CLAGSreports

Jordan
Schildcrout,
a PhD
candidate in
Theatre at the
CUNY
Graduate
Center,
started off this
spring series
with a talk,
“My Bloody
Valentine: Gay
Love and
Murder on
the American Stage,” based on work from his
dissertation. In the face of assimilationist gay
politics demanding only positive representations
of queer lives, Schildcrout made a case for
reclaiming “the dark figure who has lurked
throughout theatrical entertainment for the past
century—the queer killer.”
Unlike mass produced culture, Schildcrout
argued, theater has “offered representations of
queer lives that are arguably more diverse and
more complex and it has offered them more
frequently and to more popular and critical
acclaim than any other art form.” Instead of
simply dismissing the trope of the “queer killer” as
a homophobic construction, Schildcrout said, we
should “interrogate them as a emblematic figures
whose violence has the potential to illuminate
emotional, social, and political realities of LGBTQ
people.”
For Schildcrout, the “queer killer” is not a
genre. “They each represent an example of a
recurring character or plot motif, one whose
meaning shifts with changes in cultural
understandings of homosexuality and of crime,
and of homosexuality as a crime.”
Schildcrout went on to analyze The Lisbon
Traviata by Terrence McNally, Porcelain by Chay
Yew, and Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang.
Schildcrout added a lively and theatrical
dimension to his presentation by having actors
Inga Hyatt, Vin Knight, and Rodney To read
excerpts from the plays he was discussing.
Ruth Vanita, in her talk on “Lesbian Weddings
in India: The Issues for Hindu Marriage Law,”
analyzed a series of joint suicides and weddings
that have been reported in the Indian press in
the last two and a half decades.
“I’m fascinated by the public language of
marriage and of death which these couples use
to proclaim their commitment and their love,”
said Vanita, a Professor of Liberal Studies &
Women’s Studies at the University of Montana
and ACLS-SSRC-NEH fellow for 2003-04, in the
introduction to her presentation. “What
gestures, words and actions did they use? How
were their choices heard and understood by their
families, their communities, the state, by religious
authorities—some of them were married by Hindu
priests—and by journalists and reporters?”
Vanita presented her research in India in
relation to international debates on same-sex
marriage. “In the US, the state decides whether or
not a particular union is a legal marriage. Indian
democracy provides an alternative and less
authoritarian model. The Hindu Marriage Act of
1955 is based on the principle of allowing
different communities who have widely varying
practices some control in defining marriage and
family matters.”
“It’s not fashionable these days to talk about
the universal but I do find it very interesting that
same-sex couples in rural and small towns in India
in vastly different circumstances from gay couples
in the US have gone ahead and gotten married
regardless of what the law and the police have to
say. In both countries what these couples are
basically saying is that community recognition—
and in some cases what they would call divine
recognition—is what makes their marriage and
the state should accept that fact instead of
fighting it.”
In his presentation, “Lost Prophet/Lost Politics:
The Recuperation of Bayard Rustin,” John
D’Emilio spoke about the reception of his 2003
book on Bayard Rustin. “While the reviews were
better than for anything else I’ve ever written,” he
said, “there was a
real gap between
what I thought the
book was about and
what the reviewers
thought. That gap
can tell us something
about the present.”
D’Emilio, the
Director of the
Gender & Women’s
Studies Program and
Professor of History
and Gender &
Women’s Studies,
University of Illinois,
Chicago, noted that his book, Lost Prophet: The
Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, which was a finalist
in 2003 for a National Book Award, was reviewed
as if it was an exercise in the recuperation of a
black gay man. For D’Emilio, that suggests we’re
still in a world of gay intellectual ghettoization,
even though, he added, “Bayard Rustin’s story
exists outside of the narrative framework that gay
and lesbian history has created.”
While D’Emilio’s book does address Rustin’s
sexuality, most of the material focuses on Rustin’s
positioning as a radical over four decades of
activism. “He came of age in the 1930s, and
then watched mass politics collapse during World
War II and the Cold War. So when the 1960s
came along, he had a real understanding of the
fragility of moments like this. And that long view
meant he often opposed the received wisdom of
radicals, and posed real challenges to the
American left. By the end of the 1960s, he’s
moved from being a radical’s radical to being
viewed as a Cold War liberal.”
D’Emilio has no interest in rehabilitating
Rustin, but he added, “his politics in those years
offers a series of challenges to conventional
thinking on the left about the 1960s, and still
speaks to contemporary debates.”
Jacqueline Jiménez Polanco’s talk, “The Gay
and Lesbian Movement in the Dominican
Republic: A critical analysis of the current situation
of sexual minorities,” made CLAGS history as the
first colloquium to be presented in Spanish.
Jiménez Polanco, Associate Researcher and
Political Science Coordinator, Facultad
Latinoamericana de Ciencas Sociales in the
Dominican Republic, contextualized the
emergence of the lesbian and gay movement in
the Dominican
Republic within a
larger, panoramic
view of the
socio-historical
development of
Dominican society
from the colonial
to the post-colonial
periods. Jiménez
Polanco described
the authoritarian
regime of Rafael
Leónidas Trujillo
(1930-1961) and
the Catholic
Church’s close relationship with the state during
that time.
Although the church continues to be one of
the most vocal and powerful enemies of
movements on behalf of sexual minorities, the
emergence of civil society in the post-Trujillo
period, together with the mobilization of feminists
during the 1960s, laid the groundwork for the
development of the lesbian and gay movement in
the 1980s.
In her presentation, Jiménez Polanco examined
the development of the movement by decades.
As civil society expanded, the 1980s saw the
emergence of gay and lesbian groups and held
much promise. During the 1990s, however, the
movement stagnated, in large part as a result of
the massive emigration of people who could have
given continuity to initial efforts. Finally, Jiménez
Polanco characterized the current period as one of
growth, because of the integration of younger
people into the movement and cross fertilization
with developments in the diaspora.
Jiménez Polanco is also a member of the
International Resource Network Advisory Board.
This colloquium was co-sponsored by the Center
for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU,
Mano a Mano, QUIGSLEYA, Gay and Lesbian
Dominican Empowerment Organization (GALDE),
and Las Buenas Amigas.
Ben Singer, in his presentation, “The Trans
Sublime in Public Health,” addressed the barriers
to health care access that trans people face. While
doing his fieldwork on this problem, Singer, a
doctoral candidate at Rutgers University
and the 2002-2003 CLAGS Martin
Duberman Fellow, had encountered
something more amorphous than simply
institutionalized transphobia. The
barriers to access that trans people face,
he found, also resulted from “exclusion
from the social imaginary. There is a
cognitive limit concerning the meaning
and legibility of trans identities and
bodies, generated by uncertainty and
even confusion on the part of
providers.”
Singer, an ethnographer with a
background in textual analysis, brought
his literary training to bear on the
problem and found himself returning to a familiar
humanities concept, the sublime. “With the
sublime, there is the possibility of limitlessness. It
mixes pleasure and pain, joy and terror, and
confronts us with the threat of the absolute other,
the limitations of our language and our capacity
to think and judge.”
The incapacity of the health care system to
deal with the proliferation of unruly bodies,
genders, and categories resisting assimilation and
escaping binary categorization, Singer said,
“seemed to echo the sublime situation of ‘reason
being forced to confront its incapacity to deal
rationally with the infinite.’”
“So while it often goes undetected, this
phenomenon lies at the center of transphobia in
medical systems, and has real material impact,
creating barriers to accessing health care. It’s
insidious and in real need of examination.”
Santiago Solis presented a talk, “Unzipping
the Monster Dick: Deconstructing Ableist
Penile Representations in two Ethnic
Homoerotic Magazines,” as part of CLAGS’s
Disability and Queerness: Centering the
Outsider series.
Solis, a doctoral student in Learning
Dis/abilities (LD) at Teachers College,
Columbia University, argued that, “in
presenting the oversized monster dick as a
powerful and admirable sex apparatus,
belonging only to non-disabled men, Black
Inches and Latin Inches perpetuate the belief
that disabled men’s bodies and sex organs do
not meet the physical, psychological, and
sexual conventions of representation.”
For Solis, who illustrated his argument
with a slide show of drawings and
photographs, the images in Black Inches and Latin
Inches are only two examples of how the politics
of representation help determine the distribution
of privilege, status and power. “Nevertheless,” he
argued, “these two magazines help normalize the
cultural encoding of the extraordinarily large
monster dick as an essentialist, captivating and
powerful sex tool.”
These representations, Solis argued, “suggest
that able-bodied men of color possess the
capability, stamina and power to penetrate while
assuming that disabled men of color are devoid of
the physical strength, the endowment, and the
sexual desire to fuck.”
“Not only does a monster dick serve as a
corporeal condition for sexual representation but
also the manner in which it is socially constructed
suggests that sexual ability is always about
physically healthy and strong bodies.”