Juan Battle is a Professor of Sociology, Public Health, & Urban Education at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (C.U.N.Y.).
Prof. Battle is a Fulbright Senior Specialist and was the Fulbright Distinguished Chair of Gender Studies at the University of Klagenfurt, Austria. His research interests include race, sexuality, and social justice. Further, he is a recent president of the Association of Black Sociologists and is actively involved with the American Sociological Association (ASA).
Question: Why does society have so much difficulty discussing sexuality?
Juan Battle: I don’t know because it’s so fun. I would think it would be easy. I don’t know. I do know that they do. There is that phrase. I forget the name of the play, but it says sex is a dirty, nasty, disgusting thing you should save for someone you love. It is a taboo subject and I think that that’s unfortunate, but and here I’m thinking sexuality just broadly, not just about sex, but just as broadly as possible. But no, I mean you know to me everybody has it. Everybody does it. Most people at some point in their life actually enjoyed it. I don’t know. I mean people call it a guilty pleasure. I don’t see why it just can’t be a pleasure, pleasure.
Question: Has sexuality become less taboo?
Juan Battle: I think practically everything has become less taboo. Watch TV. So yeah, we are. While moving forward we need to also realize that all of these things mean different things to different people and we should be about liberating everyone and not just those who agree with us.
Question: Why is there so little research on black sexuality?
Juan Battle: Two reasons I would argue. One and I tell this to everybody. What I do is a luxury. The ability to sit back and to think about these things and write about these things and publish and teach and talk about these things, it’s a luxury and so as a group you know black Americans have had a longer list of things to worry about and to deal with and to overcome and I think for the majority of populations, i.e., white populations they didn’t care. So when you have one group that doesn’t care and then one group that is too busy to deal with it it’s easy for these things to sort of get pushed off to the side and the same thing is true for Latino sexualities or for Asian or Native American or anything. It’s a particular point, a moment of luxury to think about it at that level, but I think it’s important to think about it because it could also easily be an issue of literally life and death. If you think about it from a public health perspective there are things like HIV and AIDS. If you think about it from a women’s right perspective there are discussions about abortions and a women’s right to control her own body. If you think about it from a life course perspective people’s sexuality continue and is expressed and is understood literally throughout the life course and it is a part of who people actually are and so I think it’s obviously both a luxury to think about it. I think that it’s not a luxury not to think about it.
Question: What has your research uncovered about minority sexuality?
Juan Battle: Well most of what I focus on is gay and lesbian populations in the United States. At least I focus on at this point in my career and I think that the bulk of my research is showing that within the black population, there is no monolithic experience. There are multiple experiences. But among those things that tend to matter most (and this is no surprise) is money. A friend of mine once said no matter how much money you have you will always have a conversation about money. The issue is depending on how much money you have that will dictate which conversation you have and the same thing is true concerning issues of sex and sexuality and you know expressions based on that.
I don’t know if I would say we choose partners based on money, but they definitely keep them based on money. Sorry. I’m just entertaining myself over here. Money matters and resources matter. Something I often times say is: In relationships, regardless of race, short of death, the two leading causes of the demise of relationships are sex or money broadly defined and people often times say that you know they left at the same time. I’m like no, usually one leaves and the issue is as soon as the one leaves the other one leaves so quickly you think they left at the same time. When indeed there was an order. That is true regardless of race.
Recorded on March 2, 2010