The 1980’s can be best described as a time where poofy hairstyles were in, Calvin Klein the major brand and the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States. This week, I spent my time in MARBl reviewing Emory yearbooks from 1981 and 1987. What I did notice, other than hairstyles, was how beginning with 1981, Emory’s sexuality was more apparent in public and pictures.

The first signs of sexuality were in the yearbook from 1981. This intro page reads “We kissed, and carried on- and allowed ourselves to talk about it openly in programs such as “Sex at Emory Expressed” during spring quarter.” I think that nowadays sexual talk is becoming sort of a norm between individuals in society and I was surprised to see this in because I could imagine how this little paragraph could have made such a big impact back then and how much weight it carries.

I’m sure that there is a correlation between the AIDS report in the United States to the number of sex talks on a campus such as Emory. What I would question now is, if AIDS did not exist or if it never made in impact in the US then, would we still have talked sex to our peers? Professors? World? Why did we need this negative impact to shift worldviews on sexuality and make voices heard? Today, would we still be hushed or afraid of talking sex if this never happened?

The positive impact that I can testify to, thanks to the AIDS epidemic is that voices began to speak up and were beginning to be heard. I think that because of this tragedy, we gained and are continuing to gain so much insight and knowledge about our uniqueness to one another and how communities are being created to support victims of AIDS and the LGBTQ groups. Yes, I feel that we have a long journey ahead of us in redefining what is “normal” and for those of us to get past our one minded views on relationships and discrimination but I think that we are better off than we were 30 years ago.

Programs such as “Sex at Emory Expresses” gave way to sex talk and awareness of sexuality in the Emory community. This shift towards sex talk in the classroom is more apparent today than ever before and I can see the benefit of them. Not only is this class exciting but, it raises awareness to the LGBTQ community and even helps to raise my own awareness to what my sexual opinions are. I have learned so much more in four weeks of this class than I did a full year of history.

Emory yearbook 1981. The first paragraph begins "We kissed..."


AIDS rally from Emory yearbook 1897.


3 thoughts on “Emory-1981

  1. I agree with you. From comparing my archival experience last week looking at Emory Reports from 2001-2003 to that of your work with the yearbooks from the 80s, the level of the discourse has been immensely changed. Each edition of the Emory Report contained a section allotted for an LGBT article. I think the LGBT movements of the late 20th century brought this problem to the public eye. It has influenced policy making and become a heavily discussed topic. I was initially skeptical of the sexual discourse that we would find in this class within Emory’s publications, but this example, over the relatively short time span of 20 years, shows a tangible change in the way these topics were approached. I am excited to see what else we can discover!

  2. I love that you both pointed out the recent change because I realized about an hour ago how much I take it for granted that the openness I have discussing my sexuality, and that of others, is completely accepted within my core friend group. While at dinner with a close male friend, I started talking about all the readings we had this week and last. As I spoke, I watched him get increasingly uncomfortable, glancing around when I said words such as ‘lesbian’ and ‘asexual’ too loudly.
    I don’t know if it’s inspired by movies or my own innate desire to share everything with my best female friends, but I have a hard time believing that sex and desire and questions about intimacy have not come up in women’s private conversations for hundreds of years. We talk. That’s what we do when we trust each other. I have been brought up to believe that men don’t act the same way, so perhaps it’s a foreign concept for them (you), but sharing thoughts and concerns really helps.
    For this reason, I am really glad we have become more accepting of these discussions in the academic world over the last 20-30 years. My concern is that it has only changed in the environment surrounding academia.
    For all the male students in our class, I wonder, do you feel as though these subjects have become fair game with your friends?
    Is this development in acceptable discussion only motivated by health? And if so, does that mean it is not appropriate to discuss in a family environment?

  3. Tazam: You have motivated some rich discussion with your posts from the Emory yearbook from the 80’s. I think you are spot on with your connection of AIDS discourse and discourse on sexuality in general. While the AIDS epidemic? pandemic? has brought so much pain, death, sorrow, and suffering, it also forced us to have frank conversations about sex, sexuality, and desire (and drug use but that is another class). You might even argue this disease that has taken so many lives globally ultimately saved so many lives because it forced us to talk about what we do, how we do it and how it may or may not impact our health. I think it has also forced us to learn how to collaborate across difference whether that difference is based on sexuality, class, region, or religion. As we now know, HIV/AIDS is an equal opportunity disease- while it does impact certain communities in higher numbers, ANYONE can contract it. Only together can we eradicate it.

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