Recap: Queer & Trans Literature & Theory

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End-of-semester visualization exercise by Madison Ganson
(if you look closely you can see the GAY creeping through from someone else’s drawing!)

In the fall I taught a new English/Critical Identity Studies course called Queer & Transgender Literature and Theory. It was an ambitious course designed to explore (1) literature written by and about queer and trans people, (2) formal strategies used to enact or produce queerness and/or transness in literature, (3) the overlaps and tensions between queer and trans as theoretical and interpretive lenses; and (4) the relationships and intersections between queerness and transness and race, ethnicity, nation, disability, class, and other dimensions of social identity. It was categorized as a course in “Genre, Mode, Technique,” so I focused on the diversity of queer and trans aesthetic traditions and approached it as a hybrid course: we responded to course texts both analytically and creatively, experimenting on our own with some of the methods and strategies that some of our authors used, for example, cu(n)t-ups (after Dodie Bellamy) and fan fiction (after Tom Cho). While the course succumbed to the usual first-time problems—we read too much! didn’t read enough!—and there are certainly moves I’ll make differently next time around, I call it a success. Some people have asked to see my reading list. I’ve shared it below, after some highlights and revision notes.


Highlights! Notable Moments!

–Early on we read Henry James’ Beast in the Jungle, with help from Sedgwick’s analysis, to introduce methods for reading queerly. My assumption was that students would be quick to see the hidden queerness in the text, and that our subsequent reading, Elizabeth Hanson’s essay “Toward an Asexual Narrative Structure,” which interprets the central character as not closeted but asexual, would blow their minds. Not so!—students got to the asexual reading first, on their own, and had a surprisingly difficult time locating the queer possibilities in the text. This seemed illuminating on two fronts: first, as a sign of how much more visible and available asexuality is as an orientation/practice today than it has been historically; and second, how challenging it may be for students who have grown up in a more queer-visible, queer-positive context to locate more cloaked forms of (potential) queerness. (Or maybe it’s not queerness, so much as Henry James, that’s hard to read!)


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— ^ Tom Cho skyped in! To talk with us about the stories in Look Who’s Morphing; his relationship to fan fiction–and comedy; his experience publishing in Australia v. North America; and his new novel project. & more.



Photos by Kyla Anderson

 — ^ I was really pleased with the approaches students took for their class facilitation projects during our poetry/poetics unit. Here, we see half the class participating in a live writing exercise adapted from Dawn Lundy Martin, whose work we were discussing (and listening to), while the rest of us watched and listened; then we switched. The group who presented on Meg Day also did some cool exercises centered around voice and listening.

–On the whole these students were thoroughly impressive. The degree of energy they put into the class; the smarts, curiosity, and enthusiasm they sustained throughout; and, especially, their significant and ambitious intellectual and creative output: outstanding. Some notable scholarly projects included a reading of Shraya’s She of the Mountains through the lens of queer environmental studies; a comparative examination of the construction of masculinity and whiteness in Giovanni’s Room and Trouble on Triton; a queer examination of CocoRosie’s music; and an analysis of an art installation by Wolfie E Rawk.

–And then there were the creative projects, which were stunning! Highlights include: a zine exploring grief and intimacy (sprung from our discussions of Lucas de Lima’s Wet Land); a chapbook of poems written from the perspective of a woman who is being held captive by a shapeshifting alien (in conversation with Kij Johnson’s “Spar” and Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild”); an audio piece made up of cut-ups from our course readings; an extended fictional dialogue between a doctor on Trouble on Trion and his assistant, designed to interrogate some of the novel’s inconsistencies and oversights around gender; and two gorgeous collages representing visually two of our course texts’ protagonists. Such terrific work—thanks, everyone.


Revision Notes

If I teach this again, I’d like to:

–come up with a snazzier, simpler course title. “Queer and Trans Aesthetics”? “Queer and Trans Modes/Forms/xxxx?” “Queer and Trans Writing” or “Writing Queer and Trans”? Hmm…

–replace Orlando or Trouble on Triton with Imogen Binnie’s Nevada.

–expand the unit on poetry—we moved way too fast through Troubling the Line, with class facilitation groups granted only 20 minutes to cover their chosen poet. More time!

–devote more time to creative exercises in class; and encourage creative responses as well as analytical responses as part of students’ regular Moodle forum posts.

–pay more attention to the nontraditional—hybrid, performative, personal, &c—ways in which queer and trans scholars have done theory and criticism. We read a lot of innovative theory and criticism but didn’t always emphasize the ways in which these formal strategies subvert scholarly conventions. More attention to this would free students up, I think, to pursue more innovative or hybrid scholarship themselves.


Here’s the course structure & reading schedule:


Week 1: Queer and Trans, Then and Now
Excerpts from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Christmas Effects” from Tendencies (1993); Cherry Smith, “What Is This Thing Called Queer?” (1996): 280-281; J Halberstam from In a Queer Time and Place (2005): 1-2, 6; Munoz from Introduction to Cruising Utopia (2011): 1; Gloria Anzaldua, from “La Conciencia de la mestizo/ Towards a New Consciousness” (1987); E. Patrick Johnson, “Quare Studies” (2001); Carrie Sandhal, excerpt from “Queering the Crip or Cripping the Queer” (2003): 26-7; 37.
Stephen Whittle, “Foreword” and Susan Stryker, “(De)subjugated Knowledges” from Transgender Studies Reader (2006).
Susan Stryker, “Love Is a Many Gendered Thing” from Queer Pulp (2001).
Willa Cather, “Paul’s Case” (1906).
Radclyffe Hall, “Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself” (1926).

Week Two: Post-Stonewall Homonormativity
The “It Gets Better” Project (
Jasbir Puar, “In the Wake of It Gets Better” (2010).
Vivek Shraya, She of the Mountains.
Karen Tongson, “Normporn.”, “Homonormativity 101.”
Excerpt from Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts.
Casey Plett, “Winning.”

Week Three: Transhistorical Readings
Henry James, “A Beast in the Jungle” (1903).
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “The Beast in the Closet: Henry James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic” (1986): 195-end.
Marlon Ross, “Beyond the Closet as a Raceless Paradigm” (2005): 171-179.
Elizabeth Hanna Hanson, “Toward an Asexual Narrative Structure” (2014).

Week Four: Cross-Identifications: Queerness / Nation / Racialization
James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956).
Excerpts from Matt Brim, “Paradoxical Reading Practices: Giovanni’s Room as Queer/Gay/Trans Novel”; Robert Reid-Pharr, “Tearing the Goat’s Flesh”: 387-; Mae Henderson, “James Baldwin: Expatriation, Homosexual Panic, and Man’s Estate”; Bryan R. Washington, “The Beast in Giovanni’s Room”; Cynthia Barounis, “‘Not the Usual Pattern’: James Baldwin, Homosexuality, and the DSM”: 13-14


Week Five: Cu(n)t-Ups
William Burroughs & Byron Gysin, excerpt from The Third Mind.
J Halberstam “Cutting” section of “Shadow Feminisms” chapter of The Queer Art of Failure.
Dodie Bellamy, excerpts from Cunt-Ups and Cunt Norton (2013).
Dodie Bellamy, “Low Culture” from Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (2005).
Bellamy interview with David Buuck.
José Esteban Muñoz, “Performing Disidentifications” (1999).
Susan Stryker, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage” (1994).
Carrie Sandahl, “Queering the Crip or Cripping the Queer” (2003).

Week Six: Queer Pulp & Slash Fiction
Ika Willis, “Keeping Promises to Queer Children: Making Space (for Mary Sue) at Hogwarts.”
Tom Cho, “Dirty Dancing,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Bodyguard,” “I,Robot.”

Week Seven: Midterm Projects
The Year I Broke My Voice, dir. Madsen Minax. (47 minutes)

Week Eight: Midterm Break


Week Nine: Trans, Genderqueer, and Gurlesque Poetics
Excerpts from Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry, edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson (2013): both introductions and poetry by TC Tolbert, Trace Peterson, Samuel Ace, Ching-In Chen, Trish Salah, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhán, CAConrad, and Micha Cárdenas.
Arielle Greenberg and Lara Glenum, Introductions to Gurlesque (2010); poems by Ariana Reines, Brenda Coultas, Cathy Park Hong, Chelsey Minnis, Tina Brown Celona; Amy King, “The Gurlesque: No Queers Aloud” (online, 2010); Seth Oelbaum on the “Boyesque.”

Week Ten: Trans & Disability Poetics
Troubling the Line: Poems by Kit Yan, Stephen Burt, and Dawn Lundy Martin. Read front matter of Orlando, up to pp. li.
Troubling the Line: poems by David Wolach, Eli Clare, and Meg Day.
Selections from Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Bodymap.


Week Eleven: Queer Historiography
Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928).

Week Twelve: Queer/Crip Time
Elizabeth Freeman, “Time Binds, or Erotohistoriography” (2010).
Alison Kafer, “Time for Disability Studies and a Future for Crips” (2014).
The Watermelon Woman, dir. Cheryl Dunye (90 min).

Week Thirteen: Scifi Potentialities
Samuel R. Delany, Trouble on Triton.

Week Fourteen: Speculative Transfeminism
Delany, Trouble on Triton.

Week Fifteen:   Animalien Encounters
Octavia Butler, “Bloodchild.”
Kij Johnson, “Spar.”
Eva Hayward, “Lessons from a Starfish.”
Lucas de Lima, Wet Land.
Debra Levine, “How to Do Things with Dead Bodies.”

Week Sixteen: Strange Terrains
Edie Fake, Gaylord Phoenix.

Full reading list available ENGL 262 Reading List.


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