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Number 1: Spring 2008

Interpellation and Intensity: Thinking Homosexuality with Psychoanalysis

Philip Derbyshire

Even the AIDS crisis has failed to produce the threatened regression to exclusion and recriminalisation–a fantasy held by many in the depths of the 80s. Indeed, it could be argued that the social recognition of AIDS, the public imaging of erstwhile taboo sexual practices and the mobilisation of sections of the state in the management of the health crisis (involving the co-option of sectors of the gay movement) have produced a new set of discourses about the biological and human rights that were instrumental in reorganising the social body of homosexuality. In a sense, AIDS enabled a certain social ‘coming-out’ which fed directly into the legitimising of new forms of affective relationships. The experience of gay ‘families’ rallying round to look after ill and dying men, often after their biological families had disowned them, was both touching and confirmatory of a new possibility of emotional life. The AIDS crisis produced a culture of affective plurality that was, ironically, a complement to the sexual pluralism that had unwittingly been one of its causes.

The experience has produced contradictory consequences. The new visibility of gay men as carers, as affectively potent, fed into the shift in attitudes that would lead to the wholesale reorganisation of the legal position of gay men (and lesbians) with regard to partnership and child-raising. The legalisation itself was refracted through the priority given to coupledom, which is increasingly seen as the sole domain of non-mediated human interactions–that is the valorisation of partner love as the basis of what is left of the private: the homosexual couple is privileged and becomes the ‘ideal’ of emotional commitment, erasing the more complex forms of affective engagement, precisely revealed in the crisis, and endlessly permutated within gay modernity. The traumatic effects of the experience of illness, death and stigma that was the lot of many during the first years of the epidemic have also been repressed. In many ways, a certain repudiation of the memory of the epidemic, and the sexual and social possibilities that found a voice before it, have led to an unexplored and untheorised melancholy within gay culture, even as it undergoes radical reconstruction, in part through changes in the production of the subject as such. What Deleuze and Guattari have called the ‘direct social investment of the body’ has been reconfigured: a new array of cultural, mediated and institutional forms address the nascent subject, outside the paradigm of familial patterns, and reinforce subjective forms through an unmediated access to libidinal configurations. What I have in mind here is the techno-cultural penetration of the erstwhile private sphere, the proliferation of a sort of haptic imagery that works directly on the body. What these shifts reconfigure is a new terrain of tension, uncertainty and competing choices, which duly become the site for psychoanalytic intervention.