Category Archives: Medicine and science

Unharm Queer Contingent Resources

safer_dancing_guidelines

Click here to access the safer dancing guidelines developed by rave researcher Newcombe, way back when….

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Click here access our analysis of the G care principles we extracted from our research with the ACON Rovers

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My critique of Chemsex discourse: chemsex, a case for gay analysis – where i attempt to reframe the chemsex problem so that it recognises the agency of drug user  (image courtesy of local artist Leon Fernandes ❤ )

 

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PATHOLOGICAL

Kane Race

{Invited contribution to The Great Moving (Further) Right Show, closing panel discussion at the Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference, Sydney, 2016}

 

In Mad Travellers (1998), Ian Hacking argued that each historical age produces its own types of madness or mental illness. What happens when a hegemonic social identity – in this case, white and heteromasculinist – starts to lose its presumptive grip on national space and understand itself as an aggrieved and embattled minority?[1]

In the wake of Trump’s election, digital snippets began to emerge that captured white people ‘losing their shit’ in the course of a range of mundane consumer transactions. Losing their shit is a polite way of putting it: those encountering these clips on social media became spectators to a series of highly public, abusive outbursts, precipitated by frustrated feelings of entitlement to special treatment:

  • In a Miami Starbucks, a white man started abusing African-American employees because his coffee was taking longer than expected. ‘I voted for Trump! TRUMP!’ he screamed. ‘You lost, now give me my money back!’ he demanded of the woman behind the counter, calling her “trash” before going on to harangue and harass employees and other customers.
  • In a Chicago store, a white woman went into a highly public fit of vitriol and abuse when an African-American cashier asked her to pay for a $1 reusable bag (as per store policy). She felt she was being discriminated against because she was white. ‘I voted for Trump!’ And look who won!” she announced for all to hear, before launching into a 45 minute tirade directed against African-American and Hispanic employees and other customers, in which she directly compared one store manager to “an animal”.
  • A man flying Delta from Atlanta to Allentown (located in a borderline electoral district in Pennsylvania) subjected passengers to a noisy pro-Trump rant, demanding to know whether there were any ‘Hilary bitches on here’.

In each of these incidents, subjects emboldened by the Trump win fly into highly public scenes of vitriol, rage  and abuse at the drop of a hat. Trump and Brexit-style rhetoric has carefully mapped out sites of external blame for whatever it is these white folks are suffering: racial and sexual minorities, immigrants, liberal elites, independent women and transgender individuals are typical scapegoats.

The documented spikes in racisthomophobic and transphobic violence that occurred after Brexit and the US election can be read as further manifestations of a syndrome or structure of feeling ‘triggered by’ these official endorsements of populist ethno-nationalist sentiment. These violent acts, committed in bids to reassert failing sovereignty, remind us that the idealised nation  is not only racialized (white), but also has a sexuality (heteronormative) that is felt to be constitutively endangered.

(These vigilante posters, which appeared in Melbourne over 2016, could be regarded as Australian symptoms or subtypes of this syndrome.  The Antipodean Resistance describes itself as a youth organisation that opposes “substance abuse, homosexuality, and all other rotten, irresponsible distractions laid before us by Jews and globalists elites”)

 

What I find particularly interesting about these acts of aggression and violence is their adoption of the prism of identity politics to vent out their claims on cultural supremacy and special treatment. These people feel they have been discriminated against: that, were it not for radical intervention, the liberal state would further conspire to reduce their recourse to the terms of abuse that once kept minorities and women in their place and thus served to ensure their own social status and dominance so effectively.[2]

In 1997 Lauren Berlant observed, “today many formerly iconic citizens who used to feel undefensive and unfettered feel truly exposed and vulnerable …They sense that they now have identities, when it used to be just other people who had them.”[3] What has happened in the interim, and what few could have predicted, is how enthusiastically these self-same subjects have embraced the terms of identity politics to understand their own plight and vituperatively restore their hold on cultural privilege.

In Australia, there has been no shortage of privileged white men prepared to line up to whine at length, publicly and pathetically, about their intolerable sense of of having been victimised. white-man-sooksThe federal government actively panders to these sentiments, withdrawing funding from anti-bullying programs offering sex and gender diversity education in schools, and more recently, announcing a parliamentary inquiry into whether provisions that make it unlawful to publicly “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” others on the basis of race impose “unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech”. (Won’t someone please unfetter the poor privileged white darlings?).

safe-schools-hate-speechImage: Cartoonist Cathy Wilcox’s critique of Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull’s intention to stall a vote on marriage equality by requiring a public plebiscite, and de-fund the Safe Schools program, February 2016.

 

The ebullient outbursts I’ve described above are steeped in vindictive and vengeful ressentiment that seeks out sites of external blame upon which to avenge hurt and redistribute their pain.[4] It is very tempting to diagnose these psychotic outbursts as symptoms of a new pathology: Trumpitis? Brexophilia? Post-Trump Manic Spectrum Disorder? After all, anger and violence generated by delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution are regarded as textbook signs of paranoid schizophrenia.

Pathologising people isn’t my usual style – I’ve spent most of my life contesting the imposition of therapeutic morality – but part of me says, why not? If these folks truly want to qualify as minority identities, bring it on! After all, would LGBT, feminists, and people of colour really qualify as minority identities in the absence of their historical subjection to intensive pathologization, criminalisation, surveillance and brutal treatment? If you’re really a subordinated identity, show me the evidence!

The problem with psychologisation is that it dehistoricizes affective complications, extracting these feelings of the world from any broader sociopolitical, historical trajectories. It’s also patronising, and therefore likely to compound the problem: In 1997, when a ‘highbrow’ journalist asked Australia’s far right politician Pauline Hanson if she was xenophobic, Hanson’s blinking response, “please explain?” resonated with many older, white non-tertiary educated Australians, powerfully embodying a spreading sense of alienation from the structures of liberal power.[5]

pauline-hanson-giphy

One of the most subtle and provocative arguments of Wendy Brown’s (1995) States of Injury – perhaps the least popular among liberal critics – is that the disciplinary genres of US identity politics personalise and naturalise some of the complex injuries of capitalism. In taking the white heterosexual middle class as the standard against which social injury is measured, the North American habit of staging politics through identity makes categories of identity “bear all the weight of … sufferings produced by capitalism.”[6]  I find this insight particularly useful in terms of getting a grip on the present conjuncture, where the capitalist dream is failing to deliver on its promise even for much of the white middle class.  In this instance, the siphoning of socioeconomic and cultural frustrations into a racialised category of wounded identity has generated particularly abusive, vindictive and (dare I say) psychotic manifestations.

What I think would be most helpful now is a more affirmative understanding of identity and difference, a reformulation of the possibilities of identity that equips us for dealing with our multi-ethnic, multi-gendered times – and even take some pleasure in them. (I’m struck, for example, by the factoid that recently came to light that Trump supporters ‘are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated zip codes and commuting zones’ and have limited interaction with other social groups.  The point speaks to the critical relevance of contact theory, whose vision of social safety is elaborated most imaginatively and queerly by African American Sci-Fi writer Samuel Delany.[7])

Imagine if identity was conceived, not as a category of victimhood or failed sovereignty requiring the protection and reparative intervention of a (presumptively white and heterosexual) state, but a source of multiplicity and difference – a contact zone – that is valued and affirmed for the occasions it opens up for mutual transformation? Whose promise consists precisely in the unpredictable and exciting possibilities that emerge from inter-class/identity encounters for what nations and worlds and states might become ?[8]

With this more affirmative approach to identity and difference, perhaps we will get a more active, constructive handle on what might become of the present phase of consumer capitalism and globalisation. But of course this will require white heterosexual subjects to renounce their claims on sovereignty and special treatment, and address their present manifestation as retaliatory violence against unknown others – as a matter of urgency.

References

[1] In the Australian context of state multiculturalism, Ghassan Hage theorises this situation as one in which a white majority starts to worry it is losing its grip on the managerial relation it has enjoyed over national space, which it feels is its birth-right. See Hage, White nation: Fantasies of white supremacy in a multicultural society. Routledge, 2012.

[2] For a wonderfully pedagogical and accessible explication of this point see Meaghan Morris, ‘Sticks and Stones and Stereotypes’ http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-June-1997/morris.html

[3] Lauren Berlant, The Queen of America goes to Washington City: Essays on sex and citizenship. Duke University Press, 1997, p. 2.

[4] On ressentiment, see Friedrich Nietzsche, On the genealogy of morals and ecce homo. Vintage, 2010.

[5] For a brilliant discussion of this moment to which this argument is indebted see Meaghan Morris (2000), “‘Please explain?’ignorance, poverty and the past.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 1,2: 219-232.

[6] Wendy Brown, States of injury: Power and freedom in late modernity. Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 60. For another brilliant excavation of the trials, tribulations and terms of US identity politics see Cindy Patton, “Tremble, hetero swine!” in Warner (ed.) Fear of a queer planet: Queer politics and social theory, 1993, pp.143-177.

[7] Rylan Lizza, “What we learned about Trump’s supporters this week”, New Yorker, August 13, 2016.  For a queer vision of social safety that draws brilliantly on contact theory see Samuel Delany (1999), Times Square Red, Times Square Blue.

[8] For a more detailed elaboration of the theoretical coordinates of this approach, and an attempt to put it into practice, see my  forthcoming book, The Gay Science: Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV, under contract with Routledge.

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UnDEAD!

undeadIn the abysmal UK documentary Chemsex (2015), there’s a horrible moment where one gay man describes his peers who use drugs for sex as “the walking dead.” Let’s think about this derogatory imagery for a moment. What should we make of this abject figure, the queer zombie?

The walking dead are beings whose claim on life is so tenuous and wrong and desperate they’re regarded as a monstrous affront and threat to the living order. In fact, this characterisation of drug users is a well-trodden stereotype appearing in multiple sites, from judicial discourse to popular culture.  Effectively, it demonises people who use drugs by suggesting their lives are unnatural and not worth living.  It’s a callous and demoralising insinuation that is destructive of lives and hopes for the future.

Last weekend, Unharm‘s Queer Contingent decided to bite this bullet hard, and threw an outrageous party to celebrate sexy demons, queer community, the growing movement around drug use, and killer dress-ups. Held on the weekend of the Day of the Dead, UnDEAD brazenly embraced the figure of the zombie, inhabiting it playfully and irreverently, to throw this configuration of abuse back in the faces of those who project it so vomitously. A perverse and confronting strategy, perhaps – not everyone’s cup of tea – but the sort of manoeuvre that has long been critical for queer thinking and queer survival.

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This wasn’t “just a party”, it was serious fun. UnDEAD aimed to pay homage to the role queer parties have played in promoting vital practices for wellbeing: lively communities; cultures of care; and the invention of forms of safety that respect the transformative powers of pleasure.

The gay club scene in Sydney helped build the communities that responded so effectively to HIV and which have continued to devise inventive ways of looking after each other. Queer parties have sparked initiatives encouraging the safer use of substances like MDMA and GHB and led to the development of new ways of taking care of people in party environments.

These spaces and the communities they helped forge have come under pressure lately from lockout laws and a longer history of harassment through drug detection operations. The onslaught is intensifying at a time when more and more people are beginning to realise ‘we can’t arrest our way out of’ drug-related problems, and that communities (rather than law enforcement) are the most effective way forward.

Queer communities have been breaking new ground in this domain, but bad laws and aggressive enforcement are blocking progress, and have the added effect of chipping away at the bonding possibilities that have been so significant within queer party culture and been the basis for care strategies.

UnDEAD was the brainchild of Fiona McGregor; who put the party on with the help of comrades from the Unharm Queer Contingent, their mates and supporters. Legendary Sydney queer DJs Ben Drayton, Steve Sonius, DJ Gemma and HipHopHoe electrified the dance floor with killer beats and sounds. Partygoers were also treated to deadly performances from iconic queer performers  Glitta Supernova, Willow Darling and Matthew Stegh, who brought the house down.

But most of all, UnDEAD was one of those thrilling events that demonstrates how inventive, playful, daring and caring our community can be. We were blown away by the creativity, guts and sheer nerve of all the queer souls who came out in the middle of the night to claim the dance floor and support the growing movement. Renowned photographer William Yang captured some of the magnificent creatures who graced our party – check out his pictures of the event here (further snaps from SXNews here). To summon the ghost of Oscar Wilde, let’s just say that reports of the death of Sydney queer culture are greatly exaggerated.

Unharm is a grassroots organisation that campaigns to make drug use as safe, positiveand ethical as possible. That includes changing laws, like the criminalisation of drug use, that make it harder for people to live well.

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The Unharm Queer Contingent formed in early 2016 and has gone from strength to strength this year, hosting a stall at Mardi Gras Fair Day; participating blocs in public rallies such as Reclaim the Streets and Keep Sydney Open; and convening community events such as Party safer and save our parties, Queer Chemistry, and a public screening of the documentary Rampant: How a City Stopped a Plague that brought key figures in the debate over Sydney nightlife together to discuss how to apply this local history to present controversies.

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The Unharm Queer Contingent wants to turn queer culture’s flair for wicked dance moves into something even more wicked – a dance/community generated movement. It’s happening right now, and it’s thrilling. Rise up, queer creatures of the night, and stake your claims! Let’s make a world where people aren’t criminalised for using drugs. Let’s get drug detection dogs out of our celebratory spaces, and pill testing happening at music festivals. Let’s work out better ways of looking after each other, whether friends or strangers, and put them into action.

If you want get involved, you can find out more by joining our online community discussion forum, or simply come along to our next event, to be determined.

Meanwhile, read this recently published review of some of the research literature on queer culture, drug use and sexual health to familiarise yourself with some of the facts, figures, issues and challenges that inform our work.

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Thinking with Pleasure

I’m off to Norway to give some workshops and a couple of talks about my research at the University of Oslo.  I’m excited to have the opportunity to meet researchers and students from the schools of public health and medical anthropology there.  I’ve organised the workshops around my work on pleasure, digital sex, HIV prevention and harm reduction – and I’ve attached the outline here: thinking-with-pleasure-norway-workshops.  It will be a great opportunity to workshop these pieces so I can pull them all together, as they’ll form the basis of the monograph I’m due to deliver by the end of the year: The Gay Science: Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV

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Queer Chemistry

queer chemistry

Community Discussion

Monday 4 April, 2016

7 – 9pm

Beauchamp Hotel

Oxford St

Darlinghurst, 2010

Psychoactive substances have long been part of queer subcultural spaces and practices, from the disco culture of the 1970s to ecstasy use at the huge dance parties of the 1980s and 90s to the more recent emergence of ‘chemsex’.
But new contexts of consumption and new substances (such as G and crystal meth) have given rise to new dangers as well as new pleasures.
 
In this community discussion, we explore with queer cultural producers and health professionals how to construct spaces of pleasure and safety and promote queer cultures of care that accept that drug use might be in play.

 

The discussion will be facilitated by Kane Race, author of Pleasure Consuming Medicine and an organiser for Unharm. There will be lots of opportunities for audience participation, input and discussion.

 
For more event details, please visit https://www.facebook.com/events/255888971413198and register your interest.

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Keep Sydney Open

Excited to be participating in a discussion about the governmental assault on Sydney nightlife next Monday, next to Don Weatherburn and Murray Lee, (among others, tba).  Slightly terrified, but I will feel a lot safer if I wear my Darlinghurst-issued ‘safety first’ helmet I found in the gutter on the way home from Mardi Gras festivities last weekend.  Details below:  Please come along if you can!

Safety first helmet

Sydney’s Lockout Laws: Cutting Crime or Civil Liberties?

14 March 2016

Registration

Click here to register your attendance

________________________________________________________________________________________

Join us at the Sydney Institute of Criminology where a panel of diverse speakers will explore the Sydney Lockout Laws: the science and statistics, the impacts, and conundrums and trade-offs in regulating the night-time economy.

Since being introduced, Sydney’s Lockout Laws have been contentious, and have highlighted a range of concerns about Sydney’s night-time economy, including safety, alcohol-fuelled violence and crime, civil liberties, entertainment and enjoyment. This panel event canvasses some of the debates in the community. It will discuss: what is the evidence for and against the laws? How are they impacting the community? What is reasonable and unreasonable regulation?

This event is hosted by the Institute of Criminology, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney. 2016 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Sydney Institute of Criminology, and this panel event is the first in a schedule of events that showcases the contributions of the Institute to public debate, research and policy.

About the speakers: 
Dr Don Weatherburn has been Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in Sydney since 1988 and is an Adjunct Professor with the School of Social Science and Policy at the University of New South Wales. He has published on a wide range of topics: including drug law enforcement policy, liquor-licensing enforcement, the economic and social correlates of crime, criminal justice administration, juvenile recidivism and crime prevention. He has also published three books: Delinquent-prone CommunitiesLaw and Order in Australia: Rhetoric and Reality and Arresting Incarceration: Pathways out of Indigenous Imprisonment.

Professor Murray Lee is a Professor of Criminology at the University of Sydney Law School. He is the author of Inventing Fear of Crime: Criminology and the Politics of Anxiety (2007), co-author of Sexting and Young People (2015) and  Policing and Media: Public Relations, Simulations and Communications (2014), co-editor of Fear of Crime: Critical Voices in an Age of Anxiety (2009), and editor of the scholarly journal Current Issues in Criminal Justice. He is author of over 50 book chapters and refereed journal articles. His current research interests involve fear of crime, policing and the media, ‘sexting’ and young people, crime prevention, confidence in criminal justice systems, and the spatial determinants of crime.

Associate Professor Kane Racefrom the Department of Gender & Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney has published widely in the areas of drug use, sexuality, HIV and public health; and is recognised for his contribution to HIV prevention and policy in Australia and internationally. Kane is a founding member of the Association for the Social Sciences and Humanities in HIV and a member of the editorial advisory boards of the International Journal of Drug Policy, Contemporary Drug Problems, Biosocieties, Culture, Health & Sexuality, and Sexualities. He is an active volunteer for Unharm, an organisation devoted to drug law reform and making drug user safer, where he has played a leading role in efforts to mobilise queer community around this issue recently.  His book Pleasure Consuming Medicine: the Queer Politics of Drugs (Duke University Press, 2009) examined how moral and legal distinctions around drug use are bound up in the moral policing of citizenship.  He has lived in the inner east of Sydney for over 20 years.

 Chair: 
Associate Professor Julia Quilter 
is a graduate of Sydney University, UNSW (LLB) and Monash University (PhD). Prior to joining the University of Wollongong in 2010, she spent ten years practising as a solicitor and barrister, working mainly in public law and criminal law. She worked at the NSW State Crown Solicitor’s Office and was the Special Counsel to the NSW Solicitor General and Crown Advocate, appearing as junior counsel in constitutional and criminal law matters in the High Court, NSW Court of Appeal and NSW Court of Criminal Appeal.  Shespecialises in research and teaching on criminal law and criminal justice policy. Her research focuses on criminal law responses to alcohol-related violence and ‘one punch’ fatalities, sexual assault, the operation of public order laws and the law’s treatment of intoxication. She is a regular media commentator on criminal justice issues, and a co-author of Criminal Laws: Materials and Commentary on Criminal Law and Process in NSW (Federation Press, 6th ed, 2015).

 

Time: 6-8pm (registration and refreshments from 5:30pm)

Location: Law Foyer, Level 2, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Cost: Free however registration is essential

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0248

Email: law.events@sydney.edu.au

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Filed under Affect, Drug dogs, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, Medicine and science, Parties, Police, Policy and programs, The statistical imagination

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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