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June 02, 2005



So what sorts of readings do you assign? (not a student, just a reader).


And why is the term "queer" preferable? (To my ears, that term does sound a bit trendy and too overly politicized to be an academic term.)


An alternate to "queer" is the alphabet soup. LGBT or variants thereof.


it will be taught most effectively when I get my own ego out of the way.

Isn't that the way it is with all of us? I know that over the past two days, I was trying my hardest to place the last of my scholarship students on my own power. That last one just wasn't coming. My deadline was 9am Pacific Time, or 11am my time. I was sweating it. 10:45am and I still didn't have that last scholarship placement.

Wouldn't you know. At 10:53am, just as I was about to call in a favor, the phone rang. It was a lady who is a friend (and 2nd mom) to our 17yo son's girlfriend. The girlfriend had told her she needed to host one of my scholarship kids. The lady contemplated, then finally decided to call... just in the nick of time.

That wasn't me. That was God working.

I'd just about bet that some of your best, most informative classes work along the same lines - when it's not you, it's God working. Keep it up.



I too would be curious to know what readings you'll use.

I use "queer" here and there, and sometimes, it fails to communicate what we intend. Audience is important, I've learned, sometimes the hard way. Folks at the Benedictine house where I'm a member generally are older, and "queer" comes across as a putdown for lgbt folk, and my communication failed to some extent because of my use of the term.

I'll pray you respond with grace and a listening ear.

pax Christi


Hugo will know much, much more about this than I do, but I think part of the reason that "queer" works better for a history class is that our current categories for sexuality are products of a particular historical moment. The whole idea of "homosexuality" didn't really exist until the 19th century. It's anachronistic to talk about gay history before then, because the concept didn't really exist (although the behavior that would now be termed gay sex certainly did.) "Queer" is a much broader category than "gay and lesbian": it refers to any non-normative sexuality. So when you talk about queer history, you're less guilty of imposing our categories onto the past.

Is that more or less right, Hugo?


There have been a number of worthwhile offerings making the point that our current understanding of homosexuality as a category is recent and to a surprising extent class-based. Two such that I have read recently are Jonathan Katz's book on 19th C. American men (Love Stories) and George Chauncey's book on "Gay New York" (covering 19th and early 20th centuries).

Paul M. Martin

Good for you. I now is a good time for straight people who view "gay rights" as the simple human rights issue for which it is, to stand up and be counted. My second post when I started my blog in March was in support of gay marriage/rights.

Joe Perez


FYI I linked to this post here:


Personally, I use "gay" unapologetically in my writing to mean what you mean by "queer." But I'm also comfortable with all the other terms too and try to mix it up.


Sally, bingo. Thanks, everyone!

Rad Geek

Sally: '"Queer" is a much broader category than "gay and lesbian": it refers to any non-normative sexuality. So when you talk about queer history, you're less guilty of imposing our categories onto the past.'

Well, no it doesn't--not really. There are lots of forms of sexuality that are non-normative, in this society or in past societies, but which aren't part of what "queer" is commonly accepted to mean: e.g. paedophilia, bestiality, incest, polyandry, liasons between black men and white women, etc. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions here, but I doubt that Hugo's class is going to cover all of these topics in any particular depth, and I also doubt that it should. (I know that I, for one, would be quietly puzzled if interracial relationships were being considered under the same heading of "queer" and furious if paedophilia, bestiality, incest, etc. were.)

Generally I think it's pretty well understood that when people say "queer" it means something like "gay" in the broad sense or the ever-expanding alphabet soup (on a recent trip to a college campus I noticed that the "community" had now expanded to "LGBTIQ") -- that is sexualities that differ from the norm mainly in regard to the sex or the gender identity of the people involved. Of course there are problems with each of these ways of trying to say what you mean -- sticking to words like "homosexual" and "heterosexual" and "sexual orientation" reifies categories that are actually very specific to our own times; using words like "gay" can do the same thing and also prioritizes the experience of gay men; using the alphabet soup is unwieldy, falls back on the same reified categories, and creates expectations of false universality; but I think "queer" is just as bad in creating the impression of false universality (although the sort of universality it suggests may be different) and also, frankly, hard to give any coherent definition to whatsoever that doesn't just fall back on one or more of the terms that it's supposedly trying to replace.

None of this is an argument against using any of these forms of speech, incidentally. I just don't think that there's any good one-size-fits-all solution to the linguistic problem and that we are better off keeping things simple while being critical of the terms we use than finding some "right" word to use.


Rad, to a great extent, I agree with you. I use "Queer" because that's the term the vast majority of those who teach in the burgeoning field of Gay and Lesbian Studies have chosen to use. It's the best available term, in my mind, which is not the same as saying it's the RIGHT term.


It's also commonly used because of a couple of other issues: one, the perception by lesbians that "gay" tends to write them out of the picture, and "gay" or "gay and lesbian" completely ignoring bisexuals.


You're right, of course: queer means any sexuality that's non-normative with regards to gender. I don't really have a stake in this fight, but I guess I do think there's a virtue in avoiding "gay and lesbian," only because students are so comfortable with those categories that they have a hard time grasping that they aren't universal. Part of the virtue of "queer," I think, is that it's unfamiliar enough that students don't take it for granted.

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