Dissertations in Progress

History of Sexuality Dissertations in Progress

Ryan Adelsheim, Drama

“Unfinished: Queer Identity in Process on the American Stage, 1972-2022”

My dissertation considers the aesthetic and structural intervention queer artists make that produces feelings of fracturing, fading, and fizzling, what I am calling the queer unfinished. Beginning in the 1970s, a period of calcification of vocabulary for queerness and simultaneous expansion of representation, this project considers how queer identity onstage is constantly in a process of “becoming” alongside evolutions in LGBTQ politics and thought.  Building on ideas of queer time and failure, I examine how cultural texts—ranging from domestic drama to dance theater to ambitious historical reimaginings—are tied to an unfinished queer history and archival silence. The queer unfinished allows artists to occupy this space in the archive and facilitates a movement between, or awareness of, previously fractured identities in queer public cultures. I argue that this aesthetic intervention holds a future-focused impulse that allows previously overlooked theatrical work to offer a new perspective on the ongoing survival and invention of and by queer artists.

Beshouy Botros, History

“Before Trans Medicine: Race, Gender and Coloniality Between Egypt and the Maghreb”

My dissertation project reckons with a coincidence: two surgeons, on opposite ends of Northern Africa, in Cairo and Casablanca, perform gender affirming procedures in the mid-twentieth century. “Coincidence” signals my non-teleological, non-causal approach to historical inquiry and some of my operational questions; what made trans medicine uniquely feasible in Egypt and Morocco, and inversely, how did Northern African racial topologies shape trans medicine. In the mid-twentieth century Georges Burou, the Franco-Algerian who moved to Casablanca on the eve of the Algerian War of Independence, and Ludwig Levy-Lenz, the German Jew who worked with Magnus Hirschfield before fleeing Nazi Germany and opening a clinic in Cairo, confronted racial, religious and sexual differences with long histories. It would be easy to explain their itineraries in terms of convenience; both doctors fled European wars and settled in major cities on the other side of the Mediterranean, but this would discount the complexity of the worlds they entered, worlds where people had nuanced Amazigh and Arabic grammars for understanding the body. Mining these grammars and prehistories, I turn to a very long nineteenth century as I read Arabic-language medical treatises and analyze the advent of modern medical education in Northern Africa. By excavating the meanings of race, gender and sexuality as they were expressed in Northern Africa, before trans medicine, my project proposes that these dialogical negotiations shaped the emergence of trans medicine and the modern social body more broadly.

Sophia DeLeonibus, History

“The Age of Identity: Gender & Cultural Meanings of Sexual Difference”

Our understanding of the cultural and political significance of sexual dimorphism through the conceptual paradigm of gender identity is a historically novel phenomenon. This project traces the intellectual history of gender identity and asks how the concept has changed understandings of the sexed body as a cultural object and become a primary lens through which we understand the embodied fact of our existence. In doing so, I track the rise of identity as a contingent and historical conceptual framework in its own right. To this end, I explore the spread and rising significance of two postwar concepts – gender and identity – and their entwinement in debates over the essence of selfhood in American psychoanalytic, psychological, feminist, queer, and political thought from the 1950s through the end of the twentieth century.

Kelsey Henry, American Studies

“Developmental Humanisms: Black Histories of Developmental Science and Biomedicine in the Twentieth Century U.S.”

My dissertation follows the underexplored legacies of nineteenth-century scientific metrics of human development and racial difference, metrics forged in the crucible of racial slavery, in histories of twentieth-century developmentalism. I study what is retained and reconfigured of nineteenth-century racial developmentalism, namely a tendency to equate blackness with an “overdeveloped” sexual body and an “underdeveloped” mind, in twentieth century pediatric medicine, endocrinology, and neurobiology. While developmental metrics, including pediatric growth charts and diagnostic criteria for developmental disability, are often perceived as race-neutral, this dissertation argues that developmental standards and technologies for managing child and adolescent growth were tailored to white bodies, minds, and sexualities from their inception. I intervene in critical black studies scholarship on the afterlives of slavery by foregrounding scientific metrics of human development as a cultural field through which the racial parameters of the human have been repeatedly renegotiated, and how this comes to bear on the measurement and management of black life in the twentieth century.

Kate Redburn, History

“The Private Square: Gay Rights, Religious Freedom, and U.S. Political Economy at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century”

My dissertation examines the changing meaning of sexual and religious freedom in the marketplace since the mid-1960s. I show how conflicts between LGBT legal advocates and conservative Christian lawyers have changed the way law structures the relationships between state, market, and subject, by looking closely at the history of public accommodations law. In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, U.S. legal consensus held that private businesses serving the general public were subject to anti-discrimination laws, even when the proprietors objected to racial equality on religious grounds. By 2017, that consensus had largely deteriorated, and cases before the Supreme Court in 2020 suggest that a religious exemption to anti-discrimination law may become constitutional nationwide. How should we understand this dramatic change? I argue that the conservative vision succeeded in devolving public powers of inclusion and recognition to private parties, recalibrating public law to protect religious and business interests, and sometimes limiting the reach of public law altogether. I suggest that these changes form an important part of the transition from a New Deal political economy into a lopsided neoliberalism, where some subjects are rewarded and others penalized for non-normativity in their quest for full economic citizenship.

Carlo Sariego, Sociology and WGSS

“Cracking the Egg Along the Edge of the Horizon: Trans Reproductive Potential Against State Control, Technology, and Desire in the Past, Present and Future”

My dissertation examines the intersection between state reproductive control and transgender

reproduction through an interdisciplinary and multi-method qualitative study of archival materials, legislative and legal documents, analyses of repro tech, and semi-structured interviews with trans adults. This project sits at the intersection between transgender studies, reproductive studies, and state theory in order to examine the contemporary emergence of an increased focus on trans reproduction to expand the concept of trans repro futurity. As such, this dissertation seeks to push theories of transgender reproduction beyond just a question of what is necessary towards one of what is possible by looking at trans repro pasts, presents, and futures. 

Hannah Srajer, History

“The Clockwork Cure: Behavior Modification and Rehabilitative Logics in the American Carceral State, 1950-1990”

My dissertation explores the allegedly rehabilitative behavior modification programs implemented in federal and state prisons from the late 1960s to the 1990s. Key to the agenda of those programs was the project of gender and sexual normativity and the construction of the ideal worker of racial capitalism. The proliferation of behavior modification programs functioned to police gender, heterosexual, and racial norms, linking “violent,” “deviant,” and “criminal” behavior to homosexuality and gender queerness. My dissertation’s analysis of such programs shows how racial, sexual, and gender norms are co-constituted through modern penal technologies. More broadly, I illustrate how prison’s investment in behavior modification—scientifically and medically-informed, expert-led “rehabilitative” programs—expanded and enriched punitive carceral institutions and carceral violence in the United States.