Last week I received this call from Rachel Hope Cleves at the University of Victoria for a special issue of Early American Studies she’s editing on the subject of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America:”
Deadline for Proposal: 31 January 2013In a 1993 article in Sciences, biologist and historian Anne Fausto-Sterling provocatively argued that human sex could not be neatly divided into two simple categories, men and women. Instead, she recommended a five-part system of categorization, including men, women, merms, ferms, and herms. At the time of publication, Fausto-Sterling’s tongue-in-cheek proposal provoked more criticism than applause, but in the past two decades scholars in a wide range of disciplines, from neuroscience to gender studies, have added evidence to her assertion that binary sex categories are not a biological rule. With a few exceptions, however, historians of early America have been slow to question the binary of man and woman. In the uproar provoked by her proposal, few recall that Fausto-Sterling began her article not with a headline grabbed from the daily papers, but with an historical example dating to 1840s Connecticut.Now, recent work by historians including Elizabeth Reis, Clare Sears, and Peter Boag, indicates a growing attention to the instability of sex in early America. Their studies illuminate the existence and social knowledge of individuals whose bodies, gender identities, and desires defied neat divisions. Moreover, these works provoke questions about the coherence of the binary sex categories that historians assume as foundational. What did it mean to be a woman or a man in early America, if, as Reis points out, in 1764 a thirty-two year old woman named Deborah Lewis could change sex, becoming a man named Francis Lewis, and live for another six decades as an accepted patriarch within his community? How fixed were sex identities in early America? What possibilities existed for the expression of gender identities that stood at variance with embodied sex? What social practices created opportunities for the blending and rearrangement of sex identities? How did hierarchies of race and class destabilize or re-stabilize sex binaries? Should “men” and “women” be understood as variable rather than unitary categories?To encourage these questions, and others like them, Early American Studies invites proposals for essay submissions on the theme of “Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America” for a special issue to be published in fall 2014. Early American Studies is an interdisciplinary journal that welcomes contributions from the fields of history, art history, literary studies, religious studies, music, philosophy, and material culture studies among others. Possible topics might include (but are not limited to) bodies in doubt, female masculinity, racialized constructions of sex, religious gender crossing, and transgenderism in North America before 1860. Proposals of 300 words are due by January 31, 2013, and should be emailed to rcleves AT uvic DOT ca. Authors whose proposals are accepted will submit completed drafts of their essays by July 15, 2013.