Debuting at ASA 2017: American Studies Now, a New Series

Taking the 2017 American Studies Association conference by storm the new series edited by past presidents of the ASA American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present offers short, timely books on the issues that matter today.

“We need new ways to publish and distribute the work of American Studies scholars. The monograph and the journal article have a crucial role in our field, but they aren’t serving us well in the undergraduate classroom. And they aren’t putting our work into circulation in the pressing, scary political present. This new series is one new way to address those needs — short, accessible books on Black Lives Matter, climate change, neoliberalism, BDS, the continuing urban crisis, indigenous politics, queer and trans issues, the crises in higher education and more. They are designed to provide timely, provocative analysis for teaching, for activism, and for engagement now.”—Lisa Duggan, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Much of the most exciting contemporary work in American Studies refuses the distinction between politics and culture—focusing on historical cultures of power and protest on the one hand, or the political importance of cultural practices on the other. With a short production schedule, the titles in American Studies Now are able to cover these political and cultural intersections while such teachable moments are at the center of public conversation.

“Given the constant rush and hum of information in our social media saturated worlds, it’s easy to get stuck in the here and now in ways that make it difficult to take a critical perspective on where we are and how we got there. So American Studies Now reflects not only the urgency of the questions raised by each volume in the series but also suggests what we mean by critical histories of the present — scholarship that helps readers think about contemporary problems in terms of their larger historical, social, and cultural significance.”—Curtis Marez, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Learn more about this exciting, new series in this Q&A with series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and visit UC Press at booth 405 to browse the books. Heading to the conference? Be sure to check out the following session:

  • American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present
    Fri, November 10, 4:00 to 5:45pm
    With UC Press Executive Editor Niels Hooper, series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and series authors Scott Kurashige, Sunaina Maira, Barbara Ransby, Shelley Streeby, and Macarena Gomez-Barris
    View session details here

For more author sessions at ASA, and to see what else we’ll have on view, head here.


National Coming Out Day: Important Moments in Queer History

Encompassing a number of historically important days, this October is set to remind both the LGBT and wider communities of the important roles lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have taken in creating the social, legal, and political worlds we live in today. This National Coming Out Day 2017 marks both the 29th anniversary of the day’s observance and the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which called for President Ronald Reagan to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Check out important moments in queer history with these selected UC Press titles.


After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images
By Avram Finkelstein, available this November, pre-order now

After Silence is an important contribution to the history of AIDS activism. It tells the personal story of a key designer of a crucial political movement and demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis. Compelling and potentially empowering to future visual activists.”—Sarah Schulman, author of The Gentrification of the Mind

Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, six gay activists created one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolize a movement: a protest poster of a pink triangle with the words “Silence = Death.” The graphic and the slogan still resonate today, often used—and misused—to brand the entire movement. Cofounder of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury, Avram Finkelstein tells the story of how his work and other protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic were created. In writing about art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process, Finkelstein reveals a different side of the traditional HIV/AIDS history, told twenty-five years later, and offers a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how to save lives through activism and making art.

Has the Gay Movement Failed?
By Martin Duberman, forthcoming June 2018

“Martin Duberman gets to the heart of what has gone wrong with the LGBT movement and why it has not fought for—or has even impeded—a comprehensive vision of freedom for everyone. Has the Gay Movement Failed? is his most challenging, provocative, and visionary book to date. An imperative read for anyone interested in a truly liberated queer future.”—Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States

The past fifty years have marked significant shifts in attitude toward and acceptance of LGBTQ people in the United States and the West. Yet the extent of this progress, argues Martin Duberman, has been more broad and conservative than deep and transformative. One of the most renowned historians of the American left and LGBTQ movement, as well as a pioneering social justice activist, Duberman reviews the fifty years since Stonewall with an immediacy and rigor that informs and energizes. He relives the early gay movement’s progressive vision for society as a whole and puts the Left on notice as having continuously failed to embrace the queer potential for social transformation. He acknowledges successes as some of the most discriminatory policies that plagued earlier generations were eliminated but highlights the costs as radical goals were sidelined for more normative inclusion. Illuminating the fault lines both within and beyond the movements of the past and today, this critical book is also hopeful: Duberman urges us to learn from this history to fight for a truly inclusive and expansive society.

Trans: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability
By Jack Halberstam, e-book available now

“This lively and smart book by Jack Halberstam offers a new way of approaching the politics of ‘naming, claiming, speech, silence, and protest.’ This is the treatise on the asterisks for which we have been waiting; it cracks open a future, resisting transphobia and ushering in a new horizon for anybody struggling with the norms they oppose and the forms of life they desire and deserve to live.”—Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

In the last decade, public discussions of transgender issues have increased exponentially. However, with this increased visibility has come not just power, but regulation, both in favor of and against trans people. What was once regarded as an unusual or even unfortunate disorder has become an accepted articulation of gendered embodiment as well as a new site for political activism and political recognition. What happened in the last few decades to prompt such an extensive rethinking of our understanding of gendered embodiment? How did a stigmatized identity become so central to U.S. and European articulations of self? And how have people responded to the new definitions and understanding of sex and the gendered body? In Trans*, Jack Halberstam explores these recent shifts in the meaning of the gendered body and representation, and explores the possibilities of a nongendered, gender-optional, or gender-queer future.

Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left
By Emily K. Hobson

“Hobson succeeds in painting a rich portrait of a vibrant gay and lesbian left that flourished in the Bay Area in the 1970s and 1980s and saw itself as connected to the international left… the book has certainly made me rethink the way I write and teach LGBT history and has added some very necessary complications to that standard narrative.”—Daily Kos

LGBT activism is often imagined as a self-contained struggle, inspired by but set apart from other social movements. Lavender and Red recounts a far different story: a history of queer radicals who understood their sexual liberation as intertwined with solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism. This politics was born in the late 1960s but survived well past Stonewall, propelling a gay and lesbian left that flourished through the end of the Cold War. The gay and lesbian left found its center in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where sexual self-determination and revolutionary internationalism converged. Across the 1970s, its activists embraced socialist and women of color feminism and crafted queer opposition to militarism and the New Right. In the Reagan years, they challenged U.S. intervention in Central America, collaborated with their peers in Nicaragua, and mentored the first direct action against AIDS. Bringing together archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Emily K. Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today.

The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination
By Sarah Schulman

“The book that’s inspired me more than any other this year… a razor-sharp memoir of New York in the heyday of the AIDS crisis.”—Jason King, Slate

“Schulman is brilliant at conveying how devastating and surreal it was to live during the AIDS crisis… [the book is] teeming with ideas, necessary commentary, refreshing connections and examination of the status quo.”Lambda Literary

In this gripping memoir of the AIDS years (1981–1996), Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the rebellious queer culture, cheap rents, and a vibrant downtown arts movement vanished almost overnight to be replaced by gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism. Schulman takes us back to her Lower East Side and brings it to life, filling these pages with vivid memories of her avant-garde queer friends and dramatically recreating the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a political insider. Interweaving personal reminiscence with cogent analysis, Schulman details her experience as a witness to the loss of a generation’s imagination and the consequences of that loss.

An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings
By Harvey Milk, Edited by Jason Edward Black &Charles E. Morris

“An extremely important, timely, and significant book. Full of inspiration and hope, this book is highly relevant to anyone interested in activism, politics, and social change.” —Gust A. Yep, Professor of Communication Studies, San Francisco State University

Harvey Milk was one of the first openly and politically gay public officials in the United States, and his remarkable activism put him at the very heart of a pivotal civil rights movement reshaping America in the 1970s. An Archive of Hope is Milk in his own words, bringing together in one volume a substantial collection of his speeches, columns, editorials, political campaign materials, open letters, and press releases, culled from public archives, newspapers, and personal collections.

 


Trump’s Transgender Crisis

By Jack Halberstam, author of Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability

This guest post is part of a blog series of contributions by authors in American Studies Now, a series of short, timely books on significant political and cultural events.


At a time when the visibility and acceptance of transgender people has never been higher, when high school students openly discuss issues of gender variance and businesses boycott states without transgender bathroom policies, President Trump tweeted his intention to ban transgender people from the military. Perhaps, President Trump decided that he needed to make this bold move to win back conservative backers. No doubt even devout Trump supporters in the USA might be eyeing Trump’s health care policies with bewilderment right now and wondering why they are in bed with a one-percenter with strong ties to Russia and little interest in US businesses. For those supporters, Trump offered an olive branch yesterday—by proposing to ban transgender people from the military, he happily sacrificed a gender ambiguous lamb to the mercurial gods of conservative family values.

Trump’s pro-LGBT stance was only the latest campaign posture to find its way to the trash heap of broken promises. While fending off charges of collusion with Russia, treason, rigged elections, and incompetence, Trump has found an issue to rally his right wing fringe supporters while confusing and enraging his many detractors. In the wake of his announcement, many transgender people fired back on twitter to remind Trump and his cronies that they do not want to serve in the military anyway. Others, service members who have been honored in combat, emphasized their intention to stay right where they are, ban or no ban. America’s most famous transgender soldier, Chelsea Manning, accused Trump of cowardice and of creating a distraction with his announcement, but she also suggested that the US military had an inflated and bloated budget anyway, which should be redirected to health care. Hear, hear!

Trump’s tweeted policy change exemplifies how confused conservatives are about transgender issues. While running for office, Trump clearly stated his intentions to protect LGBT communities and to defend the rights of transgender people to use whatever bathroom they deem appropriate and, one assumes, to serve in the military. So, why this ban, why now? Is it related to the health care bill that President Trump has been trying unsuccessfully to put in place—a bill that will dispossess hundreds of thousands of people of their current health care policies? Is it part of an economic retrenchment, an attempt to cut away all unnecessary spending? Trump himself gave an economic rationale for his decision saying that the military spends millions on transgender surgeries. This is nonsense, as many journalists and researchers have pointed out—sex reassignment surgeries are a miniscule part of any military budget and in fact, as the BBC reports: “the US military spends almost $42m a year on the erectile dysfunction medication Viagra—several times the total estimated cost of transgender medical support.” By comparison, the Rand corporation estimates that expenses related to transgender soldiers fall between $5-8 million annually.

There are a few lessons to be learned from Trump’s quick turn away from his clearly stated promises to support transgender people—first, transgender issues have tended to be a safe bet for securing conservative votes. Trump may have overestimated the extent to which this is still true. Second, transgender issues continue to hold a fascination and allure that distracts people from the actual issues under discussion. Finally, transgender people are more integrated into society than ever before in history and the tide towards acceptance is unlikely to be turned back by big, dumb moves like this one. Rather than simply fight for the right for transgender people to serve in the military however, we should seize upon this issue, as Chelsea Manning did, to ask why the military has such a bloated budget in the first place and how these funds can be redirected? We should also push back in similar ways and with equal force on Trump’s attempts to: dispossess people of access to basic health care, amp up security forces and deportations, and to downsize education.

This latest measure neither reflects the current climate on transgender people in or out of the military and has no obvious purpose other than to distract from his total lack of a foreign policy, his disdain for the health of the environment, and his total inability to govern. Transgender people, many of whom have served their country selflessly, which is more than Trump and most of his cabinet can claim, will survive this latest indignity and may well see this ban overturned sooner rather than later once Trump realizes he has lost the crowd’s attention and support and has instead inspired their wrath, their pity and finally, their indifference.


Jack Halberstam is Professor of English and Gender Studies at Columbia University.

Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability explores recent shifts in the meaning of the gendered body and representation, and the possibilities of a nongendered, gender-optional, or gender-queer future.