adult businesses are required to
close within a year. Of the estimated 177 adult businesses in the city, all
but 28 may have to close under this law. Enforcement of the bill is entrusted to building inspectors.
A court challenge against the bill was brought by a coalition that also
fought it in the political process, formed by anticensorship groups such
as the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Feminists for Free Ex-
pression, People for the American Way, and the National Coalition
Against Censorship as well as gay and lesbian organizations such as the
Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the Empire State Pride Agenda, and the
AIDS Prevention Action League. (An appeal was still pending as of July
1997.) These latter groups joined the anticensorship groups for a simple
reason: the impact of rezoning on businesses catering to queers, especially to gay men, will be devastating. All five of the adult businesses on
Christopher Street will be shut down, along with the principal venues
where men meet men for sex. None of these businesses have been targets
of local complaints. Gay men have come to take for granted the availability of explicit sexual materials, theaters, and clubs. That is how they have
learned to find each other; to map a commonly accessible world; to construct the architecture of queer space in a homophobic environment;
and, for the last fifteen years, to cultivate a collective ethos of safer sex.
All of that is about to change. Now, gay men who want sexual materials
or who want to meet other men for sex will have two choices: they can
cathect the privatized virtual public of phone sex and the internet; or
they can travel to small, inaccessible, little-trafficked, badly lit areas, remote from public transportation and from any residences, mostly on the
waterfront, where heterosexual porn users will also be relocated and
where the risk of violence will consequently be higher.9 In either case, the
9. Political geography in this way produces systematic effects of violence. Queers are
forced to find each other in untrafficked areas because of the combined pressures of propriety, stigma, the closet, and state regulation such as laws against public lewdness. The same
areas are known to gay-bashers and other criminals. And they are disregarded by police.
The effect is to make both violence and police neglect seem like natural hazards, voluntarily
courted by queers. As the 1997 documentary film Licensed to Kill illustrates, antigay violence
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552 Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner Sex in Public
result will be a sense of isolation and diminished expectations for q
life, as well as an attenuated capacity for political community. The na
lesbian sexual culture, including the Clit Club and the only video r
club catering to lesbians, will also disappear. The impact of the sex
purification of New York will fall unequally on those who already
fewest publicly accessible resources.
2. Normativity and Sexual Culture
Heterosexuality is not a thing. We speak of heterosexual cul
rather than heterosexuality because that culture never has more th
provisional unity.1′ It is neither a single Symbolic nor a single ideo
nor a unified set of shared beliefs.” The conflicts between these strands
are seldom more than dimly perceived in practice, where the givenness
of male-female sexual relations is part of the ordinary rightness of the
world, its fragility masked in shows of solemn rectitude. Such conflicts
have also gone unrecognized in theory, partly because of the metacultural
work of the very category of heterosexuality, which consolidates as a sexu-
ality widely differing practices, norms, and institutions; and partly because the sciences of social knowledge are themselves so deeply anchored
has been difficult to combat by legal means: victims are reluctant to come forward in any
public and prosecutorial framework, while bashers can appeal to the geographic circumstances to implicate the victims themselves. The legal system has helped to produce the
violence it is called upon to remedy.
10. See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley, 1992).
11. Gay and lesbian theory, especially in the humanities, frequently emphasizes psychoanalytic or psychoanalytic-style models of subject-formation, the differences among
which are significant and yet all of which tend to elide the difference between the categories
male/female and the process and project of heteronormativity. Three propositional paradigms are relevant here: those that propose that human identity itself is fundamentally
organized by gender identifications that are hardwired into infants; those that equate the
clarities of gender identity with the domination of a relatively coherent and vertically stable
“straight” ideology; and those that focus on a phallocentric Symbolic order that produces
gendered subjects who live out the destiny of their positioning in it. The psychoanalytic
and philosophical insights and limits of these models (which, we feel, underdescribe the
practices, institutions, and incongruities of heteronormativity) require further engagement.
For the time being, these works stand in as the most challenging relevant archive: Judith
Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York, 1993); Luce Irigaray,
Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca, N.Y., 1985) and This Sex Which Is
Not One, trans. Catherine Porter and Carolyn Burke (Ithaca, N.Y., 1985); Teresa de
Lauretis, The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire (Bloomington, Ind., 1994);
Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins (New York, 1992); and Monique Wittig, The
Straight Mind and Other Essays (Boston, 1992). Psychoanalytic work on sexuality does not
always latch acts and inclinations to natural or constructed “identity”: see, for example, Leo
Bersani, Homos (Cambridge, Mass., 1995) and “Is the Rectum a Grave?” in AIDS: Cultural
Analysis/Cultural Activism, ed. Douglas Crimp (Cambridge, Mass., 1988).
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Critical Inquiry Winter 1998 553
in the process of normalization to which Foucault attributes so much of
modern sexuality.”2 Thus when we say that the contemporary United
States is saturated by the project of constructing national heterosexuality,
we do not mean that national heterosexuality is anything like a simple
monoculture. Hegemonies are nothing if not elastic alliances, involving
dispersed and contradictory strategies for self-maintenance and reproduction.
Heterosexual culture achieves much of its metacultural intelligibility
through the ideologies and institutions of intimacy. We want to argue
here that although the intimate relations of private personhood appear
to be the realm of sexuality itself, allowing “sex in public” to appear like
matter out of place, intimacy is itself publicly mediated, in several senses.
First, its conventional spaces presuppose a structural differentiation of
“personal life” from work, politics, and the public sphere.13 Second, the
normativity of heterosexual culture links intimacy only to the institutions
of personal life, making them the privileged institutions of social reproduction, the accumulation and transfer of capital, and self-development.
Third, by making sex seem irrelevant or merely personal, heteronormative conventions of intimacy block the building of nonnormative or explicit public sexual cultures. Finally, those conventions conjure a mirage:
a home base of prepolitical humanity from which citizens are thought to
come into political discourse and to which they are expected to return in
the (always imaginary) future after political conflict. Intimate life is the
endlessly cited elsewhere of political public discourse, a promised haven
that distracts citizens from the unequal conditions of their political and
economic lives, consoles them for the damaged humanity of mass society,
and shames them for any divergence between their lives and the intimate
sphere that is alleged to be simple personhood.
Ideologies and institutions of intimacy are increasingly offered as a
vision of the good life for the destabilized and struggling citizenry of the
United States, the only (fantasy) zone in which a future might be thought
and willed, the only (imaginary) place where good citizens might be produced away from the confusing and unsettling distractions and contradictions of capitalism and politics. Indeed, one of the unforeseen paradoxes
of national-capitalist privatization has been that citizens have been led
12. The notion of metaculture we borrow from Greg Urban. See Greg Urban, A
Discourse-Centered Approach to Culture: Native South American Myths and Rituals (Austin, Tex.,
199 1) and Noumenal Community: Myth and Reality in an Amerindian Brazilian Society (Austin, Tex.,
1996). On normalization, see Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan
Sheridan (New York, 1979), pp. 184-85 and The History of Sexuality, p. 144. Foucault derives
his argument here from the revised version of Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological, trans. Carolyn R. Fawcett and Robert S. Cohen (New York, 1991).
13. Here we are influenced by Eli Zaretsky, Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life (New
York, 1986), and Stephanie Coontz, The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American
Families, 1600-1900 (London, 1988), though heteronormativity is a problem not often made
visible in Coontz’s work.
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554 Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner Sex in Public
through heterosexual culture to identify both themselves and their polit
with privacy. In the official public, this involves making sex private;
tensifying blood as a psychic base for identification; replacing state
dates for social justice with a privatized ethics of responsibility, cha
atonement, and “values”; and enforcing boundaries between moral p
sons and economic ones.14
A complex cluster of sexual practices gets confused, in heterosexual
culture, with the love plot of intimacy and familialism that signifies belonging to society in a deep and normal way. Community is imagined
through scenes of intimacy, coupling, and kinship; a historical relation to
futurity is restricted to generational narrative and reproduction.’5 A
whole field of social relations becomes intelligible as heterosexuality, and
this privatized sexual culture bestows on its sexual practices a tacit sense
of rightness and normalcy. This sense of rightness-embedded in things
and not just in sex-is what we call heteronormativity. Heteronormativity
is more than ideology, or prejudice, or phobia against gays and lesbians;
it is produced in almost every aspect of the forms and arrangements of
social life: nationality, the state, and the law; commerce; medicine; and
education; as well as in the conventions and affects of narrativity, ro-
14. On privatization and intimacy politics, see Berlant, The Queen of America Goes to
Washington City, pp. 1-24 and “Feminism and the Institutions of Intimacy,” in The Politics of
Research, ed. E. Ann Kaplan and George Levine (New Brunswick, N.J., 1997), pp. 143-61;
Honig, No Place Like Home; and Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, “The Body as Property: A Feminist Re-vision,” in Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction, ed. Faye
D. Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp (Berkeley, 1995), pp. 387-406. On privatization and nationalcapitalism, see David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford, 1989), and Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles
(New York, 1992).
15. This language for community is a problem for gay historiography. In otherwise
fine and important studies such as Esther Newton’s Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in
America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town (Boston, 1993), or Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and
Madeline D. Davis’s Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community (New
York, 1993), or even George Chauncey’s Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings
of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York, 1994), community is imagined as wholeperson, face-to-face relations-local, experiential, proximate, and saturating. But queer
worlds seldom manifest themselves in such forms. Cherry Grove-a seasonal resort depending heavily on weekend visits by New Yorkers-may be typical less of a “gay and lesbian town” than of the way queer sites are specialized spaces in which transits can project
alternative worlds. John D’Emilio’s Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homo-
sexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 is an especially interesting example of the
imaginative power of the idealization of local community for queers: the book charts the
separate tracks of political organizing and local scenes such as bar life, showing that when
the “movement” and the “subculture” began to converge in San Francisco, the result was a
new formation with a new utopian appeal: “A ‘community,”‘ D’Emilio writes, “was in fact
forming around a shared sexual orientation” (John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 [Chicago, 1983], p.
195). D’Emilio (wisely) keeps scare quotes around “community” in the very sentence declaring it to exist in fact.
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Critical Inquiry Winter 1998 555
mance, and other protected spaces of culture. It is hard to see these fields
as heteronormative because the sexual culture straight people inhabit is
so diffuse, a mix of languages they are just developing with premodern
notions of sexuality so ancient that their material conditions feel hardwired into personhood.
But intimacy has not always had the meaning it has for contemporary heteronormative culture. Along with Foucault and other historians,
the classicist David Halperin, for example, has shown that in ancient Athens sex was a transitive act rather than a fundamental dimension of personhood or an expression of intimacy. The verb for having sex appears
on a late antique list of things that are not done in regard to or through
others: “namely, speaking, singing, dancing, fist-fighting, competing,
hanging oneself, dying, being crucified, diving, finding a treasure, having
sex, vomiting, moving one’s bowels, sleeping, laughing, crying, talking to
the gods, and the like.”’16 Halperin points out that the inclusion of fucking
on this list shows that sex is not here “knit up in a web of mutuality.”‘7
In contrast, modern heterosexuality is supposed to refer to relations of
intimacy and identification with other persons, and sex acts are supposed
to be the most intimate communication of them all. 1 The sex act shielded
by the zone of privacy is the affectional nimbus that heterosexual culture
protects and from which it abstracts its model of ethics, but this utopia of
social belonging is also supported and extended by acts less commonly
recognized as part of sexual culture: paying taxes, being disgusted, philandering, bequeathing, celebrating a holiday, investing for the future,
teaching, disposing of a corpse, carrying wallet photos, buying economy
size, being nepotistic, running for president, divorcing, or owning anything “His” and “Hers.”
The elaboration of this list is a project for further study. Meanwhile,
to make it and to laugh at it is not immediately to label any practice
as oppressive, uncool, or definitive. We are describing a constellation of
practices that everywhere disperses heterosexual privilege as a tacit but
central organizing index of social membership. Exposing it inevitably
16. Artemidorus, Oneirocritica 1.2, quoted in David M. Halperin, “Sex before Sexuality: Pederasty, Politics, and Power in Classical Athens,” in Hidden from History: Reclaiming the
Gay and Lesbian Past, ed. Martin Bauml Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and Chauncey (New
York, 1989), p. 49.
17. Halperin, “Sex before Sexuality,” p. 49.
18. Studies of intimacy that do not assume this “web of mutuality,” either as the self-
evident nature of intimacy or as a human value, are rare. Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, trans. Richard Howard (New York, 1978), and Niklas Luhmann’s Love as
Passion, trans. Jeremy Gaines and Doris L. Jones (Cambridge, Mass., 1986) both try, in very
different ways, to describe analytically the production of intimacy. More typical is Anthony
Giddens’s attempt to theorize intimacy as “pure relationship” in The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies (Cambridge, 1992). There, ironically, it
is “the gays who are the pioneers” in separating the “pure relationship” of love from extra-
neous institutions and contexts such as marriage and reproduction.
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556 Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner Sex in Public
produces what we have elsewhere called a “wrenching sense of recon
tualization,” as its subjects, even its gay and lesbian subjects, begin
piece together how it is that social and economic discourses, institut
and practices that don’t feel especially sexual or familial collaborat
produce as a social norm and ideal an extremely narrow context fo
ing.19 Heterosexual culture cannot recognize, validate, sustain, inco
rate, or remember much of what people know and experience abou
cruelty of normal culture even to the people who identify with it.
But that cruelty does not go unregistered. Intimacy, for example
a whole public environment of therapeutic genres dedicated to
nessing the constant failure of heterosexual ideologies and institut
Every day, in many countries now, people testify to their failure to sust
or be sustained

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