Reading Group: Gayle Rubin | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
University of Pittsburgh

Reading Group: Gayle Rubin

September 28, 2017 - 5:00pm - 7:00pm

Room 407 Cathedral of Learning

In order to prepare for Rubin's visit, GSWS is offering two reading groups open to faculty and graduate students. These are meant as an invitation to read Rubin's less famous works, get re-familiarized with her two field-opening essays, and situate them in her broader trajectory over the past 40 years. 

Few thinkers have been as influential to feminist theory, gay and lesbian studies, and queer theory, as Gayle Rubin. Her fame dates back to 1975 when, as a young graduate student, she published "The Traffic in Women," a precocious essay that originated in her honor's thesis and which was quickly considered a classic in feminist theory: in it, in addition to introducing the concept of "gender" to US-American anthropology, she was also among the first feminists to use what was not yet known as "French Theory," notably the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan, roughly one decade before they became common references for students of gender and sexuality.

In the late 1970s, she was perhaps the first to notice the importance of Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, which one decade later would arguably be the most influential work on early queer theory. In 1978, as a doctoral student, she also embarked on an ethnography of gay male leather communities in the Bay Area, at the same time as she became a central lesbian SM activist through the co-founding of Samois, the first lesbian SM organization on record. As a result of her involvement in lesbian SM activism, she became embattled in what would soon be known as the "feminist sex wars." 

One of the most prominent advocates of what was sometimes called "pro-porn feminism" and which she preferred calling "anti-anti-porn feminism," she came back from the trenches with a new seminal work. Her 1984 "Thinking Sex" offered a reassessment of her earlier theories, and it also laid the ground for new studies of sexuality. The essay was so influential that in 1993, it opened the first Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader and it has since often been called a foundation for gay and lesbian studies, sexuality studies, or of queer theory. 

While "Thinking Sex" has at times been read as a break away from feminism, Rubin has always denied having ever given up feminism. On the contrary, she has constantly reminded her readers of the feminist context in which the essay originated. Throughout the years, a series of less famous, but not necessarily less important, works have shown a deepened interest in the formation of sexual identities and cultures, particularly in urban settings, together with a constant engagement with feminism and feminists. 

 In these two readings groups, we offer to return to Gayle Rubin's major contributions, theoretical, methodological, as well as political. We will read or re-read Rubin's seminal essays, but also less famous, and more recent works. For convenience, Rubin's works will be divided in two parts. We will first read Rubin, the gender theorist/activist; and, 2 weeks later, we will read Rubin the sex theorist/activist. This division is merely for convenience given the need to study a trajectory that spans 40 years. It in no way implies a belief on our part in a clear-cut division or a denial of significant overlaps between the two sections.  

The first reading group, on Rubin, the gender theorist/activist, will be held on Thursday, Sept. 28th, 5-7pm, in CL 407.

The second reading group, on Rubin the sex theorist/activist, will be held on Thursday, October 12th, 5-7pm, in CL 407.

 The readings will be posted to In order to get access to them, email Most (but not all) of them will be excerpted from Gayle S. Rubin, Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader.

View PDF Flyer here.

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