‘Stories of Sexual Citizenship: Conviction and Critique’
Sue: What’s this talk all about Darren?
Darren: Well, we hear a lot about how things have gotten better for people who are lesbian, gay, and bisexual. It’s common to hear that ‘things are okay for the gays now’, in particular, and to some extent that is true. Certainly, life has improved for gay folk like myself. I grew up at a time when it was definitely not acceptable to be gay, when Prime Ministers actively sought to prevent the promotion of homosexuality and wider society was pretty vocal in opposition to our very existence. Now, only a relatively short time later, historically speaking, it is rare to hear open hostility within the public sphere of politics and the media, for instance, even if it is still too often present within everyday life. There are still some very hot debates for sure but actual hatred is rarely expressed towards sexual minorities in the same way that it used to be. All that said, I don’t think life is simply ‘all okay’, at least not in the same way as it is for the sexual majority. In the talk I explore this tension through just a few of the many examples which highlight that there remains some serious work to do here.
Sue: How did you get interested in this topic?
Darren: I have researched the psychology of sexualities my entire career and the talk concerns arguments I have put together for a book that brings much of my more political thinking together in one place. I am particularly interested in boundary disputes and how we determine what is and what is not acceptable and permissible within societies and explore this in the context of sexual citizenship. Sexual citizenship concerns the rights and responsibilities that people have with regard to their sexual and intimate lives, and I’m fascinated by how these boundaries are policed in ever more innovative ways by a wide variety of actors.
Sue: This sounds more like politics rather than psychology; how does that work given you’re a psychology professor?
Darren: A lot of my work crosses boundaries, I’m not just interested in them theoretically! I’m a somewhat ‘unusual’ psychologist who will draw on thinking across a range of disciplines. At heart, I’m a phenomenological psychologist and so will always be interested in human experience but I approach this in different ways. In one strand of my research, I draw heavily on the work of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, for instance, and particularly his ideas how we make sense of ourselves and others through the stories we tell of our lives. I like the idea that we can grasp something of the world through close examination of significant episodes that make up the stories being told. Ricoeur also wrote about political philosophy and his argument concerning the need to recognise the value of tradition as well as critique underpin many of the arguments in this particular talk, and the book.
Sue: Okay, but why do you think this is important?
Darren: Homosexuality was illegal only a relatively short time ago in the UK and remains illegal still in many countries around the world. Our right to act personally and politically within society as lesbian, gay or bisexual folk in an equivalent manner to heterosexuals has been a hard-fought battle but issues concerning sexual citizenship have not been resolved through gaining the right to marry or join the military. I believe that there is a need for considerable further progress for lesbians, gay men and bisexual folk, let alone for people who engage in sexual acts and identities beyond the norm that remain pathologized or otherwise oppressed.
Sue: So, what’s next in this line of research?
Darren: Well, the immediate task is to finish revisions to the book. It is long overdue! For this strand of my research, I then plan to seek funding to engage in more empirical work focused on some of the issues raised in the book. Many of the most bitter (and polarised) arguments today – the so-called ‘culture wars’ – result from a failure to listen to the other. One of the things that inspires me so much in the work of Paul Ricoeur is how he always sought to see the value in both sides of ostensibly opposed positions and then find a way to bring them together in a productive encounter. I think it is time for us all to have some difficult conversations, but maybe with just a little less shouting and a lot more listening.
Please see below the original blog about Darren’s talk and the link to the recorded talk.