Insisting on Inquiry

This special CLAGS newsletter goes to press exactly one month after
hijackers rammed jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and
aimed for a third target before being brought down in the fields of
Pennsylvania. In the days immediately following the attacks, pundits, politicians
and plain folks asserted that our lives in America had been changed forever.
Certainly all of us at CLAGS have been stunned and shaken. Gathering for our first
board meeting of the year just days later, we expressed our grief, confusion,
anxieties, and fears. Like everyone, no doubt, we questioned the meaning and
purpose of our lives and our work, as we found ourselves swept into the
emergency-parlance category of “non-essential personnel.”

But many of us had been in our classrooms in the days following the
attacks, where our presence as presumed authorities took on heightened urgency.
Students turned to us for answers, though we did not have easy ones; they
sought reassurances from us, though we could hardly promise many. Our responsibilities
as teachers, writers, thinkers, researchers, felt huge and we traded
anecdotes and strategies for how we could seek to live up to them.

And, of course, we struggled to make sense of the catastrophe, believing
that one way in which we scholars and public intellectuals are not “non-essential”
is in the need, even amid grief and anger, for analysis. As a center focused on
lesbian and gay studies in particular, we asked ourselves what insights or ways of
looking at the world the field might uniquely offer us as we try to get a grip on
the attacks and the unfolding events. This newsletter is our partial answer to that
question: Members of the CLAGS board and community offer their personal
responses to the tragedy and their own takes on how queer theory and LGTBQ
studies provide tools for analyzing various aspects of the events.

In many quarters, any attempts at analysis—particularly those that dare to
address the reasons for widespread resentment of the US in the Arab and Muslim
world and the role of American foreign policy in fanning it—are being decried as
inappropriate, as akin to justifying the unjustifiable. As scholars who believe that
understanding what causes hatred helps to defuse and defeat it (certainly research
on homo- and transphobic violence has emphasized this point) we must reject
such calls to close down inquiry and to disavow knowledge. Indeed, as people
privileged to labor in the realm of ideas, we feel a special duty to open up
opportunities for inquiry—even more so as we witness efforts to narrow discourse
and drown dissent, even on university campuses.

Though we cannot “go back to normal,” we take up CLAGS’s mission with
as much vigor as ever, firmly believing that the work we do fosters the creativity,
inquiry, and full embrace of humanity that are the most powerful answers to
hatred and violence, fundamentalism and terror.

We invite your responses on our website, www.clags.org.