Plenary Session Abstracts

Sexual Nationalisms, Old and New, in the Age of Terror


In this paper, I will attempt to think historically about our present, that is, “actualité” – and more specifically, “actualité sexuelle.” In order to do so, I hope to speak transnationally about national issues, that is, to address sexual nationalisms both in a national framework and in a geopolitical perspective. The story will start in the 1990s with the logic of French sexual exceptionalism in the transatlantic mirror, before shifting after September 11, 2001, to a global perspective – with the emergence of the rhetoric of the sexual clash of civilizations that has fueled discussions about sexual nationalisms, homonationalism, and femonationalism. However, instead of arguing that new sexual nationalisms have replaced old ones, I wish to argue that both coexist today, which became apparent in the battle against “marriage for all” in France. On the one hand, we still live in a world of sexual terror, from Cologne to Orlando; on the other, we now live in a world of gender menace, from Brazil to Poland, and of course in Trump’s America. This is the ambiguity or even the tension that defines this moment – our “actualité.”

“Ebola from Brussels”: The Anti-colonial Frame and the Transnational War against Gender



This article examines the ideological dimension of the contemporary war on gender – the ongoing wave of grassroots mobilizations in various locations opposing gender equality, LGBT rights, and sex education – to show how this phenomenon fits into a broader context of transnational right-wing theorizing and mobilization. First, we offer a critical overview of existing interpretations of this trend. Next, we apply textual analysis methods to various anti-gender documents, including anti-gender books, articles, and statements published on the WebPages of specific movements and organizations, as well as statements on the subject made by representatives of the Catholic Church. We show that anti-gender rhetoric consistently employs anti-colonialism as its frame: “genderism” is demonized as a form of neocolonial violence, a Western imposition on local cultures. More than just one theme among others, the idea that genderism is a form of colonialism functions as anti-genderism’s organizing principle. It also serves as a bridge among various strands of right-wing populism. The selective use of the arguments and concepts from post-colonial theory by conservative forces is in itself a noteworthy phenomenon, but the present analysis references this debate by emphasizing its implications for contemporary transnational feminism and gender studies.

Refuge, Sexuality, Shopping, or Redemption in the Aegean: on crosslocations in Lesvos, Greece 


Lesvos is just across the way from the mainland of the Western coast of Turkey. During 2015, that location made it a key transit point for refugees traveling from troubled places, via Turkey, to the European Union area.  For a time, Lesvos became part of a western-focused transnational field in which the refugees are discussed, negotiated, regulated (or not), managed, surveilled, researched, and moved – usually, moved on, until they get stuck somewhere else for a time, and have to wait until they are moved again.

Yet this status of the island as one of the key transit points for refugees is not the only transnational field of which Lesvos is a part. For some years, it has also been a part of an LGBTQ transnational field: the poet Sappho, who famously wrote about women who loved women, was from the island. Nineteenth century scholars trained in classical literature (who were not from Greece, nor from Lesvos), coined the term ‘lesbian’ to refer to women who love women. A century later, in the 1980s, women who identified with the term, mostly from the USA and the UK initially, began to visit the island for holidays. That is a second kind of transnational movement involving Lesvos.

A third transnational movement involves local residents of the island. It concerns women from Mytilene, the capital city, who occasionally take the weekly ferry to Ayvalik, a small coastal market town on the Turkish side, to shop at the street bazaar held there every Thursday. There are rumours that some of these women not only shop for market goods, but for something else as well. Here, the border between the Greek island and the Turkish mainland provides a separation that becomes the object of multiple different types of desire.

And a fourth form of movement is not transnational, but intra-national: there are sacred places in the mountains of Lesvos which are the focus of large-scale Greek Orthodox pilgrimages, particularly from people who live in Athens, every year. The pilgrims travel to the island and then walk into the mountains to find redemption.

These very different forms of movement to and from the island provide traces of gender, sexuality, nationality, religiosity and debates about what constitutes ‘Europe’. The paper argues that these different forms of movement also trace how Lesvos constitutes different locations, depending on the island’s relations and separations with other locations – geographical, political, moral and epistemological.