Discussion ?s

These are questions which should guide your reading. You may want to jot notes as you read. Be prepared to discuss them in class!

Bornstein, excerpts from Gender Outlaw: “Transgender Style” (3-4); “The Hard Part” (7-14); “The First Question” (101-111); “The Other Questions” (113-140)

  • Bornstein’s book is subtitled, “On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us.” Who do you think “the rest of us” refers to?
  • What do you think Bornstein means when she says, “the choice between two of something is not a choice at all”?
  • How is gender “like a cult,” according to Bornstein?
  • What is “camp” and what function does it serve?

Smith, “How I Became a Queer Heterosexual”

  • What do you think Smith means when he says, “Perhaps in a restrictive society there are many who would not claim queerness but have many queer aspects in their practices”?
  • How do you think a person (such as Smith) can identify as both “queer” and “heterosexual”?

Jagose,  excerpts from Queer Theory: An Introduction: “Introduction” (1-6); “Queer” (72-100); “Afterword” (127-132)

  • Jagose says on p. 3 that the concept of queer is characterized by “definitional indeterminacy” and “elasticity.” What do you think these terms mean?
  • What are some of the reasons why queer theorists and activists object to the notion of “identity”?
  • What are some ways in which the AIDS epidemic guided activists to question previous understandings of stable identity?

Gauntlett, “Queer Theory and Fluid Identities” (145-163)

  • How does this reading clarify for you some of the ideas discussed both in class and in the Jagose reading?

Gross, excerpts from Up from Invisibility: “The Mediated Society” (1-20); “Hollywood’s Gay Nineties” (156-183); “Beyond Prime Time” (184-207); “Morning Papers, Afternoon Soaps” (208-220)

  • What are some of the ways in which the experience of minority sexual identity differs from that of other kinds of minority identities (e.g. racial, gender, and class), according to Gross?
  • How can we understand camp as a mode of queer resistance for gay men?
  • How do the individual case studies discussed in the latter chapters illustrate the main points made by Gross in “The Mediated Society”?

Joyrich, “Epistemology of the Console” (15-47)

  • Why do you think Joyrich wants to move beyond the question of visibility vs. invisibility in considering representations of queer sexuality on television?
  • How do the “therapeutic discourses” of television create a unique place for sexuality in this medium (in contrast to film, for example)?
  • How do television programs illustrate the idea that sexual identity is distinct from sexual desire? Can you think of examples that do this?

Gamson, excerpts from Freaks Talk Back: “Why I Love Trash” (2-27); “Truths Told in Lies” (66-105)

  • Gamson says he identifies with “the misfits, monsters, trash, and perverts.” Why does this make daytime TV talk shows an attractive subject for him?
  • How does Gamson’s discussion of queerness on TV talk shows complicate the idea that visibility in mainstream media = social progress for minorities?
  • How might TV talk shows “muddy the waters of normality,” in Gamson’s words?
  • Why might the talk show imperative to “be true to yourself” be incompatible with the ideas of gender and sexuality advanced by queer theory? How do talk shows disrupt the idea of a single, universal truth about gender and sexual identity?

Sender, “Queens for a Day” (131-151)

  • What does Sender say about debates around whether Queer Eye is good for gay visibility? What kinds of questions does Sender find more interesting?
  • How do changing economic conditions result in shifts in constructions of gender and sexuality, according to Sender?
  • How does camp function in Queer Eye? What identities and social categories might the show ironize and destabilize?

Ron Becker, “Guy Love: A Queer Straight Masculinity for a Post-Closet Era?” (121-140)

  • How has the heightened visibility of gay identities “made it possible to envision alternative ways to think about straight masculinity”?
  • What does it mean to say that gay has become a “cultural identity” in addition to (or instead of) a sexual identity?
  • Do you think we live in a “post-closet culture”?

Halberstam, “An Introduction to Female Masculinity: Masculinity without Men” from Female Masculinity (1-43)

  • Why do you think Halberstam uses “the bathroom problem” as a case study for the social issues faced by gender-variant individuals?
  • How does the elasticity of the categories “men” and “women” help to sustain a binary notion of gender, according to Halberstam?
Portwood-Stacer, “Queering the Trans Narrative on Television” (1-15)
  • What is the “wrong body” narrative and what assumptions about gender does it rest on?
  • Why is television a particularly important site for the dissemination of narratives about non-normative identities?

Gross, “A Niche of Our Own” from Up From Invisibility (233-251)

  • Why do you think minorities might welcome advertising that targets them specifically?
  • What are some of the reasons why brands might want to target minority consumers?

Clark, “Commodity Lesbianism” (181-201)

  • How does “gay window dressing” function in advertisements?
  • Why are political styles easily appropriated by commercial interests, and what are the consequences of this for sexual minorities, according to Clark?

Hennessey, “Queer Visibility in Commodity Culture” (31-76)

  • What are some of the downsides of queer visibility, according to Hennessey?
  • How do consumption practices fit with the idea of identities being constructed and performed, rather than innate?

Doty, excerpts from Making Things Perfectly Queer: “What Makes Queerness Most” (xi-xix); “There’s Something Queer Here” (1-16); “I Love Laverne and Shirley” (39-62)

  • What do you think Doty is referring to when he uses the term “closet of connotation”?
  • How does Doty define the term “queer”? Do you think his definition adds anything to the definitions we have been working with in the course so far?
  • How does Doty use the term “lesbian” in the Laverne & Shirley chapter? Are there any contemporary films or TV programs that you think Doty would probably consider “lesbian”?

Lipton, “Queer Readings of Popular Culture”, in Queer Youth Cultures (163-179)

  • What are some reasons why queer youth are motivated to make alternative readings of mainstream media texts?

Miller, “Masculinity and Male Intimacy in Nineties Sitcoms: Seinfeld and the Ironic Dismissal” (147-159)

  • What is the “ironic dismissal” and what is its purpose in media texts?

Driver, Queer Youth Cultures (read any 3 essays except those by Lipton and Ritchie)

  • For each essay, write a one-paragraph summary, which includes the connections you see between the essay and what we have learned in the course so far.

Readings on “Glee,” TBA

Chauncey, “Introduction” from Gay New York (1-29)

  • What are the myths of isolation, invisibility, and internalization?
  • How did the term “coming out” have a different meaning in the past than it does today?
  • What are some of the reasons Chauncey gives for the pre-WWII gay subculture disappearing from historical memory?
  • How did the meaning of the words “queer” and “gay”  shift over the course of the twentieth century?
  • How does the drawing of boundaries around the gay world also serve to define the boundaries of the “normal” world?

D’Emilio, “Capitalism and Gay Identity” (467-476)

  • Why does D’Emilio think it’s necessary for gay people in the present to have an awareness of gay history? What political lessons does he think we can draw from an awareness of capitalism’s role in the construction of gay identity?
  • Which “myths” of gay history does D’Emilio want to deconstruct? Why?
  • How did gender, race, and class factors impact the degree to which people could resist traditional heterosexual lifestyles?
  • What impact did World War II have on gay identity and lifestyles?
  • In what ways does D’Emilio’s analysis trouble the idea that sexual orientation is fixed at an early age and is the same across historical times and places?

Polchin, “Having Something to Wear: The Landscape of Identity on Christopher Street” (381-390)

  • What are some of the things that make Christopher street a “queer space,” according to Polchin?
  • In what ways is “the street” a much different queer space than “the closet”?
  • How would you say Polchin’s essay is related to both D’Emilio’s and Chauncey’s? In other words, how would you put all these writers in conversation with each other?
  • Who are the “invisible” bodies on Christopher street, according to Polchin? Does this observation resonate with your own experience on Christopher street (if you have been there)?

Tongson, “Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries” (1-27)

  • How does Tongson use the terms “metronormativity” and “homonormativity”?
  • What kinds of people are usually left out of popular representations of the suburbs, according to Tongson? Who does she say she will focus on in her book?

Gray, “From Wal-Mart to Websites: Out in Public” (87-118)

  • What are the popular perceptions of queer life in the rural US? Where do these perceptions come from?
  • What are some of the factors that make rural queer life more complicated than what we have seen in the mainstream media, according to Gray?

Berlant and Freeman, “Queer Nationality” (193-229)

  • Where are Queer Nation’s “sites of transgression” usually located? Why do you think the activists choose these kinds of spaces?
  • What were the purposes of the “Queer Night Out” events that Berlant and Freeman discuss?

Sycamore, “Gay Shame” (268-295)

  • What are some of Gay Shame’s objections to the idea of “gay pride”?
  • How does Gay Shame call into question the idea of a coherent “gay community”?
  • In what ways do you think the controversy over gay marriage–among queers themselves–is “a fight over the fundamental nature of queer struggle”? Why might some queer-identified people object to campaigns for the legalization of gay marriage?

Berlant and Warner, “Sex in Public” (547-566)

  • What kinds of things are Berlant and Warner referring to when they talk about “sex in public”?
  • What are some of the places/institutions in our culture where heterosexuality is assumed to be the norm?
Warner, “What’s Wrong With Normal?” from The Trouble with Normal (41-80)
  • Who is Warner referring to when he uses the categories “stigmaphiles” and “stigmaphobes”?
  • What is the difference between a “statistical norm” and an “evaluative norm” and how are these things related to public discourses about queer identity?
  • Who and what does Warner position himself against in this piece?

Rodriguez, excerpts from Queer Latinidad: “Divas, Atrevidas, y Entendidas: An Introduction to Identities (5-36, focus on 23-31);  “’Welcome to the Global Stage’: Confessions of a Latina Cyber-Slut” (114-152)

  • What do you think a “discursive space” is? What happens in discursive spaces?
  • How does Rodriguez define queer? Do you think her definition matches up with what we’ve seen so far?
  • What similarities do you think there are between “queer” and some of the other identity categories Rodriguez discusses?
  • What does the term “de ambiante” refer to?
  • In what ways is “cyberspace” a queer space, for Rodriguez? In what ways are normative identity categories from the real world also enforced online?
  • How did Rodriguez’s experience on the Internet force her rethink her own gender and sexuality?
  • How do you think “gender play” differs from “gender performativity”?

Manalansan, excerpts from Global Divas: “Introduction: Points of Departure” (1-20); “‘Out There’: The Topography of Race and Desire in the Global City” (62-88)

  • How is performativity particularly relevant to transnational immigrants, according to Manalansan?
  • In what ways are gay bars “ambiguous” and “malleable” spaces, according to Manalansan?
  • How many different queer subcultural spaces does Manalansan describe? How does the variety of gay subcultures described by Manalansan illustrate the non-homogeneity of “the gay community”?
  • How do race and class identities intersect with gender and sexual identities among the gay men Manalansan focuses on?

Pyle and Klein, “Fat. Hairy. Sexy: Contesting Standards of Beauty and Sexuality in the Gay Community” (78-87)

  • How are gay men’s bodies usually represented in the media?
  • What are some ways in which big men, bears, and chasers resist (or queer) beauty standards among gay men?

Williams, “Gay by Design, Or a Lifestyle Choice?” (1-3)

  • How might the fact that certain cars are associated with gay identity illustrate the performativity of sexual identity?

Bennett, “In Defense of Gaydar” (408-425)

  • What is “gaydar”? Do you think it is the same as “stereotyping” or is it different? Why?
  • Why might queer people be more likely to have accurate gaydar than straights? How do they develop it? What are some of the consequences of “faulty” gaydar?
  • How might the conclusions of each of the programs discussed by Bennett ultimately reinforce essentialist understandings of sexual identity?

Piontek, “Queer Alternatives to Men and Women” from Queering Gay and Lesbian Studies (67-80)

  • What are some reasons why people may feel invested in preserving gender boundaries, according to Piontek?
  • How do Piontek’s descriptions of “layered” drag add to our earlier discussions of the ways in which drag demonstrates the performativity of gender?

Garber, “Clothes Make the Man” from Vested Interests (1-17)

  • Why do you think Garber begins with a story about the colors of baby clothes? What ideas from queer theory does her anecdote illustrate?
  • Why do you think Garber draws a distinction between cross-dressing and gay identity?
  • What do you think it would mean to consider “the transvestite as transvestite” instead of trying to fit a cross-dresser into one or the other gender category?
  • Why do you think the “bathroom problem” comes up again and again in our readings and discussions (and in the lives of queer people)?

Piontek, “Redrawing the Map of the Gender-and-Sex Landscape” from Queering Gay and Lesbian Studies (81-94)

  • What is the “ethnic” model of gay and lesbian politics? Why might queer theorists and activists take issue with this model?
  • What is S/M sex? Why has it been particularly interesting to queer theorists, according to Piontek?
Rubin, “Thinking Sex” (143-178)
  • What are some of the dominant understandings of sexuality that Rubin wants to question and critique?
  • What is “erotic speciation”? How does it relate to some of the issues of identity we’ve been talking about this semester?
  • How does Rubin think sexual practices should be judged? How does this differ from how we usually judge them?

Ritchie, “Principles of Engagement” (261-278)

Portwood-Stacer, “Constructing Anarchist Sexuality” (479-493)

Seidman, “Identity and politics in a ‘postmodern’ gay culture” (105-42)

Jakobsen, “Queer Is? Queer Does?” (511-536)

Davis, “Situating ‘Fluidity’” (97-130)

Schlichter, “Queer at last?” (543-564)


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