Jeffrey Escoffier

Community and Perversity: an Introduction to Jeffrey Escoffier

This is an online course (Eastern Time)

For Jeffrey Escoffier, sex is always political. And the costs of sexual oppression aren’t simply psychic, but also deeply material. Editor, scholar, and committed activist, Escoffier lived the gay liberation movement he chronicled and analyzed, the “historical trajectory,” as he put it, “from closeted individual to the dynamic of community building.” In a series of landmark sociological essays, he brought a personalized and yet thoroughly materialist perspective to bear on many of the most important and urgent questions in queer sexual politics and culture: How can we understand the emergence of marginalized sexuality identities and their coalescence into politically potent subjectivities? How does “perversity” negotiate the contours of normativity? What are the economic costs of the “closet,” and what would a “liberation economy” look like? Is there a gay aesthetic (and how has gay porn, in particular, provided a model for gay affect and practice)? What is the role of the gay intellectual—both in the university and on the streets? How can we understand the course and future of sexual liberation? Can community and perversity coexist?

In this course, held specifically in honor of this major thinker (and beloved colleague), we will explore Jeffrey Escoffier’s rich body of work as we grapple with the signal questions animating historical and contemporary movements for queer sexual liberation—from the nature of identity and its conditions of possibility to the material significance of oppression to the fractious dynamics of political mobilization. We’ll ground our exploration in Escoffier’s classic American Homo: Community and Perversity, his sweeping interpretation of homosexual life, identity, and politics in the 20th-century U.S., while delving as well into his expansive writings on AIDS, porn, dance, sex work, and socialism. Thinking dialectically with Jeffrey, we will ask what a Marxist sexual politics is and what it can provide. How do identities form, evolve, and fracture? How do transgressive identity movements navigate dominant norms—and produce new norms themselves? How can we understand the interplay of homoeroticism and homophobia in mainstream U.S. life, and what sort of space does it create for queer life and emancipation? Is transgression a ground for community? Can queerness be universal? 

Community and Perversity: an Introduction to Jeffrey Escoffier is made possible by the generous support of family, friends, and former colleagues and comrades of Jeffrey Escoffier, renowned editor, scholar, and BISR faculty. If you wish to contribute to the course and its future iterations, please visit the donation page

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 12 — October 03, 2023
4 weeks