Since the late eighteenth century, sex has occupied a privileged place in Western cultures. For the past two hundred years, sex has seemed to tell us something essentially "true" about who we are. More than just biological necessity or personal preference, sexuality envelops us in a web of practices, institutions, discourses, pleasures, fantasies, and desires that organize our relations both to ourselves and to each other, as individuals and as groups.
This course will follow the play between sex and gender as it has unfolded across the last two centuries in order to explore the significance that these ways of making sense of human experience have for us today. In particular we will examine the paradoxical oscillation between "equality" and "difference" that cuts across our ideas of personhood and that has made the emergence of what we call "sexual politics" possible. By focusing on how sexual and gender differences have been made meaningful historically, we will try to understand how what we now call feminist and queer theory became imaginable.