In a previous life, far removed from the one I now live, I was hired to teach courses in “the sociology of the family.” Sexualities-specific gigs were few and far between, and it seemed that courses on “the family” would at least offer an opportunity to teach and think about relationships, intimacies, and connections. Unfortunately, 20+ years ago, these courses seemed to traffic in unexamined assumptions, not least of which was evident in the definite article “the.” Textbooks and related materials were organized around the argument that there was a hegemonic “family,” and by inference, one primary set of relationships, roles, connections, and paths into and out of these relationships. Anyone wishing to learn about multiplicities of intimacies, families in the plural, relationships, and selves had to search hard for even a little information.
This book – an extensive exploration of multiple aspects and forms of relationships, intersections, identities, paths, experiences, and sociocultural contexts – is delightfully removed from the sociology of intimacies of the past. It is a timely, fundamentally necessary volume. How do we live, love, desire, and choose within our contexts? How do we narrate ourselves and our relationships? How do we make sense of who we are, how we share our lives, and how we create connections with others? How do we understand and navigate barriers, challenges, and structural inequalities?
Several things would seem to be useful in a nuanced, sensitive exploration of these issues. First, application and development of empirical and theoretical frames so that thinker/activists within and beyond the ‘full range of the rainbow’ can find one another. Second, clarity about the ways in which intimate and sexual citizenship is both a micro- and macro- sociological project, ever changing but always grounded in entangled social contexts. And finally, an acknowledgment of the pleasures and pains involved in (re)developing the language, systems, and structures that underlie relationships and identities.
Let’s address theoretical and empirical frames first. As the contributions to this volume make clear, community seems to be a basic building block for enabling us to find one another and find ourselves. As a scholar-activist, and to the extent that I desire any public, social change regarding expanded understandings of relationships, it is vital to connect with others. Sociologists know all too well the pitfalls of overgeneralization (“an n of one does not a sample make” was drilled into us in methods classes). Multiple sources and forms of data, from autoethnographic to focus group to quantitative to interview, add textured layers of knowledge to the still exploratory data on most aspects of relationships across and within the rainbow. A community of scholar-activists, adding to the fund of knowledge and action, will help advance our collective goals and understanding.
To this end, acknowledgment of the complexities of intimate, sexual citizenship is warranted. In imagining sexual and intimate citizenship as a privilege, or a right, perhaps, we can envision the best-case scenarios of individuals and groups, freed to live authentically. Still, we cannot help but see complexities still to be disentangled. In what ways is the privilege of intimate/sexual citizenship still mired within an unequal world and unequal nations? What disrupts individuals from finding space, time, and resources to create and live in the relational spaces that nurture them? How do things like race, ethnicity, class, health, age, place, and spirituality matter? In what ways do complex bureaucracies, stagnant social institutions, and antiquated customs block us from finding each other, our selves, and our relational, romantic, familial, sexual and communal bonds?
There is pleasure and pain in these journeys, and in those described so critically in this book. The authors and editors utilize a range of tools to illuminate communities, stories, and struggles. We carve out spaces for connection, for seeing ourselves reflected online and ‘in real life,’ for using our voices to narrate our experiences. We see the limitations of those spaces and of our selves. We name the pain, or try to – stigma, shame, isolation, depression, loneliness, aloneness, fear, sadness. We chase the pleasures – a sense of unity, connection, belonging; self-awareness; choices, friendships, meanings, intensities; love, acceptance, feelings. In the pages that follow, we are called to speak, listen, hear, see, think, reflect, and feel. In acknowledging the beauty of the full range of the rainbow, we acknowledge our connections with each other as much as we recognize the varied scholarship, activism, and arguments herein.