Katrina Eichner

Queer Perspectives on Racialized Sexuality in 19th Century Fort Davis, Texas: Navigating Nervous Landscapes

Racist readings of African-American heterosexuality rooted in the nineteenth century have interpreted black sexual expressions as inherently “savage” and requiring social control. Eichner’s archaeological research queers the reading of black heterosexuality as deviant by showing that normative heterosexual practice is an unachievable reality. Rather, heternormativity is a structuring ideal which is mimicked through a variety of behavioral expressions that leave behind material traces. Through an investigation of the material and documentary remains of the racially segregated, nineteenth-century military establishment of Fort Davis, Texas,Eichner shows that the artificially structured fort community was not just regimented as a means of instilling discipline and enforcing power hierarchies. Instead, black bodily practice was regulated to prevent buffalo soldiers from accessing women. By investigating how gendered and sexual relationships were used by members of a multi-ethno-racial community to navigate this racially nervous landscape, Eichner argues that the economic and social commodification of these interactions resulted in increased access to material resources and social support. By entering into heterosexual and homosocial relationships, both informally and formally, black soldiers used this new social mobility to maintain autonomy over their social interactions and masculine rights.