Futures of the Field

Gay and lesbian studies has been in the mainstream press quite a lot over the last several months, particularly after Yale University’s refusal to accept Larry Kramer’s generous gift to establish a program on their campus. Venues such as the New York Times have recently filed cover stories on the status of “sexuality” studies on campuses around the United States, and on the number of campuses in which undergraduate students can major in gay and lesbian studies and attendant fields. While graduate education in gay/lesbian/queer studies seems to remain remanded to existing disciplines in which students working with established scholars can pursue sexuality as a subfield of, for example, history or performance, several campuses around the country are establishing gay and lesbian studies programs to facilitate the distribution of knowledge in the undergraduate curriculum. HRI Forum on G/L/8/T Studies Last October, I participated in an interdisciplinary forum sponsored by the Humanities Research Institute (HRI) at the University of California-Irvine. Organized by Robyn Wiegman, Director of the Women’s Studies Progrm at UCI, the day-long forum brought together faculty from across the UC and Cal State system to discuss the ways in which they are establishing gay and lesbian studies majors or minors on their campuses. Several critical issues emerged: For example, on an institutional level, how is gay and lesbian studies affiliated with women’s studies, which typically holds a prior interdisciplinary position on many campuses? Forum representatives from UC-San Diego and UC-Santa Barbara described how ‘f//1/b/t studies on their campus~s will evolve in one way or another from their women’s studies programs, which are contemplating changing their emphases and their names to “gender and sexuality” (and, at Santa Barbara, “gender, race, and sexuality”). Much can be learned from the prior examples of women’s studies and race studies programs’ efforts to establish majors and minors, and to transform university curricula. What would it mean to adapt the historical monikers “Women’s Studies” or “African-American Studies” to “Gender, Race, and Sexuality Studies”? How would knowledge reform itself under these categories, and what would happen to existing Women’s Studies or AfricanAmerican Studies Programs in this scheme? Another issue raised at the forum was the relationship between academic units in g//1/b/t studies and student services resource centers or faculty and staff advocacy committees. The new minor at UC-Riverside was devised through the interest of the campus resource center and a chancellor’s advisory committee. Without requesting additional funding, the minor was run through the English Department. The now fulltime staff in the resource center continues to be involved with the academic program. At other . campuses, the relationship betweenresource centers and academic units is more competitive around budget and staff allocations. While g//1/b/t programs aim to be interdisciplinary, forum participants admitted that the field’s contents tend to be biased toward the humanities, and that humanities disciplines often provide the existing minors’ primary administrative structures. The politics of location here mean that formulating minors requires hard work to bring social science and hard science faculty and knowledges into the core of the minor’s curriculum. Of course, the forum demonstrated that there is no consensus around what constitutes the core of knowledge in the field. The minor at UC-Riverside purposefully minimizes core requirements, and the one at Berkeley refuses to create a hierarchy around its courses. The Berkeley program’s core courses include an introduction to the major, based on alternative sexual identities and communities; a course in historiography that’s cross-listed with women’s studies; an anthropology course; and a course on semiotic, visual, and political representation that’s offered through Rhetoric. In addition to this core, students are required to select two courses from a list of electives compiled by the minor’s faculty committee. The question of resource allocation, staffing, and faculty lines is pressing on all the UC campuses, and most of the existing minors in the system have created their curriculum with very little budgetary support On the other hand, the group who formed to pass a minor in the field at UCLA found that their development officer was interested in using the occasion of the minor to fundraise in the lesbian and gay Los Angeles community. The HRI forum prompted much good discussion about the implications of institutionalizing gay and lesbian and queer studies as academic fields. Building on the precedent of women’s studies and race studies, it seems to me that the challenge for us is to position our field as a coalitional site that takes a leadership role in cross-identity issues, such as welfare, immigration, health care, and representation (cultural and political)_ Rather than creating one more identity studies area in universities that require competition for vital resources to build new knowledges, gay/lesbian/queer studies might press at the organization of knowledge by insisting that our work cannot begin to be addressed without inclusive structural connections to other area studies and without a critical analysis of the problems of institutionalizing knowledges. It’s important to note that, for the most part, existing disciplines are pulling in the outlaws; the Modern Languages Association’s conference generates so much of queer theory partly because so many of its practitioners are hired in English Departments or other humanities fields_ But gay/lesbian/queer studies can bring with it an activist understanding of the social problems of knowledge, and resist the balkanization in the academy that keeps knowledges (and the people who create it and from whom it stems) discrete and disempowered.

Trouble at SUNY-New Paltz

While UC’s HRI Forum and the amount of press coverage on the development of academic programs at other institutions around the country has been encouraging and stimulating, gay/lesbian/queer issues on other campuses don’t enjoy the level of positive reinforcement that sometimes seems the norm. This past Fall, SUNY-New Paltz became the focus of a media storm when New York State legislators and members of the SUNY Board of Trustees protested a conference on women’s sexuality held at the campus. Legislators and trustees particularly objected to conference panels on sex toys and lesbian sadomasochism, although most of their criticisms came from reading program titles rather than carefully considering the issues such sessions might raise. The ensuing debacle made national news when Governor George Pataki promised that he would establish policies to make sure that such an event couldn’t take place on a SUNY campus again and when certain trustees called for the University President’s ouster. This event, and the many other recent instances of threats to academic freedom, and of course the perennial attacks on freedom of expression in the arts when their creative impulses come from gay/lesbian/queer sources, are continual reminders that we can’t become complacent about the acceptance of academic studies or activist work around g//1/b/t issues on campuses or in communities around the country_

CLAGS’s Work Continues

Our Fall events at CLAGS engaged with all of these issues in provocative ways. In October we sponsored a panel on the politics of race and sexuality in the New York City elections, which brought together academic and activist writers and commentators to discuss how these two identity positions were separated and played against each other in local November races. CLAGS also staged a benefit with SAGE to honor SAGE’s past Executive Director, Ken Dawson. A panel discussion reflecting on the movement of gay and lesbian generations through history followed a slide show describing 20 years of SAGE’s work for gay and lesbian seniors. Our annual Kessler Award Lecture, this year delivered by author Samuel Delany, addressed the widely touted redevelopment of Times Square in terms of its effect on gay subcultures that once thrived in this neighborhood. CLAGS’s monthly colloquium series continues to offer provocative discussions of academic work that has a profound impact on gay, lesbian, and queer knowledge and experience. Our colloqs this year have mostly paired junior scholars with senior scholars, to enhance the exchange value of the discussions that ensue. One focused on Southeast Asian lesbian I iterature; another on generational differences in gay male history writing; another on the necessity for rapprochement between civil rights discourses and queer theory. Looking forward to the Spring, CLAGS is sponsoring a roundtable discussion on arts censorship and its relationship to homophobia and the silencing of gay/lesbian/queer expression_ As the NEA Four’s case makes it way to the Supreme Court, we find it essential to influence public discourse about the ways in which arts censorship has become an easy project for the radical right, relying on homophobia to deny funding to artistically and politically progressive public arts projects. A group of lawyers, writers, performers, and activists will join CLAGS Board members in a discussion, to devise strategies for reformulating the terms of this debate in the press and in public culture. G.AGS is also continuing its attention to curricular issues and queer teaching, co-sponsoring a symposium called Anxious Pleasures: The Erotics of Pedagogy which w.iU. feature Jane Gallop, author of Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment, along with Jim Kincaid, Ann Pellegrini, and David Eng in a lively discussion of the erotics of the classroom. We are also developing an interdisciplinary option proposal to present to the The Graduate Center, CUNY, one that would allow students enrolled in CUNY graduate programs to organize their course work around gay/lesbian/queer knowledges. In April, CLAGS is presenting a major conference on post-coloniality and queer theory. Called Queer Globalization, Local Homosexualities: Citizenship, Sexuality, and the Afterlife of Colonialism, the three-day event brings together activists, artists, and thinkers from around the world to consider the intersections of queer theory and studies of national and global power as they intersection with discourses of sexuality. Do join CLAGS for these events, as well as the continuation of our colloquium series_ If you’re not in the area, do be sure you’re a member, so that you can receive notice of what’s happening in gay/lesbian/queer studies in one of the most vital centers in the country_ As a CLAGS member, you receive discounts on titles in our NYU Press book series, as well as our semi-annual newsletter, discounts to conferences, and access to an important network of people who believe in the power of gay/lesbian/queer knowledge and its potential for social change.