ABSTRACT

Eve Sedgwick (1990) inaugurates her study Epistemology of the Closet with a grand narrative gesture she calls “risking the obvious” (22). The phrasing is deceptive in its simplicity, because when it comes to the language of sex (and the closet, after all, is about that curious referentiality, that “open secret” of sex) what is obvious for some becomes for others something to disavow. When speaking about sex, there is that queer contradiction between the ambiguity of language itself and the dominant insistence upon the stability of meaning in sex practices. As Cindy Patton (1991, 374) wryly observes, “The language of sex is so imprecise, so polyvalent that it is ‘hard’ to know when we are talking about sex and when we are talking about busi­ ness or politics or other weighty matters [like education].” We are left with the questions of what is imagined when sex is imagined and what is imag­ ined when what is euphemistically called “sex education” is imagined. To return to Sedgwick’s formulation, what can “risking the obvious” and plac­ ing the obvious at risk mean when the labile subject of sex is so conspicu­ ously contested, masked, rated, counted, disavowed, and made synonymous with one’s identity?