Journal Club: Relationship Diversity

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“Queer Intimacies: A New Paradigm for the Study of Relationship Diversity” by Phillip L. Hammack, David M. Frost, & Sam D. Hughes (2019). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00224499.2018.1531281 (Requires journal access)

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer. We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology. Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at asexualagenda@gmail.com for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.


Summary
The authors aim to produce a new queer paradigm of intimacies and relationships, which they classify into multiple groups (same-sex relationships, trans relationships, multiple relationships simultaneously, etc.), putting together a massive review of (mostly sexological) literature.

General problems
– They claim to have a Kuhnian paradigm shift, but they’re not really questioning fundamental assumptions.
– The review suffered from being too ambitious. Individual sections seemed to rely on a small number of references, and were very scattershot.
– The terminology they use is frequently inconsistent, for instance using “nonasexual” in one paragraph and “sexual” in the next.
– The paper claims that a queer paradigm rejects essentialism, but we noticed some choices in the paper that nonetheless struck us as essentialist.
– The paper equates intimacy with relationships.
– The historical summary of the article seems to overlook pro-lgbt sexological research prior to 1970. There’s no mention of Hirschfeld or how his research was burnt down by Nazis, for instance.
– They seem to want to separate each of the sections and not talk about overlap. For instance, at some point they restrict same-sex relationships to those between cisgender people, apparently to keep this section non-overlapping with the trans section.

Asexual and Aromantic Intimacies
– We would have liked to the paper to have gone in more depth with this section.
– It contains the odd claim that a 1993 study on Boston Marriages was the begining of academic study on asexual relationships.
– Contrary to the title, there’s virtually nothing about aromanticism.
– One paragraph says the two most frequent questions are about gender differences in the prevalence of asexuality, and whether asexuals are more or less likely to be in relationships. It’s not clear that these really are the most frequently asked questions, but they are commonly answered, and it’s odd that they don’t even mention the well-known asexual/nonbinary overlap.
– Some of the definitions are off. Demisexuality is defined as sexual attraction requiring romantic attraction (even though it’s defined more correctly in the bisexuality section). They don’t make it clear that the “ace spectrum” includes asexuality. The term “aromantic spectrum” is used but not defined.
– They did at least mention that the distinction between sex and romance might be useful in understanding non-asexual non-aromantic relationships.

The kink section
– This paper fell into the same pitfalls that the journal club discussed in relation to another paper on BDSM.
– It repeatedly claims that the “core” of kink dynamics is power exchange, which absolutely essentializes one way to do kink.
– They say that most research focuses on “practices” or “scenes”, but they prefer to focus on relationships. This is a really odd choice, and is an example of how throughout the paper they equate intimacy with relationships.
– The paper seems to be breathlessly positive and defensive about kink, like they’re trying to be a PR officer. For example, every few sentences emphasizes the consensuality of kink.
– It emphasizes the norm of equality in relationships, brushing off the power differentials that exist in normative heterosexual relationships.

Other sections
– Most of the trans section seemed to be focused on the relationships between lesbians and trans men. The paper claims this is the most studied configuration, although we don’t have a way to verify that.
– The chosen family section claims that gay men are especially creative in forming chosen families, and that lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to stay with their biological families. There didn’t seem to be citations for this, so we were wondering where it even came from.
– They advocate that bisexual and pansexual be studied separately. We understand wanting to see if there’s a difference, but it’s very presumptuous to say that there must be.

Foucault
– At several points, the paper cites Foucault’s “The History of Sexuality”.
– Extremely briefly, “The History of Sexuality” counters the idea that sexuality was repressed during the Victorian era. In fact, at the time there was an explosion of more discourse on sex.
– Foucault talks about the creation of the idea of types of people, such as people deemed homosexual. He takes a strong stance against trying to taxonomize things.
– So it’s very ironic to see the authors say that a queer paradigm is about cataloging the diversity of human intimacies, and then in the next sentence cite Foucault.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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