Colloquium Report

Whose community?
Whose categories?
Whose history? Those
were the questions
animating the
CLAGS Colloquium
Series in LGTBQ
Studies last semester,
as the six speakers in
the series asked their
audiences to question
the analytic constructs
that dominate queer
studies.

Viviane Namaste, an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at the Simone
de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University in Montréal, kicked off the winter
colloquium series with a presentation based on her forthcoming book, “C’était du
spectacle!: An oral history of Montréal’s male to female transsexual and transvestite
artists, 1955-1985. Arguing against the tendency in LGBT studies to conflate histories
of transsexual women with those of gay men, Namaste situated her subjects outside
of gay and lesbian communities. “These women performed in predominantly
heterosexual bars, not gay bars,” she argued. Namaste framed her study not as a
battle over public space—the approach often taken by queer histories of bar
culture—but as a labor history of transsexual artists.
Gabriela Cano, Professor of History at Universidad
Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa in Mexico and winner of
the Martin Duberman Fellowship in 2004, talked about her
research, “Colonel Roble’s Intimate Joy: Transgender
Masculinity in the Mexican Revolution.” Colonel Amelio
Robles (previously known as Amelia Robles) was a
transgendered officer in the revolutionary army led by
Emiliano Zapata. Robles has long been claimed by feminists in
Mexico as an exemplary revolutionary woman. Cano, however,
views him as a transgender subject who used the cultural resources available to
him—dress, personal gestures, and, importantly, photography—to construct himself
throughout his adult life as male. In addition to her work on Robles, Cano is also
editing a collection, Gender in Postrevolutionary Mexico, and a multivolume history of
women in Spain and Latin America.
Although a fair number of female couples adopted
children in the early twentieth-century United States, the
dominance of “community” as an analytic category in gay
studies actually poses a barrier to understanding how
people formed GLBT families in the past, argued Ellen
Herman, an Associate Professor in the Department of
History at the University of Oregon, in her presentation, “A
History of Gay Kinship in the United States: The Case of
Child Adoption in the Early Twentieth Century.” “We have
too often assumed that leaving one’s family of origin was
the essential precondition for modern gay consciousness, that urban communities
functioned as wholesale replacements for families, that bright lines separated heterosexual
and homosexual worlds.” Herman suggested that recovering kinship in all its
complexity will add texture and new stories to GLBT history.” Herman is currently
working on a book project, Kinship by Design, and has created and maintains a
website called “The Adoption History Project,” at http://uoregon.edu/~adoption.
Challenging the idea of gender as a binary and stable category is the “final
frontier” in Caribbean studies, suggested Rosamond S. King, an Assistant Professor
of English at Long Island University, in her talk, “Transgender Transgression/
Transgender Transcendence? Caribbean Contexts.” King argued that “the idea of
transvestism as a Caribbean cultural tradition will seem preposterous to many,
though that is precisely what I am proposing, since cross-dressing has been a part of
Caribbean carnivals for over 100 years.” Turning to literature, King noted that, “a
significant body of recent Caribbean literature includes narrators or characters with
nontraditional, indeterminate, or multiple genders. This gender mixing, disruption, or trans/formation often serves as a frame within which trans characters are
portrayed as mythical or as fantasy. In other instances, the characters are portrayed
as more realistic people who accept their identities whether or not those around
them do.” In this literature, King said, “a shifting or nontraditional or mixed gender
is also a symbol of Caribbean creoleness or mestizaje.” Part of King’s talk was derived
from her current book project, Island Bodies: Caribbean Literary Sex and Sexualities.
Continuing the colloquium series’ theme of reframing the categories, Tony
De Moya, Profesor de Antropología Sociocultural de la Sexualidad Dominicana at
the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, suggested that “gender” and “sex”
are better described as a continuum than as a dichotomy. Moreover, De Moya
argued in his presentation, “Epistemology, Methodology and Ethics in the
Investigation of Dominican Sexuality,” “sexes, sexualities, and eroticisms are not
binary, they are as unique and unrepeatable as fingerprints.” Suggesting parameters
for future study, De Moya said sex research and
sexuality studies in the Dominican Republic should be
integrated better with Latino Studies. For example,
racisms structured around hair texture, he said, are
also gendered through partner selection. The
relations between eroticism, power and spirituality
also require more study, De Moya added, noting that
“the masissís calembés, the intersexed children of
gods and goddesses, are the continuation of the
‘two-spirit’ (berdache) tradition.” De Moya is
currently working a new project, “The Homoerotic
Constant in American History.”
The spring colloquium series concluded with another debate over categories.
In his talk, “The Ancient Amazons: Female Masculinity or Matriarchy?,” Walter
(Peter) Penrose, a Ph.D. Candidate in History at the The Graduate Center, CUNY,
questioned whether the Amazons should be understood to represent female
masculinity or matriarchy. His conclusion? “What we can safely say is that from a
Greek ethnic stereotype, their actions were masculine. From a Scythian or
Sauromatian viewpoint, we might see Amazons as representative of a matriarchal or
gender equal society. We are left with the understanding that female masculinity is
not only socially but also ethnically constructed.”
Penrose’s talk is part of his book project, “Bold with the
Bow and Arrow: Amazons and the Ethnic Gendering of
Martial Prowess in Ancient Greek and Asian Cultures.”
He also has an article, “Colliding Cultures: Masculinity
and Homoeroticism in Mughal and Colonial South
Asia,” forthcoming in Siting Queer Masculinities 1550-
1800 (London: Palgrave 2005).