(Sarah Chavez, Clarence Harlan Orsi, Jennifer Perrine, Timothy Schaffert, Stacey Waite) Students and instructors often differ in their interpretation of what constitutes a queer text. Considering the varieties of gender identification and the spectrum of sexual orientation, as well as what it means to enact a queer pedagogy in both form and content of the classroom, panelists explore the contemporary pitfalls and joys of helping to shape students' engagement with LGBTQ literature. Panelists read from potentially contested queer texts as well as discuss pedagogical practices.

Published Date: June 22, 2016


Speaker 1 (00:00:04):

Welcome to the A W P Podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2016 A W P conference in Los Angeles. The recording features Sarah Chavez, Clarence, Harlan Ozi, Jennifer Purin, Timothy Chahar, and Stacy wait. You will now hear Sarah Chavez provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:32):

Welcome. Thank you so much for coming this afternoon. We are going to go ahead and get started. So as I'm assuming you know, didn't wander in just off the street and pick anywhere. This is How Gay is this book, teaching Queer Literature in the 21st century. I feel very privileged that I have four amazing panelists that I deeply respect also. They're just really cool people as well as being smart. We are going to go ahead and I will give their bios in the order that they'll present and then you will hear the wonderful things that we all have to say and then we'll have a q and a at the end. So please do feel free to ask us questions. So our first presenter is going to be Jennifer Perin. She is the author of three books of poetry, no confession, no Mass in the Human Zoo, and the Body Is No Machine.

Speaker 2 (00:01:30):

Purin teaches courses in creative writing and social justice and directs the women's and gender studies program at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Our second presenter is going to be Clarence Harlan Orsi, a recent graduate of the PhD program in writing at the University of Nebraska Lincoln whose essays and fiction have appeared in publication including The Believer and Plus One and the Chicago Review. I will be the third presenter and I feel really weird reading my bio, but I'm just going to do it real fast. I am the author of the chat book all Day talking.

Speaker 2 (00:02:09):

I have a doctorate from the University of Nebraska Lincoln where I pursued ethnic studies, creative writing. I am currently a visiting assistant professor at Marshall University. Next will be Timothy Chauffer. He's the author of five novels including the Coffins of Little Hope and most recently Swan Gondola, which was the oprah.com book of the week. Thank you. He's an associate professor of English at University of Nebraska Lincoln and the director co-founder of Downtown Omaha Lit Fest. And last but certainly not least, we'll hear from Stacy Waite, who is the author of Butch Geography. The Lake has No Saint Love poem, androgyny and choke winner of the 2004 Frank O'Hare Prize for Poetry. Waite is assistant professor of English at the University of Nebraska Lincoln and is a senior poetry editor for Tupelo Quarterly. Thank you all and please help me in welcoming Jennifer to Readed First.

Speaker 3 (00:03:08):

Thanks Sarah for bringing us all together here. This is a little story about intro to queer literature, part one, opening query. On the first day of the queer Literature course, I ask my students to define queer literature to give examples of it to name qualities or characteristics associated with it and to state what it is not. All of the students crammed together at the whiteboard at the front of the room and each person brings with them their set of experiences that lead them to define queer literature in very particular ways. One defines queer literature as books written by G lbt, LGBTQ plus people. Another as literature that pushes against the norms of gender and sexuality. Another as anything we want it to be. Their examples include nothing, not sure, and I don't know. I've never read any until I say we can define literature broadly include television, film, not just books.

Speaker 3 (00:04:08):

Then the flood opens. Orange is the new black modern Family Glee Game of Thrones. Eventually someone asked me if fan fiction counts and when I say well put it up and we'll talk about it, another flood, Harry Potter, supernatural Sherlock, every Marvel superhero show and I think Aha. Now we're getting somewhere on the board. Almost no one uses the word queer at best. It appears as a letter, a mysterious cue that when pressed one student says is a negative word that only L G B T people have the right to use. Even the openly lesbian, gay, and bisexual students in the class don't use the word, although if few say tentatively that it can be an umbrella term, just not an umbrella they feel comfortable standing under. We practice saying the word out loud, testing out its capacity as a neutral or positive term. It's visibly difficult for some students. Iowa where I teach is after all known for its niceness, a place where students still ask my permission to use swear words in their writing. You don't need my permission for that or anything else I say. We keep practicing getting over our niceness until all of us are chanting queer, queer, queer.

Speaker 3 (00:05:31):

After the first class I sigh, I laugh, we have a lot of work to do.

Speaker 3 (00:05:37):

Part two, we're here, but what's queer and should we get used to it? By the third week, all of the students can now say queer without turning bee red, without whispering the word Several decibels lower than the rest of their sentence. In all of our conversations about Allison Bechtel's, fun Home, Virginia Wolf's Orlando and Carson's autobiography of Red David Henry Wang's and Butterfly, Jeanette Winterson's written on the body. Students want to talk about the identities of the authors, the identities of the characters. Queer gets thrown around as a synonym for gay, for lesbian, for transgender, for uncertainly, gendered, everyone's happy and comfortable. It's time to complicate things. I bring in the O E D definition of queer adjective. One, strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric also of questionable character, suspicious dubious. Two, not in a normal condition out of sorts. Three other relating to homosexuals or homosexuality. Verb int transitive to ask, inquire to question, to quiz or ridicule to puzzle verb transitive one originally to make a fool of ridicule to swindle cheat to get the better of later.

Speaker 3 (00:06:57):

Also to puzzle Flummox confound baffle. Two to put out of order to spoil three, to cause a person to feel queer. To disconcert, perturb, unsettle, I bring in an excerpt of Theresa Delores's gender symptoms or peeing like a man. This theory would be queer not for being about queers or produced by queers, but in its project of questioning, displacing, reframing or queering the dominant conceptual paradigms I bring in Cherry Smith's. What is this thing called queer? The term Queer arose over issues concerning the reification of such identity signifiers as gay and lesbian both in culture and politics. Queer articulates a radical questioning of social and cultural norms, notions of gender, reproductive sexuality and the family. After much unpacking of terms like reification, much discussion of the powers of and problems with identity politics and much testing of the use of queer as a verb, what emerges is this, the queerness of a text, like the queerness of a person might be associated with identity or with particular acts or with performance or with relationship or with a politics, an ethos.

Speaker 3 (00:08:15):

We begin to approach each text then not only by asking whether and how it represents queer people, but also by asking how does this text reframe or queer the dominant conceptual paradigms? How does it radically question, how does it unsettle spoil puzzle? How does it cause a person, a reader, to feel queer? From here out students start talking about how m butterfly queers not just sexuality and gender, but also race and opera, how the argonauts and blood child, queer kinship and birth narratives, how autobiography of red queers, mythology and genre conventions. It's clear that students are getting used to this way of reading and talking queer. It's now that I begin to ask, should we get used to using the term queer in this way or can we claim the political act of queering so thoroughly that it too becomes reified collective groans from the students.

Speaker 3 (00:09:15):

Oh shit, one says, and I'm glad to know they're no longer asking permission part three of queen's closet cases and super queer rows. All the while I've also been turning the question of queer literature over to the students. Can you create queer literature? Does it matter what your gender identity or sexual orientation is? Are there particular things that need to be present to make your text queer so that we don't circle around hypotheticals? I ask them to create texts and then we can decide. We start with a critical essay on how queerness is represented in particular texts. This gives them a space to initiate research into whether some texts have already been canonized by virtue of being repeatedly written about and theorized and to contextualize our class conversations within a broader historical and cultural scope. A few students research the visibility of queer characters and relationships in old films and TV shows, ones produced in the eighties and early nineties before their lived experience.

Speaker 3 (00:10:17):

A few more research how queerness shows up in text written before the term queer or gay or even homosexual became a marker of identity. What signaled queerness before that language was available or imposed? Many students research cultural appropriation and the question of whether and how straight identified authors can write about queer characters without colonizing queer bodies and cultures. The popularity of this last topic, I think is related to their second writing assignment, creative writing that explores some aspect of queer identities. Bodies love sex, families or communities. The lesbian, gay and bisexual students mostly seem relieved to have a space where they can write about their experiences, where they can imagine characters who are to some degree like them or where they can explore some facet of their queerness that they hadn't thought about much before. Queer kinship ends up being a popular theme among these students, but most of the class, a small majority, identify as straight and are worried that what they write doesn't count, can't count.

Speaker 3 (00:11:22):

As we discuss this more in class and one-on-one, it becomes clearer that mostly they're worried about offending the queer students in the class, putting to paper something that reveals their unconscious biases no matter how well intention they are. This I explain as part of the point of writing. How else do we begin to redress our unconscious biases unless we expose them to ourselves and to others? In the end, the straight students get around their fear of offending and of appropriating queer cultures by adapting heteronormative culture to queer ends. Some reimagined fairytales with L G B T characters, A few Adapt Folktales including a rendition of the boogeyman that makes literal the metaphor of the closet with all its danger and desire. Here too is where fan fiction comes back into play. As several students write beloved characters into queer relationships with great zeal. When I ask if anyone was worried about appropriation or causing offense by writing slash by putting ostensibly straight male characters into sexual relationships with each other, the students laugh.

Speaker 3 (00:12:28):

We're not making them queer. They say there's so much queer subtext on the show and you can't spell subtext without SS e x. We puzzle over whether these pieces unsettle us, how they make us feel queer or not. When we discuss the pieces written by lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, everyone is affirming. There's no question of whether their writing counts and when I raise the question, everyone looks baffled, puzzled, flummoxed, aha, say I've just queered you. A couple of students get the joke. By the time we get to the last writing assignment, they're ready for a new challenge to attempt a piece of writing in which it's not what they write that makes it queer, but how they write it. Many are interested in queering generic boundaries, critical creative verse, prose, fiction, nonfiction. One creates a scrapbook replete with glitter and ribbons detailing all of her sexual conquests and we discuss how this might queer expectations about what memories are meant to be documented and shared.

Speaker 3 (00:13:33):

Another writes his text, the story of his relationship with his first boyfriend in places where it can't be read except through acts of destruction stitched inside a teddy bear, arduous, painstaking attention, printed on a jigsaw puzzle and immersion drowned at the bottom of a lake. We're not sure what to call most of the works the students make and one student wonders aloud whether not being able to name something, having no language for it marks it as queer, right? Another says, but then if enough of us call it queer, isn't that reification, doesn't queer get reduced to an identity or a label and then it's not queer anymore, is it? It says another student. This class makes my head hurt.

Speaker 3 (00:14:19):

Part four, return of the Queer Cheer We end the semester where we began at the whiteboard defining queer literature, circumscribing it, offering examples. Some of them include their own writing in the examples which prompts more and more of them to claim that same territory. One student writes, queer literature is variable and fluid. It will change over time with different readers with different political climates, and this is the definition that most students get behind adding their own pieces to it. One student adds queer literature makes us question heteronormativity, which makes more lives possible and we all cheer. We all chant it One last time. Queer. Queer, queer.

Speaker 4 (00:15:16):

How awesome does that class sound?

Speaker 3 (00:15:20):

I have good students.

Speaker 4 (00:15:22):

It's an amazing assignment. Okay, so great to be here. I'm Clarence. I had the after colon part of my title. It's called Teaching Queer Literature and the Seduction of Progress and I wanted to have a before the colon title that was based on Dan Savages. It Gets Better Campaign, so I tried to find puns on it gets better, but all I could think of was it gets wetter, so I decided to not use a pre colon and now I just have my title as Teaching Queer Literature and the Seduction of Progress. I'm not the type of teacher students usually hug at the end of the semester, so it was a surprise when at the conclusion of the only exclusively queer focused literature course I've taught about a third of the class came up to embrace me. It was the capstone to the most fun class I'd ever taught.

Speaker 4 (00:16:13):

This is so great. I thought to myself as the hugs and warm accolades poured in almost too great. By the time I got home to find Facebook requests from students, friend requests, I knew something was wrong. Sure, I had a ton of great students in that class, many of them queer identified or at least alternative students with whom I connected more readily than the typical University of Nebraska Lincoln, 19 year old. And sure I'd done a good job teaching some great books, but there must be something in the class itself that accounted for the discrepancies between the tenor of this class and my previous. The sinister reason behind our collective class exuberance began to dawn on me as I was reading their take home essay final exams. One of the questions I'd written involved the notion of progress as it relates to the literature of the course.

Speaker 4 (00:16:58):

I asked students to define what queer progress meant to them as well as what it meant in the context of the literature we read for the class. Most students chose to respond to this question using em. Forster's novel Morris, the first assigned book, the publication circumstances surrounding Forster's novel make it an attractive choice for a narrative of a certain kind of progress. Forrester wrote the novel in 1914, but by his own request delayed the publication until after his death as he felt the contemporary British public wouldn't be able to handle a frank evocation of same gender love with a happy ending. The novel was finally published in 1971 with a bittersweet dedication by Forrester that reads to a happier year.

Speaker 4 (00:17:41):

This combination of Forrester's dedication and the publishing context of the novel led students to respond to my question about progress. With some variation, it got better, whereas Morris didn't have language to talk about his sexuality, we have a polyphony of possible designations, whereas sodomy was outlawed in England when Morris would've been alive. Same-sex marriage is now legal in the uk, whereas Morris lacked role models for imagining his life as a gay man. Queer lives are now visible everywhere. As one student wrote The Love that Dare Not Speak its name has now become a love that is seen in everyday life on everyday TV and in other forms of everyday media. After reading enough of these essays, it hit me Queer literature is fun because it is about progress. We read plenty of stories of discrimination in the class from James Ham's novel about a southern black man subjected to ex-gay therapy to Tony Kushner's portrayal of the difficulty of obtaining H I V medication in Angels in America.

Speaker 4 (00:18:39):

But throughout our conversations, student comments indicated their sense that this discrimination had faded into the past. In contrast with the average literature class where students often consider my text selections depressing, queer literature provided us with a chance to see firsthand the results of what Dan Savage was claiming in his famous internet campaign. It gets better. You might be able to tell by now that I think all this congratulatory back padding is a problem. Yes, I am a killjoy, but bear with me. I find this unquestioned rhetoric of queer progress problematic for a few key reasons. First and most obvious, we aren't done yet. Yes, the United States has legal gay marriage, but we still have rampant queer homelessness, disproportionate incarceration rates and lack of employment protections. One in eight transgender women of color end up murdered. I did give this statistic in class asking students to think about what it would be like to leave the house knowing they had a one in eight chance of being killed and of course they were appropriately chagrined.

Speaker 4 (00:19:40):

Nonetheless, the rhetoric of progress was so strong that they couldn't help but to impute an upward arc to the trajectory of our literature. From Morris in turn of the century, Cambridge to Alison Bechdel in 1970s, Pennsylvania and beyond, and the force of this implicit trending up as the PR people say today blinds us to the very real problems we still have. The second reason the notion of progress is problematic has to do with the definition of the word itself. If we leave the exact nature of progress, undefined or simply unexplored, we tend to articulate the concept conservatively foreclosing any transgressive potential. I realize this during our class discussion of Michael Warner's polemic The Trouble with Normal, which calls for a return to a queer politics of subversion in the face of the normalcy focused rhetoric of gay rights with its concern with the institutions of marriage and military tellingly.

Speaker 4 (00:20:32):

This was the only reading students pushed back against. They had trouble with the idea that normal might not be something to aspire to. After all, many of them had recently made the brave step of either coming out to family or breaking with tradition By expressing their solidarity with queer friends, they could rightfully congratulate themselves on this difficult step and now someone was telling them that being equal to straight people wasn't the end goal. In a typical written reflection on a selection from the trouble with normal one student wrote, I Disagree with Michael Warner's article. I feel that in order to move forward, the queer culture should be allowed equal rights and in a sense the option of normality, which I define as equal marriage benefits, adoption rights, and partners protected with insurance benefits.

Speaker 4 (00:21:16):

The notion of progress exemplified by this student's view assumes that there has always been a homosexual identity continuous throughout history. This identity may have been closeted at some points or named differently at others, but it has remained qualitatively the same. Progress within this belief system becomes about joining inner desire and outer expression. As one student wrote, progress for the L G B T Q community is not having to hide the normative antithesis to this. Not having to hide involves of course coming out. The rhetoric of progress can become particularly insidious. When we talk about coming out, when we discussed Allison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun home, many students highlighted the difference between Allison's coming out in the form of an explicit letter in her father's closeted homosexuality. Students saw this as a generational difference and hence as evidence of progress for those who identify as a particular sexuality and want to declare that it certainly is, but what about people who understand themselves differently?

Speaker 4 (00:22:15):

There's a particular hegemony in the act of imposing present conceptions of identity on past practices or on cultures that don't operate by those concepts. Such an imposition, veers perilously, close to gay imperialism critic, Tova Leibovitz's term for Ellen Page's new documentary series, Gaycation of this series, Lebowitz Rights. Ellen travels to Japan where she searches for L G B T subjects who properly narrate their lives according to a Western identity politics that privileges coming out. The more rainbow flags, the better and legislative measures, namely gay marriage as the dominant barometers of social progress. But gay's notion of progress allies the cultures of the places visiting cultures which may not ascribe to the language of visibility and rights. This notion of progress as authenticity also positions queer people as victims prevented by outside forces from being their true selves. Such victimization erases the historical and contemporary implication of queer people in a range of racist, sexist, and otherwise oppressive social ills.

Speaker 4 (00:23:20):

In Zami, Audra Lorde writes of her group of lesbian friends, we were not of that other world and we wanted to believe that by definition we were therefore free of that. Other world's problems of capitalism, greed, racism, classism, et cetera. This was not so in Tony Kushner's Angels in America, homophobic lawyer Roy Cohn explains why he doesn't identify as gay despite the fact that he has sex with men. To someone who doesn't understand homosexual is what I am because I sleep with men, but this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in 15 years of trying can't get a pissant anti-discrimination bill through city council. They're men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Here, Roy Cohen freely chooses not to identify as a homosexual. How can the narrative of progress account for him? Focusing on progress means that we're so concerned about what should be.

Speaker 4 (00:24:16):

We miss fully understanding what is brief break and this gets to the real heart of the problem with defining a literature class via a notion of progress. It's a narrow way to think about literature. Literature classes have a range of primary and secondary objectives including developing empathy, critical thinking, textual analysis and cultural knowledge. The narrative of progress makes it hard to achieve all these aims. A diversity training feel begins to creep in a vaguely corporate commitment to checking the boxes of established identity instead of lingering with discomfort or nuance. This diversity training feeling manifested itself in my class when a student complained that we hadn't yet talked about bisexual people as if queer literature comprised a rubric of identities to cover or in the many evaluation comments that express satisfaction that the student in question now felt comfortable talking about L G B T issues.

Speaker 4 (00:25:10):

Great. I thought to myself, but you feel too comfortable. Of course, I was just as captive to the rhetoric of progress as my students were. In fact more so since I had designed the class, I was the one who chose the books, their sequence and the assignments. In one Prezi lecture, I even included a popular photo montage of celebrities coming out from Ellen to Ellen. I called it referring of course to the cultural icons, Ellen DeGeneres and Ellen Page. Even in placing transgender focused literature last I cemented the idea that trans rights are the current focal point for queer progress. Yes, to a large degree this is true, but it supports the idea that trans rights too can be solved and that once they're solved we can stop thinking about queer stuff and get on with our lives. So how do I and other teachers change this? How do we get beyond the it gets better feeling. That dominated my queer literature class, which by the way, I need to add here that I don't completely begrudge dance savage. I'm not such a self-hating queer academic that I can't appreciate someone trying to help suicidal teenagers.

Speaker 4 (00:26:09):

So I'm going to pause it some half form thoughts on remedies and then invite your ideas because I've been hating on dance Savage sort of for this, so I mean, yeah, ambivalent feelings. Anyway, I'd like to tackle the progress narrative from the start. This might look like an in-class activity where students visually map the trajectory of queer history as they see it followed by a discussion of their maps. I also want to make sure we contextually nuance our definition of progress. Crucially, some notions of progress don't make us feel good. For example, Gary Gray, the African-American evangelical protagonist of James Hanahans. God says, no defines progress for much of the book as successfully rid himself of homosexual desire. Is this a form of progress we want? No, but it's still progress to someone. I want students to understand that progress doesn't always have to involve gaining rights within the existing system, but can involve creating alternative ways of being.

Speaker 4 (00:27:03):

As Stacey Waite whose book Butch Geography we also read in the class writes in the voice of pregnant trans man Thomas Beatie. This is me pregnant and I just might give birth to a whole world, a whole nation of gender fuckers rising out of my inevitable and impossible womb. Since my students seem to think so highly of normalcy, which might just be a function of being in Nebraska, but I suspect normalcy is highly valued everywhere. I would complicate this by talking about what we lose when we become normal. Michael Warner's book is good for this, but students difficulty understanding his argument makes me realize we need more cultural context. We might watch a documentary like Paris' Burning about the 1980s New York drag scene and talk about how ball culture emerged from incredibly marginalized people. We also might address the gaze of the white filmmaker and the possibilities of fetishizing marginalized cultures.

Speaker 4 (00:27:56):

Finally, though I loved teaching all the books that I taught in that class and don't regret choosing any of them. I would like to teach the class again with an eye towards picking readings that more explicitly engage and critique the progress narrative. Contemporary possibilities might include Maggie Nelson's hybrid critical personal memoir, the Argonauts. Now Jennifer mentioned this, which moves beyond the queer straight divide to talk about alternative forms of embodiment and family or Saeed Jones's poetry collection prelude to a bruise as Jones said of the book in an interview. An essential question in the collection is how far have I come and the events in Ferguson certainly make me wonder how far we have come from the era of sundown towns. My suspicion over the happy feeling that I had that last day in queer lit coupled with my commitment to finding something wrong with that feeling leads me to conclude as always that I'm a Debbie Downer, negative Nelly who's always ready to take the fun out of things. My students would probably say that my personal progress goals should involve letting a good thing be, but until then I'm going to keep critiquing. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (00:29:08):

I also wanted to have a colon title, but I do not. My presentation is going to have a slightly different focus in that even though I've had the privilege of teaching a specifically sex and gender queer class where I am now at Marshall University, my talk's going to be mostly about teaching to students who are getting this literature in a place where they're not expecting it basically. So this is a cut down version of a longer essay called Queer Text and the Pedagogy of Blindsiding on why I don't initially introduce texts as gay or queer.

Speaker 2 (00:29:47):

Last spring semester, I was assigned two sections of what my department calls good poems. No, this is not a class on the Garrison Keeler anthology thankfully, but rather, a title meant as a non-intimidating name for an introduction to poetry is literature. The idea being I suppose that the students can trust that they will in fact be given good poems rather than the bad poems that they're forced to read. In other classes, debates regarding the merits of using a subjective adjective like good as the guiding principle for a class aside. What that vague title does is leave a wide berth of options and directions each individual instructor can take when designing their section of the class. In fact, we are encouraged to theme the material to our academic specializations. The subtitle for my good poems classes are Colorful Poems and Poets of Color. The description in the schedule of courses was specific in identifying that the class would be reading poetry from roughly 1940 to present and all the writers identified self-identified as either Native American, chiana, Latina, African-American, Asian-American. What the class description did not reveal was that more than 50% of those writers would also be queer. Indeed, as one student put it in his end of semester evaluations. I quote blindsided the class with gay poems as if reading writers of color wasn't hard enough. I was so glad he said Writers of Color evaluation,

Speaker 5 (00:31:24):

He learned

Speaker 2 (00:31:27):

The first time I blindsided students. It was purely by accident. It was an intermediate poetry writing class and of the five books I assigned, the first three were Audrey and Riches. The fact of a doorframe Natalie Diaz is when my brother was an Aztec and Roberto Gonzalez's. So often the picture goes to water until it breaks in. Around the middle of Gonzalez's collection is a poem titled After Jaime, the Refrigerator Man shot himself. We said about a man named Jaime who not only fixed refrigerators but tamed and corded them and became so engrossed in his work that lost in this complexity of soiled wires and coils. He'd suddenly look up at us as if we caught him working towards some forbidden pleasure. In the poem, Jaime is a man so skilled that after his death the strange refrigerators won't respond to the touch of any other man.

Speaker 2 (00:32:25):

While there is arguably nothing latently homosexual in the poem and primarily about an immigrant Mexican man work labor and suicide, there is something undeniably queer about the poem while discussing it in class, one of the students said, I might be reading way into this because you've made us read so many gay books, but I don't think this poem is about touching refrigerators in that first rather obtuse choosing of texts. Picking books that I loved and feel I've learned from and still am learning from. I clumsily stumbled into what I've come to call thanks to that student's evaluation pedagogy of blindsiding. I found the word particularly funny as it belied that students and I would wager this student and other students as well view the classroom and the student teacher relationship as some kind of strategic ground game by not clearly identifying to them that some of the texts we would be reading were written by queer writers about queer relationships and experiences.

Speaker 2 (00:33:26):

I had attacked them from a vulnerable position, faked a past to the writers of color, but through to the sexy dyke on the 40. Clearly the student believes that had they been given the words gay, homosexual or queer ahead of time in relation to the literature, they would've been prepared able to counter or block this attack. Unbeknownst to the student, the regulation and use of those words has had power in this country for decades. One significant analysis being Judith Butler's chapter and excitable speech, contagious word, paranoia and homosexuality in the military, which deconstructs the speech power dynamic in reference to the don't ask don't tell policy. In discussing the US military's ban on using the word homosexuals, a self descriptor butler points out that rather than censor the word, make it unutterable, the regulations merely attempt to retain control over what the term will mean.

Speaker 2 (00:34:20):

The conditions under which it may be uttered by a speaking subject butler points out the government's and therefore media's consistent use of the term brought consideration of the usage into so many unsuspecting heteronormative American households. Like my student, the government saw the word homosexual as powerful. That perception of power is precisely why I have chosen not to warn. Warn students of queer content as I know many other instructors choose to do if they're teaching queer writers and texts at all in a class that is not specifically designated for that subject. Instructors I've spoken to who provide warnings in their syllabi provide language stating the class will be handling sensitive topics such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. By providing this kind of warning and the instructor is validating that these subjects are taboo, to say that they are sensitive is to say that they are outside the realm of normalcy marked as different from regular literature, which of course would only have cisgendered hetero white characters my choice to not provide any kind of warning, and in fact to not even provide background on the writers and work until after the students have begun reading the text.

Speaker 2 (00:35:37):

Is my attempt to treat texts like Ena about a Dominican queer street hustler who transforms into a captivating nightclub siren the same as I would treat any Anglo canonical character in a building's Raman such as the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Outsiders or little women. The assumption often made is that because these are straight white characters, students won't need a warning. They'll be able to understand the plot and character motivations without priming because we have been taught that these are universal texts, they are relatable and idea that is silly and intensely narrow understanding of the US demographic and the direction the country is moving in. Students now queer identifying or not have far more varied pop culture, political and professional queer examples to draw on. So while their preconceptions of the words gay, homosexual and queer may still be wrought with misguided and potentially harmful stereotypes, rather than assume their view of queer texts will be sensitive, I choose instead to treat the queer writers and characters as just another part of the national literary fabric to ensure addressing the queer subject matter.

Speaker 2 (00:36:50):

We begin each new text with an in-class activity that requires students to make a fairly comprehensive list of themes, topics, characters and character relationships which we use to help guide class discussion being forced into the concrete facts of the literature, students must recognize that the speaker in Lyon's poem, day of Song, day of Silence is remembering the first girl she kissed or that the second section in James Cruz, the book of what stays have persona poems from the perspective of artist Felix Gonzalez Torres and his lover Josh, who contracted and died from complications related to hiv aids. The goal of this activity being that the facts of the poems are treated as such facts with no assumptions on my part about what the students may or may not feel relatable. I see the notion of relatability as fallacious and lazy way to approach a text, not initially identifying a text as queer is not only helpful in sidestepping student defenses, i e closing their minds to stories offered to them, assuming that they will not be relatable, but it also helps to work around the binary nature of the labels ascribed as sexuality and gender and to leave room for discussions of intersectionality.

Speaker 2 (00:38:07):

The 1970s third wave feminists of color response to the practice of racial, ethnic and gender labels being used to signify essentialist assumptions about identity. The idea being that none of us have only one aspect of physical and cultural makeup, and that's a prize when aspect of identity over another is deleterious to our causes and psyches. It is only through the consideration of the multiplicity of self, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, religion, region, language that we can move forward and through identity politics as a way to illustrate the necessity of intersectionality. I like to use the poem Want from Eduardo RA's Collection Slow Lightning. The first 14 lines of the 17 line poem are about the speaker's father's dangerous and desperate journey crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico. The poem consists primarily of physical descriptions of the father's physical experiences. It's not until the end of the poem that the male speaker relates the father's hunger for survival to his own hunger of desire, he picked up a rock, killed a blue lizard with a single strike.

Speaker 2 (00:39:15):

He tore it apart, shoved its guts and bones into his mouth. The first time I knelt for a man, my lips pressed to his zipper. I suffered such hunger, the speaker expressing a desire which was also one of survival for a gay man in a homophobic environment and especially for a Chicano man living with the restrictive edicts of machismo. The students read this poem on their own with instructions to come to class having prepared to discuss what the poem is about. Once in class, some of them state the poem is about illegal immigration. Others say poverty, wanting to be a US citizen, a son expressing his love and emotional connection to his father, and this speaker may be wanting to live his life as a gay man. This exercise often produces what Coppleson calls productive confusion devolving into an argument because hegemonic culture suggests there can only be one answer, one identity, one way to be in the world.

Speaker 2 (00:40:11):

As Kassin states, queer is a term that offers to us and to our students an epistemological position, a way of knowing rather than something to be known as well. Gloria, an theory states directly that rigidity means death, the new copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity In these situations where the students argue among themselves all sure they're correct, it is for them both a strange relief and frustration that they might all be right. The queerness of the poem along with the classness, the ethnic experience, are not separated out as if the emotional core of the poem can exist without one or the other. I like this exercise because rather than positioning me as just another weird liberal professor telling them what to think, students come to the idea of the both and on their own in safe low stakes environment. And the discovery though orchestrated, feels organic.

Speaker 2 (00:41:16):

My last point, and this one is not one that I specifically employ for teaching queer literature is, and I'm going to summarize it because I don't want to take too long, basically, that one of the things that I think is really important to do in these classes is ask the students to read the texts out loud. So in general, I think reading creative work out loud helps us to, I mean in so many ways both that's what it's meant to do. It's meant to be heard out loud, but also literally these students who may resist this put investment in this idea of relatability to read sections out loud. They are literally allowing a literature to resonate in their own chests and throats to create an undeniable physical connection. In these moments, they've heard their own voices express longing, desire, sadness, descriptions of the way different gendered bodies move through the world and interact with other bodies. If only for this moment because they're saying the words out of their own mouths, their judgment is suspended. Thank you.

Speaker 6 (00:42:29):

Hello, I'm Timothy. So I sometimes teach an introductory queer literature course as University of Nebraska Lincoln, and I would say it's mostly straight identified students and they're not necessarily English majors. The course meets some kind of university wide requirement, like in the category of people with strange ideas or something like that. I dunno, and I think a lot of students also take it because they think it's going to be a lot sexier than it actually is. But a couple of times I've started the class with a discussion of the Little Mermaid, but Hans Christian Anderson, it's one of my favorite short stories and it's also tends to be kind of controversial and confounding in interesting ways for the students, and that's fairly universal in terms of the straights identified and the queer identified students, partly because of their great reverence and respect for a sacred text.

Speaker 6 (00:43:23):

And of course I'm talking about the Disney animated version. There have been some students who are completely unaware that there is a Hans Christian Anderson original, that this comes from a literary source and there are others who know about it. But see that fairytale as a kind of quaint novelty and that Disney Studios was able to rescue from obscurity and fashion into a classic. And I think also some students object to such a reading of the material because of the implication that they've been wrong in their interpretation of it and their understanding of it. This feeling that do the gazes have to ruin everything for everybody? This is a story for children. It's a simple beloved tale. The student's resistance to a queer reading of the story, I think also speaks to a general resistance that students have of reading into a text that by offering new and alternative interpretations of a classic tale that it's somehow not an act of expansion but rather one of depletion.

Speaker 6 (00:44:22):

You've somehow made the work less interesting than it is because really the Little Mermaid is a normal, reliable heterosexual love story about a man and a half woman, half. So in the student's defense, however, Hans Christian Anderson's sexuality has made historians and scholars baffled and apoplectic for generations. There's no lack of evidence for Anderson's passionate feelings and expressions of love for men and for women, but the fact that he seems to have never had sex with a man is proof enough for many scholars that he can't have been homosexual. Some will grant him asexuality because it seems he never had sex with a woman either. So the Hans Christian Anderson Center of the University of Southern Denmark hosts a website with an F a Q page and among the categories of birthplace and travels and money matters is homosexuality. And so there this center rigorously opposes the idea of Anderson's homosexuality, well at the same time somehow making him sound like the queerest author you've ever lived.

Speaker 6 (00:45:29):

So I'm going to quote from the website because it does get a little kooky when the words are in bold type, which some of them are. I'm going to shake my fist in the air as I read them to help communicate the emphasis. So the website mentions that biographies of Anderson that have furnished documentation for things that speak for very warm feelings indeed from Anderson for Henrik Stamp and Harold Scharf, Anderson's very strong, but altogether platonic, also entirely asexual. And in addition, unreciprocated feelings in his youth for Edward Collin and Ludwick Mueller are well known. So it goes on. So here's the quote. It might be said that Anderson's feelings did not have any gender. His sexuality indeed did. So they've gone from allowing for his asexuality and now they're going to try to make the case for his heterosexuality. So it maybe said that Anderson's feelings did not have any gender. His sexuality indeed did as appears from many passages in almanacs and diaries. For example, in the diary from July 11th, 1842, sensual a passion of the blood, which was almost animal, a wild urge for a woman to kiss and embrace just as when I was in the Mediterranean, an exclamation which no homosexual would make, and that's their quote.

Speaker 6 (00:46:57):

To a large extent, Anderson, and I'm still quoting to a large extent, Anderson was a spiritually androgynous person, or as Soren Ard put it, he is like those flowers with a male and the female sit on one stalk, Hey, I don't make this stuff up. No, this is all very useful for classroom discussion. I decided eventually to move the text to the end of the class when students, whether they're queer identified or straight identified are more comfortable with the environment and therefore might no longer feel the need to defend heterosexuality and Walt Disney and common sense, but can be moved by the story of Hans Christian Anderson. The more open to the idea that maybe we're not querying the text, but that maybe it was queer when we got it. And you might even have students relating to Anderson's situation here in 1837 as he was writing The Little Mermaid, he was also having correspondence with Edward Collin, a boyhood friend, somebody he loved very much who was marrying a woman, and he was very upset about this and expressed that and expressed quote, feelings that were womanly and nature in his letters and his disappointment in Collin's marriage.

Speaker 6 (00:48:07):

Colin even later wrote in his own memoirs that he was unable to respond to this love and he was aware that it caused Anderson much suffering. And so they can start to see the parallels between that story and one about the Little Mermaid who, the short story about an outsider and about a love affair that cannot be and about a prince who marries someone else despite the mermaid of love for him. So basically the language of love and desire in 1837 failed Hans Christian Anderson and the language fails us now as we attempt an understanding of his work and his history. This should be something that young people can relate to as they attempt to align their own social and political engagement, their own sexual identity with their emotions and desires. I'm going to go quickly through a few more points. Even when an author identifies as queer in modern times, students might object to the material if it seems to reflect the psychology of authors who are not fully reconciled with their sexuality.

Speaker 6 (00:49:04):

So I like to spend some time in the middle 20th century, which I think was a real golden era in queer publishing, most notably with the lesbian pulp novels, some of which were actually written by lesbians as opposed to middle-aged newspaper men. And that emerged even one of the first lesbian magazines, the Latter, which was devoted partly to helping the latter's readers identify the lesbian written pulp from the pulp written by Men for Men. But this is also the age of James Baldwin, Schumann Capote, Carson McColl's, Patricia Highsmith's million copy, bestselling novel, the Price of Salt Sold Around the World as the novel Carol. So when I signed Breakfast at Tiffany's as an example of an iconographic character of the mainstream culture created by a gay author, I had a student lecture me in her midterm about how I should have chosen other voices, other rooms, and that would've been a more appropriate selection.

Speaker 6 (00:50:00):

So these students become very invested in this because it's not just, well, I've also been interested in student response to deliver Me from Nowhere, which is by Tennessee Jones, an Appalachian born trans author of the 21st Century. And despite the story's grim and gritty representation of queer and straight lives, many students appreciate the small town settings and it's based on Springsteen's Nebraska album and every story, whether it's dealing with queer characters or straight characters, it's also addressing gender roles and issues of identity. So it has a great deal of relevance for many of the students in the class, but some students have been offended. They think if you're going to write about much maligned communities and underrepresented communities, and I'm not just talking here about queer communities, but also about Midwestern characters, then you have a responsibility to create characters who have a strong moral fiber. One student even brought her girlfriend to class to help debate the book substance, but of course, this is the kind of challenge that we welcome in the classroom, opening up the discussion to all the complexities inherent to literature that's read for its political and moral implications. And I caution students from assuming the voice of their oppressors and applying standards of decency and validity that parallel those of cultures past and present that have silenced authors who have simply sought to tell their own stories in their own words. Thank you.

Speaker 7 (00:51:32):

Hi everyone. I'm Stacy. I'm going to pick up a little bit on something Jennifer was talking about towards the end of her piece there about the production of Queer Text or asking students to make queer text. So I'm going to read to you from a piece called Writing Queer

Speaker 7 (00:51:51):

By definition, the moment I say what it might mean to write queer the terms and definition shift, queer works like a sheet of ice. What have we put there? Slips and slides and becomes impossible to keep still for more than a temporary moment. Jose Munoz puts it this way, queerness is not yet here. Put another way. We are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. Thinking of queerness in relation to the teaching of writing. Amy Winans writes, ultimately, queer pedagogy entails decentering dominant cultural assumptions. I believe Winans comment connects not only to our understanding of sexual and gendered identities, but also connects to our understandings of the practice of writing itself. So not only are there dominant cultural assumptions about gender and sexuality that can be disrupted by queer ways of thinking, but there are also dominant cultural assumptions about writing and texts that can be disrupted by queer ways of thinking and composing.

Speaker 7 (00:53:00):

What follows here is an experimental exercise, one in which I want to imagine how I might be communicating the notion of writing queer, whatever that means to my students and how I might practice myself as a writer writing queer other than of course just by being myself when I'm writing, which is always already writing queer in some sense, thinking of writing in terms of queerness is to grapple with the undeniable impossibility of reading and writing instruction manual for writing. Queer, even though there are no dependable rules for writing queer, one voice is produced by the body. So show up in your writing as a body and embodied force in a text. All the while keeping your reader aware that even the body is a contradiction, both an idea constructed and a real material thing that impacts the world right with a knowledge. This is all true, all lies all real, all made up, which leads to two contradict yourself.

Speaker 7 (00:53:59):

Three, undermine your own authority. Be certain in your uncertainty, develop a voice that can be trusted even as it is subjective, unreliable, and impossible to pin down. Unless of course you want to be pinned down in a sexy way, in which case, by a

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