University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > 'VD is no camp': creating and communicating knowledge about same-sex venereal disease transmission in the Anglo-American world, c.1939–1984

'VD is no camp': creating and communicating knowledge about same-sex venereal disease transmission in the Anglo-American world, c.1939–1984

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In 1964, the Mattachine Society of New York – then one of the United States’ largest groups advocating for the public understanding of homosexuals – found itself under pressure to address the issue of venereal disease (VD). Amid nation-wide concern that VD rates had been increasing steadily for a number of years, several reports highlighted the seemingly new and prominent role of homosexual men in the spread of sexually transmitted infections, particularly syphilis. At a time when homosexual relations were still penalized by law and many gay men were deeply uneasy about co-operating with public authorities, the New York Mattachine Society collaborated with the city’s health department to publish an informational leaflet, entitled ‘VD is no camp’, which was aimed specifically at this group. This presentation will examine the delicate navigations undertaken by members of the Mattachine Society to produce and distribute its leaflet. It will contrast the organisation’s collaboration with the city’s health department, on the one hand, with the suspicion of public health authorities advocated by its Californian contemporaries on the other. The presentation’s focus on these debates will highlight the need to complicate a conventional historical periodization which implies that VD did not emerge as a serious concern for men having sex with men until the 1970s. Finally, by tracing the leaflet’s circulation beyond US borders, the presentation suggests that a transnational framework may be important when analyzing responses to VD during the middle decades of the twentieth century.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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