Feeling Historical: Transnational queer histories of the anxious past of homosexuality and education in Australia.

Year: 2012

Author: Marshall, Daniel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


In the late 1970s the spokesperson for the Australian Gay Teachers and Students Group travelled to England, America and Canada to meet other gay and lesbian activists and gather gay and lesbian political materials to support activism in relation to homosexuality and schooling in Australia. Drawing on personal diaries, oral histories and relevant archival ephemera, this paper reads the spokesperson's trip as a case study (in Lauren Berlant's sense) for developing an historical account for the relationship between understandings of "children", "homosexuality", "gay and lesbian politics" and "schooling" in Australia.


Contemporary Australian research, policy and practice in relation to issues of sexual and gender differences in schooling often implicitly presume a year-zero context for such issues.  Such year-zero approaches neglect the histories of homosexuality, education and youth in Australia that inform and structure contemporary work in diffuse ways.  Against such forgetting, my paper turns to the archive of my case study to historicise the emergence of an anti-homophobic politics of education in Australia. 


Acknowledging the ways in which my case study is not wholly bounded by notions of the nation, I draw on queer theoretical and postcolonial accounts of the transnational, time and place to help me develop a critical framework for understanding the significant role queer transnational activist flows play in historicizing my case study.


More specifically, I will explore the way in which the transnational flow of political experience and expertise among gay and lesbian activists in England, America, Canada and Australia in the late 1970s was concentrated on the circulation of knowledges pertaining to the conjunction between homosexuality, children and education, and how this focus in turn helped structure a politics of antihomophobia in education, and sexuality politics more broadly, in Australia.


The final part of my paper will examine the characteristics of the political knowledges produced through the queer transnational flows mapped out in my paper.  In particular, I will reflect on the significance for my case of the 1970s anti-gay rights campaigns led by Anita Bryant (in North America) and Mary Whitehouse (in the UK) that promoted the conflation of homosexuality with paedophilia.  Drawing on theories of affect and recent theoretical accounts emerging from the archival turn in cultural studies, my paper will close by critically engaging the affective register of anxiety for making sense of the history that I use my case to construct.  Through a closing critical reflection on the present of sexual and gender differences and schooling and its inheritances I mark out ways in which the anxious past of homosexuality and education in Australia shadows and structures contemporary work in education.