Chrononormativity and counterpublic sexuality education: An Australian story

Year: 2016

Author: Rasmussen, Marylou, Leahy, Deana

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the 1980s there was a veritable explosion of talk about gay men, anal sex and HIV. People, including school students, were perceived as in need of sexuality education because everybody was viewed as potentially ‘at risk’ of HIV. New resources were made available because of this urgent health imperative. Scholars have traced how chrononormative scripts about lesbian, and, especially, gay youth emerged in relation to HIV within the space of sexuality education. In 2016, the content of education about gender and sexuality in Australian schools is again the subject of heated public discussion. While these debates echo previous controversies they also surface different sets of questions about embodiment, gender, sexuality and chrononormativity. We consider these debates inspired by the notion of counterpublic health (Race, 2009; Duff, 2015); an approach that pushes beyond a reading of what’s transgressive and what’s not in the field of sexuality education. In his book Publics and Counterpublics (2002), Michael Warner, perceives counterpublics as worldmaking projects (to be clear, we see current Australian debates about gender, sexuality and education as very much a part of a competing set of worldmaking projects). Drawing together Warner’s ideas about worldmaking and Freeman’s provocations regarding queer temporalities, our approach attends to the relations between chrononormativity, embodiment and competing sexual publics and counterpublics in the current Australian climate. Another critical, and particularly time sensitive element of this current climate, is the prospect of a national plebiscite on marriage equality. Together, these theoretical resources prompt us to consider what types of embodiment are coming into view related to queer worldmaking? We also attend to what forms of embodiment are coming into view, and ask why these bodies, why now? In the current debates gender embodiment is constituted, in different attempts at worldmaking, as anti-normative/as essential for healthy development/as coherently collective/as destabilizing/ and as normalizing. What can we learn by attending to how education about gender and embodiment is rationalized, felt and opposed by competing publics? Attending to the formation of competing publics and counterpublics helps us to see how chrononormativities associated with young people and gender are morphing and being manipulated within, and outside school contexts, in different attempts at worldmaking. ReferencesDuff, C. and Moore, D. (2015) Counterpublic health and the design of drug services for methamphetamine consumers in Melbourne. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine 19(1): 51–66.Fraser, S. (2006) Poetic world-making: Queer as Folk, counterpublic speech and the ‘reader’. Sexualities 9(2): 152–170.Freeman, E. (2010) Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories Durham and London: Duke University Press.Race, K. (2009). Pleasure Consuming Medicine: The Queer Politics of Drugs. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Warner, M. (2002) Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books.