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Queer Orthodoxy at the University of Colorado By: Jon Sanders
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Academic Marxism shows up clothed in the attire of many scholarly courses of study.  In its most recent incarnation, academic Marxism makes an entrance as the sexy bedfellow of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

There, in diligent pursuit of scholarly material, co-director of LGBT studies and English professor Mark Winokur  explored the Internet. But such a research tool as the computer is not without its ethical problems for Professor Winokur.  With the peculiarly tortured conscience of a Marxist, Winokur worries about the political acts involved in using a computer to surf the ‘Net–of using such a tool for the ends of the revolution. In other words, does the revolutionary end justify the phallic means?  Winokur wonders: “Can the Internet be presumed to be phallic in this fashion: simultaneously powerful and nonexistent? ... I think that the answer depends on how one views the apparatus that connects one to the Internet: the monitor.”  The monitor, according to Winokur, has “coercive qualities” and “is that part of the larger Internet apparatus that most immediately reminds one of now more traditional visual entertainment/information media. Governmental and corporate surveillance aside, I wonder whether, like other media, the monitor through which we view the world is always monitoring us.”

After several paragraphs wrangling with these and other concerns, Winokur finds reason for optimism in a quotation from Walter Benjamin, with which he closes his essay: “Only when in technology body and image so interpenetrate that all revolutionary tension becomes bodily collective innervation, and all the bodily innervations of the collective become revolutionary discharge, has reality transcended itself to the extent demanded by the Communist Manifesto.” Goodness knows how many teenagers are in front of their monitors committing revolutionary acts of tension discharge right now.

Indeed, students signing up for classes in LGBT, which advertises itself as “an interdisciplinary program encompassing more than 20 courses in a dozen departments [and] involv[ing] the academic investigation of sexuality in established fields such as literature, history, theatre, law, medicine, economics, sociology, anthropology and political science,” will find themselves engaging in a complete indoctrination in Marxism as they prepare themselves for the intellectual challenges of ENGL 4038: Queer Modernism and ETHN 3010: Queer Ethnic Studies.

But before undertaking such heady scholarly study, they will first need to take several required classes.  One is “Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies” (LGBT 2000), where students will find themselves “Investigat[ing] the social and historical meanings of racial, gender, and sexual identities and their relationship to contemporary lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender communities.” That description is boilerplate academic Marxism, useful for all kinds of identity-politics programs (q.v., “Investigates the social and historical meanings of racial, gender, and sexual identities and their relationship to contemporary [insert group identity here] communities”).  Students can expect to be introduced to the Marxist assumption of social construction of identity, as evident with the phrase “social and historical meanings of racial, gender, and sexual identities.” This assumption also appears to be active in the description for the program’s other required class, “Introduction to Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay Literature” (ENGL 2707), which introduces students “to some of the forms, concerns, and genres of contemporary lesbian, bisexual, and gay writing in English.”

This same deterministic notion–which has animated academic Marxists since, well, Marx and Engels–can be found throughout the electives, too.  Colorado’s LGBT Studies course descriptions frequently promise to “interrogate,” “examine,” “analyze, question, and explode,” etc., the current array of cultural, political, and other social elements responsible for constructing students’ social beings, because, of course, those things must all change.

The student up to the challenges of interrogation and examination has a shopper’s list of courses and of descriptions of the credentials of the faculty members who teach them.  For example, he or she will learn that Professor Winokur’s academic interests range from popular culture and film to race and ethnicity. Currently, he is working on articles titled “The Racial Fetish in American Horror,” “Barbara Hammer and the Politics of Lesbian Cinema,” and “Film Relics: Some Analogies Between the Classical Hollywood Style and Medieval Worship of Saints,” and a book, Technologies of Race: Makeup, Special Effects and Ethnic Groups in American Film (book). He is also co-author with Bruce Holsinger of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Movies, Flicks, and Film.

For the LGBT Studies program, Winokur teaches “ENGL 3856: Queer Film,” which “examine[s] approximately thirteen primary texts [movies] that reflect the various ideologies, politics, and aesthetics of ‘alternative sexualities’ in the history of filmic representation” and “discuss[es] secondary readings that include theory, history, and criticism of both film studies and gay and lesbian studies.”

The other co-director of LGBT Studies, Jane Garrity, has interests ranging from 20th-century British literature to feminist and lesbian theory. Garrity is currently working on articles titled “‘Queens Survive: Mary Butts, Homophile” and “Queer Modernism.” She has contributed articles to Straight With a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality, edited by Calvin Thomas, and Lesbian Erotics, edited by Karla Jay. She wrote Step-Daughters of England: British Women Modernists and the National Imaginary, a book that reads British woman modernists’ “literary texts through the lens of material culture” and “demonstrates the intersections among nationalism, imperialism, gender and sexuality in the construction of English national culture.” Her book Sapphic Modernities: Sexuality, Women, and Modern English Culture, co-edited with Laura Doan, is forthcoming. The book description on Amazon.com states, “This exciting collection’s aim is to show how the sapphic [i.e., lesbian] figure, in her multiple and contradictory guises, refigures the relation between public and private space, interrogates the category of Englishness, and redefines what it means to be a modern citizen in the early decades of the twentieth century.”

Garrity’s contribution to the LBGT Studies program is “ENGL 4038: Queer Modernism,” which “look[s] closely at the relation between each author’s textual innovations and his/her representation of sexual difference, asking the crucial question: is sexuality conceived as something that is natural, or is it understood to be a cultural construct?” and also “examine[s] the various ways that the meaning of the body and desire shift and change in modernist texts, paying close attention to how these representations intersect with the categories of gender, race, class and national identity.” She also teaches “ENGL 4287 (1): Twentieth-century Anglo-American Lesbian Literature and Theory,” which “tracks the lesbian in British and American literature” and “begin[s] by interrogating the category of ‘the lesbian text,’” then “examine[s], among other things, the relationship between historical context and representational possibilities, the constraining or enabling impact of ‘community,’ the class and racial inflections of ‘lesbian’ identity, and also the benefits and dangers–for a marginalized group–of being put into and reclaiming representational space.”  

The program’s course listing also offers “ENGL 3217-1: Film/Theory/Gender” taught by Prof. Ann M. Kibbey, whose professional interests are “Gender studies; feminist theory; film studies.” Kibbey is the author of Theory of the Image: Capitalism, Contemporary Film, and Women, in which she “contends that the image itself is an ideological construct,” “argues that capitalism enforces social identity and fetishism through religious iconoclastic beliefs about the commodity as image,” “creates a new feminist approach to women in film” and “challenges conservative and racist agendas informing the assumption that a photograph records an image.”

Kibbey is also the founding editor of the journal Genders, which contains such articles as “Utopia and Castration: How to Read the History of Homosexuality,” “Rhetoric on the Medical Management of Intersexed Children: New Insights into ‘Disease’, ‘Curing’, ‘Illness’, and ‘Healing,’” “Flesh in the Word: Billy Budd, Sailor, Compulsory Homosociality, and the Uses of Queer Desire,” and “How My Dick Spent Its Summer Vacation: Labor, Leisure, And Masculinity On The Web.”

Her course “Film/Theory/Gender” “is about modern leftist films,” “analyz[es] the construction of genders as socialized roles, as reactionary and coercive methods of social organization” with the “primary interest” being “the deployment of gender in relation to political and economic concepts.”  This entails “analyzing the film image as an ideological construct” and “critiqu[ing] the concept of gender-as-explanation through readings in leftist theory by Eisenstein, Bourdieu, Debord, Foucault, Lukacs, etc.”

Then there’s “ENGL 4277-1: Early Modern Women Writers (1500-1700),” taught by Prof. Valerie Forman, whose interests range from early modern literature, drama, poetry and culture to Marxist and critical theory. Forman’s essay on “Material Dispossessions and Counterfeit Investments: The Economies of Twelfth Night” was published in Money and the Age of Shakespeare: Essays in New Economic Criticism (2003), edited by Linda Woodbridge. Forman has an essay forthcoming in The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies that would provide “A Marxist Reading of the Early Documents of the English East India Company.”

Her “Early Modern Women Writers” course promises to consider such issues as, “How did women writers of ‘fictional’ texts engage in the writing and rewriting of history? How did women participate in the production of new knowledges–scientific, legal, political, and economic–and in revolutionary political activities? What were women’s contributions to the discursive constructions and deconstructions of nation and empire, of gender, sexuality, and desire, of social status and race?”

“ENGL 5179 (1): African American Literature and Queer Theory” is taught by Prof. Vincent Woodard, who is a poet interested in “literatures” categorized as ethnic, Third World, African-American, queer, and 19th- and 20th-century American, and who is also interested in “African diasporic studies.” Woodard has published essays titled “Just as (Quare) as They Want To Be: A Review of the Black Queer Studies in the Millennium Conference” and “Haiti, Myth-making and Black Gay Identity Politics in the Writing of Assotto Saint.” He delivered a 2003 “Diaspora Talk" at the University of Texas Center for African & African American Studies on the subject of “Anal-Rights, Civilized-Bodies, and the Politics of Sanctification.”

Woodard’s “African American Literature and Queer Theory” primarily seeks “to understand how black queer (gays, lesbians, transgendered, transexual, bisexual and even heterosexual) artists, activists and critics have constructed queer theoretical paradigms that have originated in the intimate regions of their lives, and then translated these personal theoretical models into the more public, externalized domains of black experience” and how “this process of intersecting the personal with the public and political is a strategy inherent in African American, feminist, gay and lesbian and queer theoretical communities.”

Also there is “ETHN 3010: Queer Ethnic Studies,” taught by Prof. Emma Perez, who has replaced Ward Churchill as the chairman of Colorado’s Ethnic Studies program. Perez is known to FrontPage Magazine readers as one of Churchill’s “earliest–and most fanatical –defenders,” having written for Counterpunch.org that the “attacks on Ward Churchill” are “A Neocon Test Case For Academic Purges.” Recently Perez lectured at Colorado College on the subject of “Racialized Sexualities in the Borderlands.” She has also given a “Queer Speakers Series” lecture at UC-Santa Barbara on the topic of “The Technologies of Desire,” which “examine[d] how desire works as a theory and method for social change” and a lecture at UC-Los Angeles in 2003 on “Queering the Border: An El Paso/Juarez Case Study.” Perez is a founding member of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) (“Women Active in Letters and Social Change”), a group devoted to “Chicana/Latina feminist perspectives,” and is author of The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Theories of Representation and Difference) and the novel Gulf Dreams. In her novel “Perez traces the life of one woman, a girl who falls in love with another girl. The narrator refuses the path laid out for female friendships –comadres [sic] who will see one another through ‘adolescence, marriage, menopause, death, and even divorce,’–saying instead ‘I had not come for that. I had come for her kiss.’ Ironically, the unnamed (lesbian) narrator learns sex from her (heterosexual? bisexual? otherwise queer?) girlfriend, as the latter recounts what her boyfriend does for her.”

Perez’ “Queer Ethnic Studies” promises to “explore the social construction of racialized queer sexuality” and that “the manner in which race and sexuality collide to construct non-heteronormative bodies and cultures will be investigated.” The course will also look at “how deviant behavior in the 19th century has become a politicized queer identity in the 21st century,” “challenge the manner in which ‘deviance’ becomes privileged rather than erotica when examining queer sexualities,” and “interrogate” the problem that “the majority of historical and theoretical studies on queer sexuality ignore race.”  Finally, it promises to “examine representations of sexual ‘deviants’ and track ideologies about queer sexualities as well as interrogate theories.”

“GRMN/FILM 3504: Women and German Film” is taught by Prof. Patrick Greaney, whose interests are French, German, Australian, Italian and Japanese literature, literary theory, and New German cinema. Greaney “has published articles on Hölderlin, Nietzsche, Fassbinder, and theories of poverty and globalization.” He also has “recently completed a book manuscript, titled Impoverished Writing, which explores the theoretical foundations of modern French and German literary and philosophical texts about poverty and power.”

“Women and German Film” seeks to answer the questions “Why does violence play such an important role in the work of feminist, queer, and transgender directors? What is liberating for these directors about the destruction of bodies and identities?” It also “offer[s] an introduction to the field of feminism and film studies with special attention to German cinema after 1970 ... films about women and transgender figures and films made by women and transgendered directors.”

Visiting scholar Christopher Laferl from the University of Vienna teaches “GRMN 4503-3: Divas: Cultures and Theories of Stardom.” This course “address[es] the figure of the diva in a global perspective as an artistic, cultural, and historical construction that engages key issues in cultural and media theory,” asking such questions as “How did these stars of the past shape themselves into divas on stage as well as in their lives? How do their followers in the early 21st century (such as Nina Hagen, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez) continue this tradition?” The course promises to “address key issues in cultural studies, feminism, and media theory that come into play when discussing divas.”

Prof. Kira Hall, whose interests are language, gender, and sexuality, teaches “LING 2400. Language and Gender.” Hall is co-editor with Mary Bucholtz of Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self, which “forges new connections between language-related fields and feminist theory” and whose essays “Refut[e] apolitical, essentialist perspectives on language and gender” and “explicitly connect feminist theory to language research.” With Anna Livia, Hall co-edited Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality, a “compilation of research on the peculiar use of language in gay and lesbian communities [that] breaks new ground,” “documents lexical usage and variation in deaf, Jewish, Japanese, and other communities,” looks at “computer-mediated text (E-mail), homophobic slang, media reports, and literary language to conclude whether characteristics specific to gay and lesbian speech must be found exclusively in speech to label them as ‘gay,’“ and “examines the fluid nature of gender and sexuality and how that may be seen in the conscious use of language as it applies to hermaphrodites, the castrated hijras of India, Nigerian transvestites, Yoruba priests, Parisian gays, and Japanese same-sex couples.” The hijras, “a transgendered group often discussed in the anthropological literature as a ‘third sex,’” is the subject of a forthcoming book.

“Language and Gender” pledges to “examine organizations of language, gender, and sexuality from a crosscultural perspective” involving “the investigation of how cultural paradigms of gender relations are perpetuated through language; the study of innovative uses of language to challenge or subvert these dominant paradigms; and the examination of how women and men use language to construct social identities and communities.” The course addresses the following themes: “differences between ‘men’s talk’ and ‘women’s talk’; linguistic constructions of masculinity and femininity; ritual insult, slang, and gossip; sexism in language; how children learn gender through language; language and sexual harassment; the interaction of gender with race, ethnicity, and class; gender in cyberspace; gay, lesbian, and transgender uses of language; and gender and bilingualism.”

Sheila M. Rucki teaches “PSCI 4291 (3). Sex Discrimination: Federal and State Law,” which “Examines continuity and change in legal treatment of sex and gender. Using the case method, focuses on family law, education equity, employment law, and gender-related criminal law.”

There is also Glenda Walden’s “SOCY 1006, WMST 1006: Social Construction of Sexuality.” This course uses “a queer feminist perspective of the social constructionist paradigm to critically engage with essentialist and biological determinist perspectives, dominant in Western society, regarding sexual identity and sexual  expression.”  This means that “Contemporary sexual identity, desire, behavior, health, research, and expert advice will be viewed in part as outcomes and techniques of social control.” Furthermore, the course seeks to “explore the construction of heterosexuality, femininity, and masculinity as they impact our cultural and individual understandings of sexuality,” “examin[e] and analyz[e] our own and others’ sexualities in a sociological perspective of larger trends and social influences,” and to identify “erotic injustice and oppression.”

A Fall 2001 syllabus shows the course required Sexuality Today: The Human Perspective by Gary Kelly, The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex by Cathy Winks and Anne Semans, and The Good Vibrations Guide to Adult Videos by Cathy Winks. Walden wrote that she used the “social constructionist perspective [which] is founded on the principle that the language we use creates our reality and experience of the world in which we live,” meaning “we will consciously use language to uncover the implicit meanings about sexuality and gender and how words are used to create our common understanding of sexuality.” Class presentations included discussions of “sex pioneers,” “gendered” and other “scripts” of sexuality, “sexually explicit images in video format or photographs,” and a “Guest Presentation on BDSM philosophy and practices,” which features “a discussion of BDSM practices and philosophy as well as a safety demonstration of some techniques” and to which “Your guests are welcome” but alas, “No cameras or recording devices are permitted.”

“SOCY 1016, WMST 1016: Sex, Gender, and Society” is taught by Prof. Eleanor Hubbard, whose interests are “interpretative sociology, qualitative research methods, sex and gender, diversity.” Hubbard has published essays on the topics of “Whites” and “Everyday Ideology: A Case Study of Sexual Activity.” She is completing work on “Coming Out: Heterosexual Students’ Emotional Experience with a Coming Out Assignment,” although it’s unlikely her heterosexual students knew they were being exploited while they were being emotionally disrupted by an assignment that countered their sexual "ideology."

Bud Coleman teaches “THTR 6081: Seminar in American Theatre: Lesbians and Gays.” Coleman’s recent work includes a 2004 paper on “The (Re-)Performed Gay Male Body: A Queer Biography?” a chapter titled “The Electric Fairy–The Apparition and The Woman– Loie Fuller” in Volume II of Passing Performances: Queer Readings of Leading Players in American Theatre History, edited by Kim Marra and Robert A. Shanke; and conference presentations on the subjects of American vaudeville and “Performance Transvestism.”  Coleman is also the author, director, and performer of one-man show An Evening’s Intercourse With Natasha Notgoudenuff, Bailiwick Theatre, Chicago.

“Seminar in American Theatre: Lesbians and Gays” looks at “the portrayal of lesbians and gays in mainstream American theatre during the 20th century, as well as the contributions of gay and lesbian theatre artists during the same period.”

Currently, the LGBT Studies program offers one graduate-level course: “JOUR 6871: Special Topics: Gays in the Media,” taught by Prof. Meg Moritz.  Moritz was a writer and story consultant for the film Scout’s Honor, which “traces the conflict between the anti-gay policies of the Boy Scouts of America and the broad-based movement by many of its members to overturn them.” She has written a documentary on the Columbine school shooting, Covering Columbine, and published an essay about news coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks in Representing Realities: Essays on American Literature, Art and Culture. Moritz “is on the Board of Governors of the National TV Academy, Heartland Chapter, a member of the Research Advisory Board for the GLAAD and a founding board member of the Boulder Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.”

“Gays in the Media” notes that “In an era of media saturation and sexual appropriation, mainstream images of sexuality and gender offer complex and shifting definitions of normalcy” and “explore[s] representations of gays in the media over the last several decades as interpreted by a range of theorists, including Butler, Duberman, Doty, Gross, Sedgewick, Fiske, Rubin and Hall.”

A few courses in the syllabus are listed without an instructor specified, but like the others, their descriptions generally hew to the Marxist notion of social “construction” of one’s gender and sexuality. For example, “ENGL 3796: Queer Theory ... Surveys theoretical, critical, and historical writings in the context of lesbian, bisexual, and gay literature” and “Examines relationships among aesthetic, cultural, and political agendas, and literary and visual texts of the 20th century.”

Meanwhile, “WMST 2600: Gender, Race, and Class in Contemporary U.S. Society” involves itself in “the main forms of domination in U.S. society around gender, class, and race relations” and “Examines intersections of the relations and influences in institutions and everyday life” with “[p]articular attention given to “women of color perspectives and resistance to domination.”

Finally, “WRTG 3020: Topics in Writing: Queer Rhetorics” starts “with an[other] introduction to Queer Theory” and proceeds “first to examine notions of ‘queer’ and later to analyze, question, and explode the discourse of queer, the binary of straight/queer, and politics of power embedded in any college course, even Queer Rhetorics.” The goal is “a course that is safe and encouraging for those who identify as queer, as well as those who do not, a course that questions itself, and a course that is shaped around the politics of queer. The assignments, the texts, the goals, and the space of the classroom will be ‘queered,’ or not quite ‘straight.'"

Jon Sanders (jsanders@johnlocke.org) is a research editor at the John Locke Foundation.

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