As of this morning, the fall class schedule for Pasadena City College is finally online. First, let me invite all of my students who read this blog to consider enrolling in my History 24F (scroll down) course: Introduction to Lesbian and Gay American History: A survey of Queer American History from the 17th century to the present, with special attention to the 20th and
21st century gay rights movement. It will meet Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:35PM, folks.
I'm not crazy about the subtitle I gave the course. I had all of five minutes to come up with it last month, and would have perhaps written something more elegant with more time. I was clear that I wanted to use the term "Queer", however. When I first taught this course (back in 2001), I decided not to use the word that is today the standard descriptor for work in the field of gay and lesbian studies. Some folks, I was afraid, would find the word too radical; others (especially of an older generation) would only know "Queer" in its pejorative sense, and be mystified as to why it would be used in a course outline. I've changed my mind since, largely because I've come to see the terms "gay and lesbian" as both more limiting and historically more problematic than "Queer".
When I first taught the class, I expected outrage from the community. I got very little. I got a couple of nasty anonymous phone calls and e-mails, but nothing like what I had anticipated. No one from our conservative Board of Trustees complained. I'll confess, I experienced a mixture of relief and disappointment. The relief was linked to the hope that the community wasn't reacting because they saw nothing significant to which to react. Perhaps Pasadena has become, on balance, progressive enough to be utterly unfazed by a course on Queer History at the community college. Perhaps those who were troubled by such a course felt that it wasn't worth their time or their effort to publicly complain. (Many folks did speculate, of course, about my sexuality. Maybe all of those marriages were a sham? Maybe that fondness for trendy clothes means something? Heck, the only folks who didn't question my sexual orientation were my gay friends!)
All of this silence was disappointing, of course, because (as my posts this past week have made clear), a small but not entirely insignificant part of Hugo just spoils for a good old-fashioned row! In this sense, it was probably for the best that I didn't have to defend the course to anyone. Everyone missed out, thankfully, on what (at least back in 2001) would have been a self-righteous tirade about tolerance, inclusion, and justice. I suspect some of my more conservative colleagues decided not to give me the satisfaction of an argument, and that was probably for the best. (I mean, I wouldn't have hit anyone, for Pete's sake, but I would have climbed rhetorical heights with gusto.)
This time around, I'm not "spoiling" for a quarrel. If complaints and questions come, I pray that I'll deal with them gracefully and tactfully. I hope I'll have compassion for those who are troubled by what they see as the "ongoing slide of our culture into the moral abyss", and who see courses such as this as "hastening the decline of a once-great society." Rather than tease or lampoon these folks, I hope I'll be a polite listener. Above all, I'm praying that if trouble does come, God will preserve me from the sins of smugness and self-righteous certainty. I'm prone to those faults, never more so than when I fancy myself an intellectual and pedagogical crusader for justice! I pray that I always remember that doing gender or Queer studies work is not about me, it's about telling the story of the marginalized, the abused, the exploited, the feared, the hated and the ignored. I'm not teaching Queer History to be cool or edgy, I'm teaching it because it needs to be taught, and it will be taught most effectively when I get my own ego out of the way. As some of my critics, friends, and students know well, that isn't always as easy a task as it ought to be!