Race and Sexuality
As with human sexuality in general, LGBTQ+ topics, or really any other broadly neglected topic in social justice and well-being, education on the intersection of racism and human sexuality is important to propelling and sustaining change. Race and human sexuality are inseparable in our society and culture, and the effects of neglecting that connection have been emotionally, socially, and economically catastrophic for communities of color.
Race as a social construct involves sexual dimensions, in addition to many of the same physical, emotional, mental, economic, and social dimensions as sexual health. From the hypersexualization of people of color to racism-based group trauma, denial and abuse in sexual healthcare, and higher rates of sexual violence against LGBTQ+ people of color, race and human sexuality are fundamentally inseparable. Additionally, because sexual health and social health have a reciprocal relationship, racism is a major factor that harms people of color’s sexual health.
The following five books are great resources to learn more about the relationship between race and sexuality, and to further or start your antiracist and sexual health activism.
A particularly poignant topic is birth control and reproductive rights. We are all well aware of the “my body my choice” rallying cry, and the fact that everyone has a right to birth control and their body. However, this has historically (and contemporarily) not been the case for women and people of color with uteruses, specifically in the United States. They have had their access to reproductive care restricted or denied, had their bodies abused for medical advancement, and have been forced or coerced into taking birth control. The reality is that we cannot cry “my body my choice” or “reproductive care for all,” if we do not fight for everyone.
In Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology, Diedre Cooper Owens unveils the range of scientific literature and communications on racist gynecological practices, in an easily absorbable package. She discusses J. Marion Sims, who is hailed as the “father of gynecology,” and his unethical medical experiments on enslaved women to cure physical childbirth complications. Owens also explores the involvement of poor, Irish immigrant women in the history of American gynecology. Despite their involvement and expertise in Sims’ and further doctors' gynecological practices, the enslaved and poor women were given no credit. The evolution of these classist and racist gynecological practices legitimized theories on white supremacy, classism, and nationality, which still exist today.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth look at the history of race and reproductive rights in the United States, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts is an incredible book. Roberts covers the racist history of gynecology in the United States, as well as the connection between Eugenics, racist Welfare stereotypes, and birth control and reproductive rights. Roberts argues that we have to stop only prioritizing white, cisgender, affluent women, which have historically been the mainstream target of reproductive justice. We must realize that there is no “justice” in reproductive justice if we do not first address the inequities and abuses in the system.
One of the classic explorations of race and human sexuality is Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis. Davis delves into the history of how the influence white supremacy and elitism kept the mainstream Women’s Liberation movement from embracing women of color and an intersectional attitude. Davis focuses on the inequity and power imbalance between the wealthy white women and women of color in the Women’s Liberation movement through a Marxist lens.
A similar, more recent analysis of the feminism and race is White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to the Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck. Beck covers the suffragettes, modern corporate feminism, and wide array of underrepresented groups within feminism. Like Davis, Beck argues that elitism and white supremacy have blinded and made mainstream feminism insular. Both Women, Race, and Class and White Feminism are great reads for any person looking to broaden their feminist studies or be more inclusive in their activism and politics.
As a non-binary person, I frequently hear people saying that being transgender or non-binary is a very new thing, or even a social phase. That could not be further from the truth. We have existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, all over the world, and in various forms. Our experiences of being non-binary have been and are integral parts of people’s societies, cultures, and histories globally. We are revolutionary, emergent people, especially in communities of color.
Reclaiming Two Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal, and Sovereignty in Native America by Gregory D. Smithers covers the history of “Two-Spirit '' people — who are both male and female — in Indigenous American populations. The onset and evolution of colonization and white violence against Indigenous people worked to suppress and silence Two-Spirit people. Even now, as fundamental parts of Indigenous resistance and resurgence, these people are decolonizing gender and sexuality, and, therefore, the future.
Learning about racism, although extremely important, is just one part of the work to be ant-racist. Being antiracist involves consistently identifying and working to dismantle racism in all of its forms, including recognizing and breaking down internalized racism and biases.
How does being antiracist look in regards to human sexuality? It looks like listening and learning when you do something that is racist and upholds white supremacy. It looks like considering why your and others' racial sexual biases and stereotypes exist, why they are harmful, and how to remove them. It looks like fighting for truly inclusive, accessible, and non-exploitative sexual health care and justice. It also looks like pushing for comprehensive sexual health education for youth and well as for adults.