LGBTQ Literatures and the New English Studies
Table Of Contents
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
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- Table of Contents
- 1. Queer Pedagogies, Queer Literacies: LGBTQ Texts Across the English Studies Curriculum (William P. Banks / John Pruitt)
- 2. Contingently Queer: Decolonizing and Unsettling the Boundaries of Identitarian-Based Literatures (Tom Sarmiento)
- 3. Queering the English Core: Middlesex and Queer Pedagogy (Juliane Römhild / Damien Barlow / Karyn Lehner)
- 4. Past, Present, and Potential: Teaching LGBT+ Poetry Historically (Eric Keenaghan)
- 5. Mainstreaming Difference in Youth Sexualities/Identities: Demystifying the Otherness of LGBT Youth Literature Through the Hetero-Corollary (Lance Weldy)
- 6. Slipping Queer Underneath the Radar: A Reflection on Teaching “Bizarre Love Triangles in Fiction” (Mica Hilson)
- 7. Cross Dressing in Early America: A Course in Transgressive Figures Before 1865 (Cathy Rex)
- 8. Centering the Queer, Black, Female Voice: A Case Study of Reclaiming the Soul Through Literature (Veronica Keiffer-Lewis / Julie Keiffer-Lewis)
1. Queer Pedagogies, Queer Literacies: LGBTQ Texts Across the English Studies Curriculum
WILLIAM P. BANKS AND JOHN PRUITT
When we issued our initial call for chapter-length contributions to a collection focused on teaching LGBTQ literatures, we assumed that we would receive chapters detailing the ins and outs of designing and teaching courses focused on literary texts written by queer people. What we got, in addition to many such contributions, were a host of thoughtful pieces that explored the teaching of LGBTQ texts across different curricular spaces, from introductory level literature courses, to historical survey courses, to even the extra-curricular spaces of faculty/staff training. Somewhat to our surprise, college faculty were engaging an impressive range of students and readers across a diverse set of contexts, and LGBTQ texts were helping them to enact change in and through all those different spaces. It became clear that we needed to rethink the initial boundaries we had put around our project. The result has been two complementary volumes. In the first, Approaches to Teaching LGBT Literature: Concepts, Methods, Curricula (2018), we focused our attention on the LGBTQ literature course itself, asking questions about how our ideas of what can and should be part of such a course—and where in the curriculum such a course might fit—have changed since scholars first explored the teaching of such courses (Haggerty and Zimmerman 1995; Spurlin 2000). This volume, Curricular Innovations: LGBTQ Literatures and the New English Studies, explores the impact that queer writers and their works are having across the broader undergraduate curriculum of English departments, and at times, beyond our departments.
By exploring the specialized LGBTQ classroom in Approaches to Teaching LGBT Literature, we were excited to share examples of teacher-scholars who ← 1 | 2 → were resisting the easy path of simply exoticizing queer desires, bodies, and texts in a single week or course unit. In The Queer Renaissance: Contemporary American Literature and the Reinvention of Lesbian and Gay Identities, Robert McRuer (1997) expressed concern about the ways that queer writers showed up in classrooms and curricula as brief dalliances with difference: “When contemporary gay or lesbian writers are studied or taught individually, they are easily exoticized; in other words, they are inserted into a general academic market for difference that is able to consider and constrain queer desire temporarily, before going on with business as usual” (2). While courses that focus on queer texts provide more space for students to think about the complexities of queer lives, we also recognize that an individual course—just as much as a single course unit—is still a bounded space, one that can be dismissed and ghettoized by larger programs or degree requirements. By breaking out of the specialized LGBTQ classroom, the writers that we have included in this collection help us to consider how, in addition to designing queer-focused classes, we might also restructure and reframe our other undergraduate courses by paying attention to the contributions that LGBTQ writers make. Beyond simply including a text or two to represent “difference,” these writers take a more structural approach in order to demonstrate ways of theming or designing courses around language, desire, and sexuality. And they also demonstrate what happens when queer texts are given freedom to shape other classroom spaces, discussions, and reading/writing practices. We believe that this collection offers a practical intervention into conversations about the purposes and places of LGBTQ literatures by making good on the challenges that queer theories have posed to higher education over the last forty years.
In this introductory essay, we sketch out some of the pedagogical frameworks that queer theory has complicated and extended for us as teacher-scholars. In doing so, we hope to offer readers some rationales that will prove useful as they attempt to create LGBTQ-themed courses or to revise existing curricula to better address the needs of twenty-first century students. At a moment when two-year colleges and universities alike are being asked to justify their curricula and assess their courses in increasingly narrow ways, it is imperative that we move beyond mere inclusion as an inherent value for our work. By connecting our work to literacy frameworks that are central to the development of college-educated citizens, we help our colleagues and campus administrators to better understand why our students benefit from careful and engaged study with the texts and ideas of LGBTQ writers. ← 2 | 3 →
Queer Literacies and English Studies
Our move toward a literacies framework for teaching and understanding queer writers and writing begins as a recognition that literacy scholars for the last forty years have been working to understand reading, writing, and understanding—the core acts of meaning-making and world-making—as primarily socially and contextually constructed practices (Alexander 2008; Brandt 2001; Goodman 1984; Graff 1979; Heath 1983; Lankshear & Knobel 2003; Street 1984, 1995). Human beings learn to read all sorts of texts in social settings: sitting in the laps of parents and grandparents, children learn to recognize story structures through the images they see and the sounds they hear as they are read to; swapping notes, text messages, and memes, young adults develop an awareness of new words and concepts through social and digital play; bouncing ideas off each other, exploring the nuances of terms, graduate students in the humanities parse out the different notions of action and inaction built into Judith Butler’s theory of performativity. As important, queer youth for generations have come to understand themselves and their experiences through coded languages and visual signifiers which become world-making literacy practices for them, ways of welcoming new members to the group and for framing what is and isn’t allowed in these contexts. We choose to think of these diverse practices for reading, writing, and understanding as queer literacies, as practices that queer peoples have engaged with across a host of different contexts in order to understand themselves and others.
But how might we define queer literacies and how might these literacies become structural to our thinking in English Studies pedagogies? To us, this question involves asking how queer theories focused on concepts like desire, normativity, and orientation have worked to support alternative pedagogical models that call into question central conceits for collegiate work. Consider, for example, expertise. Few scholars would suggest that researchers surrender knowledge that has been carefully sought after and developed over many years; as an intellectual model, the idea that we continually research and explore and then build on previous knowledge in a dialectical framework is perhaps imperative to understanding our academic selves and the world of the academy itself. Yet, as Julietta Singh (2018) has argued in Unthinking Mastery: Dehumanism and Decolonial Entanglements, there are spaces where “mastery” or “expertise” can get in the way of a more just world. While the classroom as we are discussing it in this collection is a bit different from Singh’s project, we would argue that there are ways that understanding pedagogy/teaching practices as centered only on ideas of mastery/expertise lead ← 3 | 4 → to teaching practices that inherently support heteronormative experiences and systems of power. In a moment when the humanities seems to face a continuing deprofessionalization through funding cuts and an alleged crisis in STEM education/disciplines, we wouldn’t want to suggest that expertise isn’t important. Nor would we want to make “expertise” only the province of the sciences. Yet queer theories also remind us that it is essential to challenge expertise as we understand it as the sine qua non of our work. What might it mean to engage with “low theory” (Halberstam 2011) and “silly archives” (Berlant 2012) alongside or, at times, instead of “expertise”? What might it mean to redesign our courses so that we do not produce more “experts-in-training,” so that we are not merely reproductive of our own practices and identities, but instead to teach in ways that enable queer bodies and practices, queer methods and epistemologies, to emerge? For us, these shifts in pedagogy can be effected through thinking about the types of literacies we want students in our courses to experience. This sort of literacy-as-epistemology framework encourages us to think structurally about our courses and our teaching, and to ask how to move beyond mere inclusion of LGBTQ texts and writers in courses across the English Studies curriculum.
Toward this end, we offer the following four tenets as a starting space for thinking about queer literacy practices:
1. Queer literacies are oppositional/disruptive.
2. Queer literacies are deflective/refractive.
3. Queer literacies are intertextual/remixed.
4. Queer literacies are multivalent.
We see these practices as based in a socio-cultural framework for literacy studies that has emerged over the last forty years in the work of Shirley Brice Heath (1983), Brian Street (1984), James Paul Gee (1990), Deborah Brandt (2001), and others. Our understanding of queer literacies acknowledges that language and language learning are ideological projects, that humans do not typically learn a language—or its grammars and values—outside of a culture that contextualizes words and structures, valuing some words, ideas, and ways of saying/writing/doing things at the expense of others. Queer experiences are not immune from this sort of sociocultural literacy project as the languages that LGBTQ people develop among themselves in hyper-local communities. The words we choose and the contexts in which we choose them, the ways we use language to advance ourselves in a particular society or save ourselves from those who wish us harm for being “queer”—these are languages that we use to shape our desires and our identities. These linguistic turns of phrase represent systems of thinking that shape how we see ourselves ← 4 | 5 → and others, how we shape our orientations toward others, and how others see us. On one level, we can see this sort of literacy at work when a queer person attempts to find their place among the intersecting and complex frameworks available to mark identity and desire: Am I butch or femme? And what type of femme? A top or a bottom … or vers? Am I a bear, an otter, a twink? And in what contexts do these identities shift and change? How can I learn the nuances and distinctions of these words and ways of being, and which ones have I not yet discovered (or invented) for expressing the contours of my own sense of self? And why might I want to choose these terms to frame my sense of self-as-self-with-others? Learning what these things mean and how they mean, how they can mean different things in different contexts, is just a small part of how queer people can find themselves not only having to learn and deploy particular words in particular ways but also having to negotiate these complexities across social contexts and time.
As a framework for thinking about how we teach LGBTQ literatures across the English Studies curriculum, queer literacies can also provide us with ways for thinking about why and how LGBTQ texts do work in the world. They can also help us to explore this work with students in ways that complement and challenge the aesthetic work of these texts. To that end, the chapters in this collection demonstrate how the authors have put queer literacies into practice in their respective classrooms, even if they do not necessarily identify those practices explicitly in their chapters, as well as how they have used their classrooms and their textual selections to provide pedagogical spaces for students to understand queer literacy practices. In the rest of this chapter, we explore these queer literacy practices in greater detail in order to showcase how the work of the teacher-scholars included here can help us to think critically and carefully about the queer literacies we want our classrooms to provide for students.
Queer Literacies as Oppositional/Disruptive
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- Publication date
- 2019 (May)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. VI, 148 pp., 1 b/w ill.