Category Archives: Books

Update: The Gay Science is out now, + info on new projects

Update: the book based on the research this blog was first set up to facilitate has just been released by Routledge in hardcover and e-form, with a paperback edition to be released in late 2018. It’s called The Gay Science: Intimate experiments with HIV (2018). here’s the cover blurb:

Since the onset of the HIV epidemic, the behaviour of men who have sex with men has been subject to intense scrutiny on the part of the behavioural and sociomedical sciences. What happens when we consider the work of these sciences to be not merely descriptive, but also constitutive of the realities it describes? The Gay Science pays attention to lived experiences of sex, drugs and the scientific practices that make these experiences intelligible. Through a series of empirically and historically detailed case studies, the book examines how new technologies and scientific artifacts – such as antiretroviral therapy, digital hookup apps and research methods – mediate sexual encounters and shape the worlds and self-practices of men who have sex with men.

Rather than debunking scientific practices or minimizing their significance, The Gay Scienceapproaches these practices as ways in which we ‘learn to be affected’ by HIV. It explores what knowledge practices best engage us, move us and increase our powers and capacities for action. The book includes an historical analysis of drug use as a significant element in the formation of urban gay cultures; constructivist accounts of the emergence of barebacking and chemsex; a performative response to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and its uptake; and, a speculative analysis of ways of thinking and doing sexual community in the digital context.

Combining insights from queer theory, process philosophy and science and technology studies to develop an original approach to the analysis of sexuality, drug use, public health and digital practices, this book demonstrates the ontological consequences of different modes of attending to risk and pleasure. It is suitable for those interested in cultural studies, sociology, gender and sexuality studies, digital culture, public health and drug and alcohol studies.

So thrilled that Indian-Australian artist Leon Fernandes generously granted me permission to reproduce his extraordinary piece Krishna in Erskinville on the cover, an artwork first exhibited at East Sydney Doctors Gallery the week I sent my manuscript off to the publishers (!!); AND to have received such generous endorsements from Lauren Berlant and Steven Epstein – such brilliant, inspirational and inspiring critics and social thinkers.

The Gay Science flyer

Meanwhile I’ve commenced a new ARC Discovery Project with Dean Murphy, Toby Lea and Kiran Pienaar on LGBTQ drug and medication use, ‘Chemical Practices: Enhancement and experimentation‘ this year (DP17), which proposes to treat queer and trans drugtaking practices as intimate experiments (in the science studies sense) while considering the forces that constrain and enable such experiments to assemble and find their publics and thus become more collectively and carefully elaborated. More details and a link to the project’s website, still in development, to follow

I’m also continuing work on my interest in the design and transformation of geo-sexual networking devices and how they structure the arrangement of sex between men, as well as dreaming up a new project about the normalising effects of the terms of national membership in Australia and the opportunistic policing of citizenship via mundane legal provisions that serve as pretexts for increased surveillance of migrant/ethnic and queer & gender minoritized communities & populations.

This project will work across ‘queer’ and ‘wog’ practices of body modification in Australia (car modification culture and queer drug and party practices mainly) to bring anti-racist critiques  into better articulation with queer counterpublic theory in critical studies of the  disciplinary terms of Australian citizenship and national membership, as well as the ethico-political and aesthetic dimensions of self-experimentation, body-modification, collective self-transformation, and how they are inter-implicated with evolving markets, cultural economies, and gender identities in the pre- and post-digital context.

Tentative working title-headers for this longer term project are taken from the subcultures this work will learn form and have particular vernacular relevance within them respectively.  They include “Policing Cruising: body-modification and resistance within queer and wog scenes in Australia”;  “Defected”; or maybe just “@toughstreetmachines”

 

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Filed under Affect, Antiretrovirals, Books, Devices and technology, Drug dogs, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, Eroticism and fantasy, HIV behavioural surveillance, Masculinities, Medicine and science, Online meeting sites, Parties, PNP culture, Police, Policy and programs, Random thoughts, Self-medication, Sexual practice, Sexual Sociability, The statistical imagination, Theory, Transgender

Bette Midler’s Gay Science

octopus-desire-tiawan-cover

 Cover design of the National Central University of Taiwan’s Center for the Study of Sexualities‘ forthcoming edited collection, translated into Mandarin, “When Desire Meets Public Health”

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I can’t believe I’d never seen this footage of Bette Midler’s Continental Baths Concert of 1971. It is all kinds of awesome and fabulous; a cataclysmic moment of gay world-making.
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The referentiality between the runsheet and the context of reception – the song choice and the abject status and attachments of the deviants who frequented “such establishments” – is so incredibly sharp and blatant and pointed and contradictory but ultimately joyous for what it cares to acknowledge and celebrate in and about, these places, these attachments, these publics, these gatherings.
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Basically it’s like, so gay 💅🏽
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octopus-bette
 Queer Entanglements
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Among the highlights of the show (and if you can’t quite face another cultural studies rave right now, don’t take my word for it: do yourself a favour & just watch it):
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  • Midler blows queer theory’s “anti-social” thesis right out of the water within 3 minutes of appearing on stage, because (doncha know?) “It’s All About Friends!”
  • Yet only minutes later, this woman, who at first glance might have come across as some happy-clappy redemptive sex pastoralist is getting down and dirty and revelling in a celebration of shameless sexual receptivity, with all its hurt and pleasure, in a show-stopper that situates “copping it” within the same order of bodily experience/urgency/necessity as scratching an itch: A basic craving, mundane, but often unbearably intense;  practically constitutive of being bodily in this world, difficult, disturbing –  with a million ways of approaching it, each with their own risks and possibilities for connection, intimacy, transformation, disappointment, frustrated consummation, and boundless enjoyment.
  • But what the heck?  What’s a Queen got to lose?

nothing-to-lose

  • And then next up (as though out of nowhere) an Ode to Marijuana, to top things off.  The Exotic/Palliative Sublime!
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Meanwhile, in the  second half of the show there is a Nostalgia Interlude, featuring hits from the 1940s, in which Milder adopts such a cheesy, self-assured persona when she sings “Going to the Chapel” (“R’member that great song? ‘Member?”) that she verges on obnoxious. The more she goes on and on and on and gloats about how she’s “Gonna Get Married” in the morning, the more you want to slap her! And you could almost be forgiven for that violent impulse, given the sense of comfort she derives so obviously and insensitively from knowing that that moment (indeed, even the slightest rendition or reference to that moment) has whole institutions dedicated to propping it up, as is more than demonstrated in how reliably and  routinely the refrain is backed up by a troupe of captive but ecstatic chorus singers. A surefire crowd-pleaser! What a triumph!  How enchanting!  (God knows it oughta be; they’ve being doing it to death in rehearsal).
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To counteract the bulldozing affects of this excruciatingly marital personae/performance, in the next sequence Midler switches gears and gets busy turning things around:  Mainly by ramping up the rapport she has  achieved so magically with her bathhouse audience: whipping up the feels, stirring up the love, only to culminate in her finally belting out this climactic, earth-shattering, quivering chant: “Any Day Now, I will be RELEASED!!” Which sends the audience arse over tit in an utter frenzy of gay abandon and delirium.
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Which all seems natural enough in the circumstances. Earlier in the show, she had confided casually that, like many of the boys in her bathhouse audience, she’d been working her ass off for “three days now”, without barely a breather in between acts.  No wonder the show’s climax is  so enthusiastically shared among the crowd, so devastating, so intense, so overinvested – and yet so playfully and powerfully communicated.
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Such brilliant realisation, explosive as dynamite.  Bringing to mind what a good friend suggested to me recently:  It’s “All about Energy”.  A pedagogical moment of sparkling clarity.
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Filmed a year before I was born, Bette Midler’s 1971 Continental Baths Concert is such a joy to behold, I feel so lucky to have been thrown into a world in which this could be found and grasped as a precedent, and so lucky to have chanced across footage of the event … Partly because of the queer associations it reveals and multiplies: it’s so obviously and unapologetically *her* kind of audience – striving for release – the kind of release that only a few legends like Midler were gutsy enough to affirm, acknowledge, and share publicly at the time, despite the likelihood of recrimination and scorn this might bring upon her, (not to mention the loneliness and despair and rejection and ugly affects that often underwrite such collective investments, which she also movingly acknowledges).
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But mainly because she just *owns* these desires and investments – in all their messy, abject complexity – so damn indiscriminately in this performance.   The whole queer kit and caboodle. In short, she belts it out of the ballpark.  & I’m talking …..FAR OUT!!!!!
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What kind of magic is this?  So playful! So abject! So affirmative! So powerful!  Overflowing with unmitigated pleasures and gusto….💖💕
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 On a more scholarly note, I take this show to be an exemplary instance of Sexual Sociability, a concept I came up with a while back now & have been trying to work with ever since, & which has ended up becoming key, as it turns out, to my forthcoming book, The Gay Science (“Forthcoming” ….ahem…..Any Day Now”….)
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It all makes me wish you could have a YouTube clip as a book cover! (it won’t be long now, surely? I mean, “we have the technology”, right?).  What a wild wet dream it would be to have Bette Midler’s 1971 “You’ve Got to Have Friends” featuring prominently somewhere in the book’s back matter, for the benefit of friends and readers, both old and new – or maybe I could arrange to have the number just playing throughout, on autorepeat. I can’t think of a better way of acknowledging my key informants, divine muses, motivating impulses and other assorted sources of gayspiration.  Or of signalling some of my work’s key design principles – and impossible objects.
bette
 The Divine Bette Midler, Continental Baths, circa 1971
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There. Thanks for putting up with that excessive, raving gay rant.  Writing it at least ought to force me to finish the fucker.  And friends, believe me, that day can’t come quickly enough … 🌊💨🌪💥⚡️🌈🌸💦
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(Did someone say “happy ending?”  Bring it!!)

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The Gay Science

Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV

I’m in the throes of preparing my manuscript for Routledge on gay sex and HIV prevention in the pharmaceutical and digital context

And I think my aha! moment has finally struck me.  My key wager is that science and related knowledge practices should both be guided by, and promote, an embracing of the pleasures some seek in sex.

Because science, too, is best when it feels the risk of its involvement – but also acknowledges its investment in – being transformatively affected by its encounters, experienced as events.

The determining question is the range of feelings one activates in response to such events.

I’m using this proposition to frame a range of social scientific and gay male sexual responses to HIV/AIDS in our digital times. What happens when we treat the sexual and social practices of affected groups as situated experiments and consider how they get articulated with the problems HIV science and policy put forward?

My thinking derives much of its energy from bringing the later work of Foucault on problematisation and ‘bodies and pleasures’ into conversation with A.N. Whitehead’s adventurous definition of events.

For an early experiment with this, see my piece ‘Reluctant Objects’ in the first edition of GLQ this year, 2016.

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Bodies Sexualities & Identities 2016

This is the new BSI 2016 outline for the large Undergraduate course I teach – essentially an introduction to queer theory with a progressively Australian spin as we dig down into local cultural examples.  Can’t wait to work with students on it this year.

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