Teaching the Conflicts in Queer Studies or Making Things Perfectly Queer? Allison Fernley Salt Lake Community College
Queer Studies/Theory at SLCC First GLBT class taught in Spring 2006. Catalog description: ENGL 2850 GLBT Studies Intro to postmodern and queer theories of societal gender construction as seen in literature & film, beginning with the history of heterosexism and questioning modern US society’s treatment of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgendered people. Enrollment in this course implies nothing about the student’s sexual orientation.
Student Population and Concerns • “I just need a diversity credit and your class was the only one open.” • “I need a place to feel safe to wear makeup and women’s clothing as I begin my transition from male to female.” • “I want to know how to make my parents more accepting. They threw me out of the house when I came out.” • “What’s the best way to come out?” • “My best friend committed suicide and his parents thought it was actually better that he died than be gay! I was so horrified! How could any parent think this?” • “How can I defend myself against the rampant homophobia I encounter daily—at school, at home, on the job?”
Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts can Revitalize American Education, 1992 Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind, 2003 They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing with Readings (with Cathy Birkenstein and Russell Durst), 2008 Gerald Graff’s Approach to Teaching
Graff and Birkenstein on Judith Butler “Contemporary feminist debates over the meaning of gender lead time and again to a certain sense of trouble, as if the indeterminacy of gender might eventually culminate in the failure of feminism. Perhaps trouble need not carry such a negative valence.”
Teresa de Lauretis • 1990: differences : “[H]omosexuality is no longer to be seen simply as marginal with regard to a dominant, stable form of sexuality (heterosexuality) against which it would be defined either by opposition or homology.” • The term “queer” should function as a critically disruptive force; “juxtaposed to . . . ‘lesbian and gay’ [it] is intended to mark a certain critical distance from the latter, by now established and often convenient, formula.”
Michel Foucault – The History of Sexuality “For a long time, the story goes, we supported a Victorian regime, and we continue to be dominated by it even today. . . It is said that no society has been more prudish; never have the agencies of power taken such care to feign ignorance of the thing they prohibited. . . . But it is the opposite that has become apparent. . . never have there existed more centers of power, never more attention [to sex] manifested and verbalized . . . .”
Challenges to Foucault • Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization, 2003. • Larry Kramer, ACTUP activist, 2009. • Rictor Norton, The Myth of the Modern Homosexual, 1997.
Gender and Bodies Deconstruct • In Gender Trouble, Butler troubles the most basic taxonomies of sexuality, desire and orientation. • No longer do we have the simple, essentialized notion that biologically sexed bodies are yoked to innate gender identities from which easily flows “appropriate” desires for the other-sexed body : Body ≠ gender ≠ desire ≠ sexual orientation.
Eve Sedgwick’s Closet Musings • “Axiom 1: People are different from each other.”
David Halperin • Queer could include “some married couples without children. . . or even (who knows?) some married couples with children – with, perhaps, very naughty children.”
Leo Bersani Danger of a queer umbrella under which heterosexuals become “straight-identified queers.”
Queercore, Bimbox, and QUASH • Queer is not a specific sexuality, ‘‘but the freedom to personalize anything you see or hear then shoot it back into the stupid world more distorted and amazing than it was before.” • “You are entering a gay and lesbian-free zone. . . Effective immediately, BIMBOX is at war against lesbians and gays. A war in which modern queer boys and queer girls are united against the prehistoric thinking and demented self-serving politics of the above-mentioned scum.” • “Assimilation is killing us. We are falling into a trap. Some of us adopt an apologetic stance stating, ‘that’s just the way I am’ (read ‘I’d be straight if I could’). Others pattern their behavior in such a way as to mimic heterosexual society so as to minimize the glaring differences between us and them.”
Andrew Sullivan • “No cures or re-educations, no wrenching private litigation, no political imposition of tolerance; merely a political attempt to enshrine formal public equality, whatever happens in the culture and society at large.” • Homosexuals must have equal access to the military and to marriage.
Michael Warner • “Marriage sanctifies some couples at the expense of others.” • Wouldn’t gay people who want marriage be deriving a sense of pride “from the invidious and shaming distinction between the married and the unmarried?” • “An ethical vision of queer politics [should be] centered on the need to resist the state regulation of sexuality.”
Popular Culture • I Love You, Man • Bride Wars
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg “I walked across a vast field. Women and men and children stood on the edges of the field looking at me, smiling and nodding. I headed toward a small round hut near the edge of the woods. I had a feeling I had been in this place before. There were people who were different like me inside. . . I looked around. It was hard to say who was a woman, who was a man. . .I felt my whole life coming full circle. Growing up so different, coming out as a butch, passing as a man, and then back to the same question that had shaped my life: woman or man.”
Nikki Sullivan, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory • “While Queer Theory may now be recognised by many as an academic discipline, it nevertheless continues to struggle against the straitjacketing effects of institutionalisation, to resist closure and remain in the process of ambiguous (un)becoming. Queer Theory does not want to ‘straighten up and fly right,’ to have the kinks ironed out of it: it is a discipline that refuses to be disciplined, a discipline with a difference, with a twist if you like . . . [it aims] to make strange, to frustrate, to counteract, to delegitimise, to camp up heteronormative knowledges and institutions and the subjectivities and socialities that are (in)formed by them and that (in)form them.”