A Gayle Rubin Reader


a John Hope Franklin Center Book

More about this series

Book Pages: 504 Illustrations: 4 drawings Published: November 2011

Author: Gayle S. Rubin

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, LGBTQ Studies

Deviations is the definitive collection of writing by Gayle S. Rubin, a pioneering theorist and activist in feminist, lesbian and gay, queer, and sexuality studies since the 1970s. Rubin first rose to prominence in 1975 with the publication of “The Traffic in Women,” an essay that had a galvanizing effect on feminist thinking and theory. In another landmark piece, “Thinking Sex,” she examined how certain sexual behaviors are constructed as moral or natural, and others as unnatural. That essay became one of queer theory’s foundational texts. Along with such canonical work, Deviations features less well-known but equally insightful writing on subjects such as lesbian history, the feminist sex wars, the politics of sadomasochism, crusades against prostitution and pornography, and the historical development of sexual knowledge. In the introduction, Rubin traces her intellectual trajectory and discusses the development and reception of some of her most influential essays. Like the book it opens, the introduction highlights the major lines of inquiry pursued for nearly forty years by a singularly important theorist of sex, gender, and culture.


“A collection of academic essays on sex, gender and politics from pioneering queer theory and activist Rubin, covering a range of topics including pornography as a focus of feminist rage, punitive US sex laws and the seemingly inexhaustible topic of gender boundaries.” — Diva

“As someone who is, like Rubin, committed to understanding the world through both a feminist and queer lens, I really appreciate her determination to remain engaged in feminist thinking and activism even as she was reviled by certain segments of the feminist movement for her "deviations" in sexual practice, and her openness to thinking about sexual subcultures that -- for many in our culture, even many self-identified feminists -- elicit feelings of disgust and generate sex panics. . . . Overall, I highly recommend Deviations to anyone interested in the development of feminist and sexual political theory and practice over the last forty years. . . . .” — Anna J. Cook, Feminist Librarian

“This collection of Rubin’s work demonstrates her ability to tackle academia, construct smart, sound argumentation, provide solid research, and to present shocking subject matter and radical perspectives in such a way that the reader is drawn in to her world. Deviations manages to deconstruct the deviance of human sexuality and reorder it within the perceived norm of human sexuality as a whole. It is no wonder that Rubin is lauded as groundbreaking in the disciplines of women’s and queer studies. Her influence in the LGBT community, her influence in the development of feminism and activism, and her influence in the field of anthropology are chronicled and presented in this collection, a new must-have ‘classic’ for both the student and the scholar in any of these fields.” — Tara Bell, Women's Studies

“This reader is an exemplary introduction, for younger queers, to an influential and accessible intellect.” — Richard Labonte, South Florida Gay News

“Finally: a collection of Gayle Rubin’s writings. It is long overdue and sorely needed. . . . For decades, her works appeared in scholarly journals and small-press publications. This collection includes a dozen of her already published pieces, some updated with thoughtful afterwords. She truly has something to say, not only about women and lesbian culture, but (from her unique and insightful perspective) about the sexual crisis America now faces.” — David Rosen, The Brooklyn Rail

“Gayle S. Rubin has had an incalculable impact on the study of gender and sexuality over the past 35 years. Rubin’s work changed the very language and vocabulary with which we discuss sexuality and gender. . . . It is fitting that a scholar of Gayle S. Rubin’s stature has finally been rewarded with a comprehensive collection of her most influential essays. While Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader will please seasoned scholars of queer theory and gay and lesbian studies with its first ever assemblage of Rubin’s most significant work, I believe that the collection will most benefit those who are just making their first steps into the study of queer culture.” — Chase Dimock, Lambda Literary Review

“The definitive collection of Gayle Rubin’s work is now available. . . . Deviations offers up articles that shaped the thinking of the modern feminist and LGBT movements, while contextualizing the gradual institutionalization and canonization of sexuality studies. In providing the opportunity to think through the history of American feminism, including the racialization of feminist debates on sexuality, Deviations provides an impetus for ‘thinking sex’ even more critically.” — Svati P. Shah, Women's Review of Books

“This book brings together a canonical collection of her writing, but it is more than a reader: she rewrites the genealogy of sexuality studies, giving us a precise intellectual history of sexuality studies that recognises the pivotal role played by academic homosexuals other than the now-feted and individuated Michel Foucault. . . . [I]t is clarifying to read Rubin's analyses, still germane, direct and sharp after all these years. She is alert to nuances in the social field, keen to represent the intersectionality of issues around sex, and judiciously observant of any nexus of inequality.” — Sally R. Munt, Times Higher Education

“Foundational essays and commentary from America’s preeminent queer feminist intellectual; a must-have for any scholar and every library.” — Esther Newton, author of Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas

“Gayle S. Rubin has been breaking new intellectual ground around gender and sexuality for almost four decades. This collection of essays lets us see in one place the breadth, depth, and profound originality of her thinking. It’s a wonder to behold. As I reread some familiar pieces and encountered some new ones, I was reminded how much I am in her debt.” — John D’Emilio, co-author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America

“It is rare to find an intellectual who founded an entire field of sexuality studies, whose theoretical contributions have been so far-reaching, and who continues to make rich, surprising, and singular interventions. These are the essays that riveted generations and claim our attention time and again. Gayle S. Rubin gives us the material life of sexual categories, lucid and careful argumentation, extraordinary and unprecedented archives. This brilliant collection is a gift for anyone who wants to follow the formidable trajectory of the most exacting and influential intellectual of sexuality studies.” — Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor, Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley

“The essays in Deviations cover a tightly meshed set of concerns in an extraordinarily provocative manner. Whether Gayle S. Rubin writes about antiporn politics, lesbian literary histories, gay male leather communities, S/M cultures, or butch-femme erotics, she always provides deeply engaged and respectful accounts of the kinds of knowledges that are produced in sexual subcultures but are often passed over by mainstream theorists and researchers. This is a fantastic collection, and it will be an immensely popular book.” — Judith Halberstam, author of The Queer Art of Failure


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gayle S. Rubin is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies, and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Sex, Gender, Politics 1

1. The Traffic in Women: Notes on the "Political Economy" of Sex (1975) 33

2. The Trouble with Trafficking: Afterthoughts on "The Traffic in Women" 66

3. Introduction to A Woman Appeared to Me 87

4. The Leather Menace: Comments on Politics and S/M 109

5. Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality 137

6. Afterword to "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality" 182

7. Postscript to "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality" 190

8. Blood under the Bridge: Reflections on "Thinking Sex" 194

9. The Catacombs: A Temple of the Butthole 224

10. Of Catamites and Kings: Reflections on Butch, Gender, and Boundaries 241

11. Misguided, Dangerous, and Wrong: An Analysis of Antipornography Politics 254

12. Sexual Traffic: Interview with Gayle Rubin by Judith Butler 276

13. Studying Sexual Subcultures: Excavating the Ethnography of Gay Communities in Urban North America 310

14. Geologies of Queer Studies: It's Déjà Vu All Over Again 347

Notes 357

Bibliography 425

Index 469
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Winner, 2012 Geoff Mains Nonfiction Book Award, presented by the National Leather Association – International

Winner, 2012 Ruth Benedict Prize (edited work) by the Association for Queer Anthropology

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4986-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4971-6
Publicity material