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Number 1: Spring 2008

Interpellation and Intensity: Thinking Homosexuality with Psychoanalysis

Philip Derbyshire

The experience of homosexuality has not remained static over this period. If for much of the time, homosexuality was the constitutive outside of a vigorously normalised and coercive heterosexuality (itself the site of complex bio-political interventions) and a particularly abjected moment of the articulation of masculine identity, over the last half-century, at least in the West, homosexuality has shifted from its designation as individual or minority exception–and hence something to be policed–to one of culturally articulated plurality. The very process of autonomisation of sexuality that made homosexuality into a discrete phenomenon has intensified with all sorts of effects on the construction of sexual binaries and the experience of sexual identity.2 Homosexuality is no longer the object simply of a scrutinising gaze in search of pathological traits to be theorised in terms of a fundamental causal difference. Rather, it is now the site of a production of possibilities of desire, what might be seen as a space of intensification or incitement of pleasures: ‘gay culture’ is a sexual culture, not merely in the sense of the culture of an extant sexual minority, but in the much stronger sense of an active creation of possibilities of jouissance, to purloin Lacan’s term.

Wolfenden (I use the term as a synecdoche for the whole complex of liberalising reports and legislation of the 50s and 60s) reordered the legally administered boundaries of public and private just as other powerful tendencies within society and the economy were effacing those boundaries altogether. The emergence of an extensive space for the enjoyment of diverse sexual practices fed by the broader capitalisation and commercialisation of sexuality and the reorganisation of social conceptions of sexual threat have allowed the notion of ‘the homosexual’ to quietly expire.3 In a move which is more resonant of earlier conceptions of sexual possibility and practice, the culture of sexual experimentation is now predicated less on sexual identity and more on the generation and enjoyment of sexual intensities.


  1. It is the question of reproduction which now becomes problematic, as we can see with the bio-political anxieties about late motherhood, appropriate parenting, and the incipiently racist concerns about ‘immigrant’ fertility. 

  2. Whilst adult relations are less policed, adult-child relations seem to be increasingly freighted with anxiety and subject to forms of invasive scrutiny