“Unzipping the Monster Dick.”I thought nothing
of this title when planning the fall 2003 CLAGS and a speaker,
Santiago Solis, suggested it. It seemed to me, a denizen of the world
of queer studies, unremarkable, even normal as I jotted it down.
Solis, who was finishing his PhD in Learning Dis/abilities at Teachers
College, Columbia University at the time, had
the requisite explanatory subtitle: “Deconstructing
Ableist Penile Representations in two Ethnic
Homoerotic Magazines.”
The CLAGS fall calendar came out a short time
later, and I got a call from a senior administrator
at the Graduate Center. Even more senior administrators
were concerned, he told me, that “Monster
Dick” might attract the attention of the tabloids
and the enmity of the organized right wing in the
state. The previous year, Governor Pataki had appointed a conservative
priest, described as an “outspoken foe” of gay rights, to the
CUNY Board of Trustees. The administration, he continued, would
like CLAGS to change the title, tone it down, make it less raunchy.
(The administrators involved are no longer at the Graduate Center.)
We didn’t change the title.
The talk, which was part of CLAGS’s ground-breaking year-long
series, “Claiming Disability: New Work at the Intersection of LGTBQ
and Disability Studies,” did not go off without controversy. In
fact, that colloquium was one of the most harrowing of my moderating
experiences at CLAGS. While the title did not draw unwanted
attention from the tabloids, it did attract two men attending their
very first CLAGS event. While they seemed receptive to the slides
of the massive members, they took issue with the speaker’s disability
studies critique of gay porn. The low point came during the Q
& A, when one of them yelled, “You’re telling me I’m supposed to
jack off to pictures of men with Down’s Syndrome?” Other audience
members jumped in to defend the speaker—it was his very first
academic talk—and the battle was joined.
I can’t even begin to sum up all that’s happened during my
four years as CLAGS ED, but I tell this story to give some sense of
the challenges, the provocations, and the messiness that define the
organization for me. I’m sure most longtime CLAGS members, and
perhaps even newer ones, can recount other moments of intense dialogue
(shouting matches). That’s what happens when new research
troubles established truths (even gay ones), when intellectual and community norms collide, when canons collapse and new theories, practices, peoples
take shape. The inquiry we support does not give easy answers, or carefully rehash
safe academic orthodoxies. Happenings at CLAGS usually raise questions, eyebrows,
and voices.
A final letter from an outgoing executive director should be crammed with lists
of achievements, thanks, and suggestions for future directions. Now that I’ve used
up much of my word count on the monster dick story, let me give you a very abbreviated
version of the traditional form.
There really is no need to recount our achievements here—just peruse our online
archives and past issues of CLAGSnews to see all that CLAGS has done. Raising
money, though, is hard, behind-the-scenes work. During my time at CLAGS, I had
the great fortune of working with the talented Sara Ganter, CLAGS’s Director of
Development, who helped CLAGS raise over $1.3 million in grants and donations,
including a new grant of $361,000 from the Ford Foundation to support the next
stages of the International Resource Network. Sara, who left CLAGS last spring
after the birth of a second child, will be sorely missed.
As for thanks, it was truly a pleasure to work with the graduate students who
comprise the CLAGS staff. They are all devoted, smart, and fun. The Board of
Directors does much of the work that staff at other organizations do, from programming
events to reading fellowship applications, and I was lucky to have the opportunity
to work with an exceptionally hard-working and engaged board during
my four years. I am also grateful for the mentoring offered to me by all the former
executive directors of CLAGS: Martin Duberman, Jill Dolan, and Alisa Solomon.
There is no need to chart out, or even hint at, CLAGS’s future here. I’m leaving
CLAGS in exceptionally strong hands. Sarah Chinn, an Associate Professor of
English at Hunter College whose work explores questions of race, sexuality, and
gender in U.S. literature, is going to be a superb executive director. She has incredible
enthusiasm and energy, extensive knowledge of the field, and a real desire to
strengthen queer studies within CUNY and beyond.
When politicians leave office, they often say they look forward to “spending
more time with their family.” For academics stepping down from administrative
posts, one can’t wait to “get back to teaching and writing.” I’m not only leaving
CLAGS with a handful of unfinished research projects simmering on my desk, I’m
also absconding with a board member, and now find myself in the midst of a family.
So, to close my “treasurer’s report” with a double-dose platitude—I will miss
CLAGS, but I truly am looking forward to having more time for family life, and to
getting back to my writing.