2014-2015 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies Courses
Non-Normative Sexualities in Historical and Global Perspective
Non-normative sexualities are evermore present in a wide range of sociocultural contexts across the globe. At a time when gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities have emerged among diverse local populations—and foreign interventions aimed at indigenous queer communities have intensified—it is increasingly important to understand what these identities mean to, and what is at stake for, sexual minorities in different parts of the world. How are non-normative genders and sexualities constructed, performed, negotiated, and resisted in non-North American contexts, and what kinds of queer identities and communities have emerged as a result of local and global transformations, past and present? How have anthropologists historically studied and explained indigenous sexualities, and how have these representations changed over time? What kinds of developments are underway in other parts of the world due to the confluence of technological advancements, globalization, world politics, and local queer cultures? What novel interventions, collaborations, and conflicts have resulted among queer communities on account of local and foreign interpositions? This course is an introduction to non-normative sexualities in diverse and shifting cultural contexts across the world, particularly in countries such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Uganda, and South Africa. By focusing on ethnographic and queer approaches to the study of sexuality, we will survey the history of the anthropological study of sexuality and examine how contemporary sexualities are situated among historical, local, and global processes. Hence, one of the aims of the course is to apprehend sexuality not only as lived experience but also as a cultural and historical phenomenon. The course engages debates about locality and globalization by examining queer sexualities in light of culture contact, social change and development, border crossings, and shifting economic and political climates. A key component of the course is the way in which non-heteronormativity maps onto gender, race, nationality, and other cultural formations. Finally, students will gain knowledge of sexual and gender diversity and change through a qualitative research project on a queer subculture of their choice. Through these individual projects, students will learn how to design research studies, conduct fieldwork and interviews, perform discourse analysis, and other research skills.
Perverts in Groups: The Social Life of Homosexuals
Contradictory assumptions about the relations of homosexuals to groups have dominated accounts of modern LGBT life. In Western Europe and the United States, from the late 19th century onwards, queers have been presented as profoundly isolated persons—sure that they are the only ones ever to have had such feelings when they first realize their deviant desires and immediately separated by those desires from the families and cultures into which they were born. Yet these isolated individuals were also seen as inseparable, always able to recognize each other by means of mysterious signs decipherable by no one else. Homosexuals were denounced as persons who did not contribute to society, homosexuality as the hedonistic choice of self-indulgent individualism over sober social good. Yet all homosexuals were supposed to be stealthily working together, through their web of connections to one another, to take over the world—or the political establishment of the United States, for example, or its art world, theatre, or film industries. Such contradictions can still be seen in the battles that have raged since the 1970s, when queers began seeking public recognition of their lives within existing social institutions from the military to marriage. LGBT persons have been routinely attacked as threats (whether to unit cohesion or the family), intent on destroying the groups that they have been working to openly join. In this class, we will use these contradictions as a framework for studying the complex social roles that queers have occupied and some of the complex social worlds that they have created—at different times and places and shaped by different understandings of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and nationality—over the past century and a half. Our sources will include histories, sociological and anthropological studies, the writings of political activists, fiction, and films.
Queer South Asia
South Asia is a region of great cultural diversity, including differences in religion, language, ethnicity, caste and class, and social and political structures. This diversity extends to, intersects with, and complicates sexuality and gender. Transforming over time and space, the actual experiences of sexual minorities in this vast region diverge from popular depictions of sexuality as immutably enshrined in mysticism and tradition. How have queer individuals in this region been imagined and treated historically and culturally? What are the lived experiences and practices of sexual and gender minorities in parts of South Asia, and how have they evolved over time? In this course, we will examine changing conceptions of queer bodies, sexualities, and genders in South Asia through ethnographies, historical and critical scholarship, narrative fiction, poetry, oral culture, and film. The primary aim of the course is to explore the discourses on gender and sexuality while examining the variety of ways in which non-normative genders and sexualities are constructed, experienced, performed, and challenged in South Asia. By treating gender and sexual relations as relations of power, the course will highlight the linkages between alternative subjectivities and regional moral economies. For instance, we will investigate the relationships between sexual cultures and broader beliefs and practices in the region by focusing on topics such as renunciation and asceticism, the erotic aspects of religious devotion, body politics, semen loss anxiety, the patriarchal control of women, the centrality of marriage, and the concepts of honor and respect. The course will take as its starting point the depictions of sexuality from the ancient, medieval, and colonial periods of South Asian history. We will explore perspectives on the third sex/gender; the intersections of sexuality and gender with religion, class, and nationalism; and the emergence of LGBT identities and movements. The South Asian subcontinent encompasses India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldive Islands. This course will include the entire region but focus particularly on India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Virginia Woolf in the 20th Century
“On or about December 1910,” Virginia Woolf observed, “human character changed....All human relations shifted—those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change, there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.” In her novels, essays, reviews, biographies, and polemics, as well as in her diaries, letters, and memoirs, Woolf charted and fostered the cultural and political forces behind those changes as they developed across the century. Over the course of that century, Woolf's image also changed from that of the “invalid lady of Bloomsbury,” a modern, a madwoman, and perhaps a genius to that of a monster, a feminist, a socialist, a lesbian, and an icon. While focusing on the development of her writing, we will also consider her life and its interpretation, her politics and their implications, and the use of her art and image by others as points of reference for new work of their own. Her family, friends, lovers, and critics will all appear. We will also be reading her precursors, her peers, and those who—in fiction, theatre, and film—took up her work and image in the decades after her death. This course will serve as an introduction to 20th-century fiction, feminist literary study, lesbian/gay/queer studies, the study of sexuality, and the study of politics in literature. Conference projects might focus on one other writer, a range of other writers, or one of these approaches to literary analysis.
The relationship between Islam and sexuality has been the subject of much curiosity and misunderstanding. On the one hand, Islam is viewed, in the United States, largely as a sexually repressive religion, one that controls women’s bodies and persecutes sexual minorities. On the other hand, in Muslim societies, sexuality is predominantly a taboo topic that is rarely the subject of open discussion. Importantly, the historical record indicates that the Islamic debates on sexuality are far more limited in the contemporary period than they were in the past. Moreover, Islam has several schools of thought that provide both distinct and overlapping interpretations of scripture and approaches to sexuality. Hence, Islamic beliefs pertaining to topics such as homosexuality, cross-dressing, transsexuality, and sex reassignment vary by sect, culture, and regional and national laws across the Muslim world. While dominant discourses conceal the diversity of thought and practice within Islam, homogenizing forces from within Muslim societies seek to obliterate it. This interdisciplinary course offers a unique opportunity to examine the relationship between Islam and sexuality from several analytical positions, including the location of sexuality and gender in Muslim-majority countries and cultures, the multiple interpretations on the place of non-normatively gendered and sexed individuals within Islam, the lived experiences of LGBT Muslims and sexual minorities in diverse cultural contexts, queer readings of Islamic doctrine, and transnational discourses that influence the ways in which Islam is perceived in relation to sexuality. We will also assess the role of orientalism, colonialism, global inequalities, war, and terrorism in shaping representations of sexuality and gender in Islam. Through historical, anthropological, autobiographical, and theological literature, students will gain an understanding of the various Islamic viewpoints pertaining to sexuality, the vast diversity of belief and practices within queer Muslim communities, how people reconcile their religious and sexual identities, and the transformations occurring within Islam that both constrain and facilitate efforts to create acceptance for alternative genders and sexualities.
Pretty, Witty, and Gay
Are you ready to review your cultural map? As Gertrude Stein once said, “Literature—creative literature—unconnected with sex is inconceivable. But not literary sex, because sex is a part of something of which the other parts are not sex at all.” More recently, Fran Leibowitz observed, “If you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture, you would be pretty much left with Let’s Make a Deal.” We do not have to limit ourselves to America, however. The only question is where to begin: in the pantheon, in prison, or in the family; in London, Paris, Berlin, or New York; with the “friends of Dorothy” or “the twilight women”? There are novels, plays, poems, essays, songs, films, and critics to be read, read about, listened to, or watched. There are dark hints, delicate suggestions, positive images, negative images, and sympathy-grabbing melodramas to be reviewed. There are high culture and high camp, tragedies and comedies, the good, the bad, and the awful to be enjoyed and assessed. How has modern culture thought about sexuality and art, love and literature? How might we think again? Conference work may be focused on a particular artist, set of texts, or genre or on some aspect of the historical background of the materials that we will be considering.