Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies (LGBT) is an interdisciplinary field that engages questions extending across a number of areas of study. Sarah Lawrence College offers students the opportunity to explore a range of theories and issues concerning gender and sexuality across cultures, categories, and historical periods. This can be accomplished through seminar course work and discussion and/or individual conference research.

2017-2018 Courses

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

Love, Sex, and Globalization

Open , Seminar—Year

In 2015, the issue of gay rights in Israel was thrust into international spotlight when 26 Israeli surrogate babies were evacuated from earthquake-devastated Kathmandu, but their Nepalese surrogate mothers were left behind. Among the Israeli parents were gay couples who had been forced to look abroad, as surrogacy is restricted to heterosexual couples in Israel. What this event also revealed are the strange bedfellows that love and sex find when they travel and take up new life in the age of globalization. In recent years, scholars have been increasingly concerned with the worldwide political-economic and technological restructuring that goes under the name of “globalization.” Too often, however, globalization has been figured as an abstract and all-powerful capitalist phenomenon imposed on the rest of the world by American political elites and US corporations. Missing have been accounts of how this restructuring is experienced by people in their daily lives, including their most intimate acts and practices. This course seeks to challenge the binaries of proximate/distant, economic/intimate, and global/local by which we understand globalization. Using an interdisciplinary lens drawn from anthropology, cultural studies, sociology, international relations, literature, and film and media studies, we will seek to account for the complex ways in which political-economic and technological transformations both shape and are shaped by love, sex, and intimacy. Among the topics of discussion will be gay marriage, mail-order brides, transnational adoption, international sex work, militarism, the Internet, and social media. Potential readings will include Symposium by Plato, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977) by Roland Barthes, The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) by Anthony Giddens, Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in A Rust Belt Town (2011) by Susan Dewey, Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India (2008) by Parmesh Shehani, Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa (2010) by Mark Hunter, and On the Move for Love: Migrant Entertainers and the US Military in South Korea (2010) by Sealing Cheng. For conference work, students will have a chance to expand upon their personal interests and learn the basics of ethnographic research by conducting mini-ethnography on a selected topic of their choice. Samples of past student work may be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

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Global Masculinities

Open , Seminar—Fall

What does it mean for straight white men in fraternities and the military to grab each other’s penises as part of a hazing ritual (Ward 2015)? Or for blond, “all-American” jocks to dress like “nerds” with glasses and perform a Revenge of the Nerds skit for a high school’s “homecoming king” contest (Pascoe 2007)? Or for the National Basketball Association to feature a promotional video of Yao Ming, the first Chinese player in the NBA, leading a Tai-chi practice on a basketball court wearing his Rockets jersey (Wang 2004)? What do these images and practices reveal about the diverse cultures of masculinity that exist within the United States and around the world? Often when scholars study gender, they focus on women. In contrast, within this course we will spotlight the lives of men who have long escaped critical examination as members of an unmarked category that has stood for humanity in general. In exploring the diversity of men’s lives across the globe, this course will highlight the social construction of masculinity; that is, rather than understanding being “male” or a “man” as biological facts, we will view them as sociocultural constructs that vary not only according to time but also setting. We will see how masculinity intersects with race, class, age, language, sexuality, religion, and nationality to create various models of hegemonic and subordinate masculinities that co-exist and compete with one another. We will explore how, even as masculinity operates to empower men as a group, they inhabit positions of power and wealth and simultaneously regulate the behavior of all men. Therefore, we will also discuss how drag queens, butch lesbians, and transgender people create their own complex genders (Taylor 2004) that have the power to disrupt the gender binary that, in turn, supports not only a white normative queer community and heteronormative family system but also hetero-masculinist states as part of a global capitalist system of homosocial bonding and rivalry. Potential readings include Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (2011) by C.J. Pascoe, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (2015) by Jane Ward, Sexual Discretion: Black Masculinity and the Politics of Passing (2014) by Jeffrey McCune, “The Track of My Tears: Trans* Affects, Resonance, and PitBulls and Parolees” (2015) by Harlan Weaver, Manly States: Masculinities, International Relations, and Gender Politics (2012) by Charlotte Hooper, and Chih-ming Wang’s “Capitalizing the big man: Yao Ming, Asian America, and the China Global” (2004). For conference work, students will have a chance to expand upon their personal interests and learn the fundamentals of ethnographic research by conducting mini-ethnography on a selected topic of their choice. Samples of past student work may be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

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Perverts in Groups: The Social Life of Homosexuals

Open , Seminar—Fall

Contradictory assumptions about the relations of homosexuals to groups have dominated accounts of modern LGBT life. In Western Europe and the United States from the late 19th century onwards, queers have been presented as profoundly isolated persons, burdened by the conviction that they are the only ones ever to have had such feelings, when they first realize their deviant desires and are immediately separated by those desires from the families and cultures into which they were born. Yet, at the same time, these isolated individuals have been seen as inseparable from one another, part of a worldwide network always able to recognize their peers by means of mysterious signs decipherable only by other group members. Homosexuals were denounced as persons who did not contribute to society; homosexuality was presented as the hedonistic choice of reckless, self-indulgent individualism over sober social good. Nevertheless, all homosexuals were implicated in a nefarious conspiracy, stealthily working through their web of connections to one another to take over the world—or the political establishment of the United States, for example, its art world, theatre, or film industries. Such contradictions can still be seen in the battles that have raged since the 1970s, when queers began seeking public recognition of their lives within existing social institutions from the military to marriage. LGBT persons are routinely attacked as threats (whether to unit cohesion or the family), intent on destroying the groups that they are working to openly join. In this class, we will use these contradictions as a framework for studying the complex social roles that queers have occupied and some of the complex social worlds that they have created—at different times and places and shaped by different understandings of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and nationality—within the United States over the past century and a half. Our sources will include histories, sociological and anthropological studies, the writings of political activists, fiction, and film.

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Pretty, Witty, and Gay

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

Are you ready to review your cultural map? As Gertrude Stein once said, “Literature—creative literature—unconnected with sex is inconceivable. But not literary sex, because sex is a part of something of which the other parts are not sex at all.” More recently, Fran Leibowitz observed, “If you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture, you would be pretty much left with Let’s Make a Deal.” We do not have to limit ourselves to America, however. The only question is where to begin: In the pantheon, in prison, or “in the family”? In London, Paris, Berlin, or New York? With the “friends of Dorothy” or “the twilight women”? There are novels, plays, poems, essays, films, and critics to be read, read about, or watched. There are dark hints, delicate suggestions, positive images, negative images, and sympathy-grabbing melodramas to be reviewed. There are high culture and high camp, tragedies and comedies, the good, the bad, and the awful to be enjoyed and assessed. How has modern culture thought about sexuality and art, love and literature? How might we think again? Conference work may be focused on a particular artist, set of texts, or genre—or on some aspect of the historical background of the materials that we will be considering.

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Queer New Media

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Until recently, “queer media” called to mind bar rags or community newsletters. With the proliferation of computer-mediated communication—including cell phones, fax machines, satellite television, and the Internet—queer communities around the world have seen the proliferation of multimedia conglomerates very much modeled on their mainstream counterparts (Gamson 2003). Not only that, as location-aware dating applications such as Tinder and Grindr provide novel opportunities for queers to socialize outside of gay spaces, Web 2.0 has resulted in the increased centrality of user-generated content, including DIY porn that is pro-sex, collaborative, and explicitly queer (McGlotten 2012). Finally, social networking and entertainment sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook offer possibilities, in previously unimaginable ways, for grassroots organizing and political struggle for social justice. Yet, even as the connectivity of the Internet has reinvigorated hopes for radical queer politics, democracy, and global community, it has also fed into fears about damage to face-to-face interactions and community. For instance, “No Fats, No Fems, No Asians” is now a ubiquitous phrase on gay hook-up apps where white, muscular, masculinity is most prized. At the same time, Big Data gathered from our Google searches and Facebook likes is threatening to become a regular part of diffuse and opaque campaigns of social engineering that involve guessing, among other things, one’s sexual orientation for marketing purposes. Clearly then, a more precise understanding of both the real and novel effects of queer new media is needed. Eschewing the largely speculative writing on sexuality and new media, this course will investigate how social media affect how queer users interact in online spaces as particular raced, classed, and gendered beings and how these interactions shape their understandings of themselves and the world. It will also explore how these communication technologies are situated in larger structures of political economy and how they have the potential to remediate mass mobilization and political action. Potential readings include Corinne Lysandra Mason’s “Tinder and humanitarian hook-ups: the erotics of social media racism” (2016), Catherine Connell’s “Fashionable Resistance: Queer ‘Fa(t)shion’ Blogging as Counterdiscourse” (2013), Dominique Pierre Batiste’s “‘0 Feet Away: The Queer Cartography of French Gay Men’s Geo-social Media Use” (2013), Shaka McGlotten’s Virtual Intimacies: Media, Affect, and Queer Sociality (2013), and Lindsey O’Connor’s “‘Weird’ Sex: Identity, Censorship, and China’s Women Sex Bloggers” (2014). For conference work, students will have a chance to expand upon their personal interests and learn the basics of ethnographic research by conducting mini-ethnography on a selected topic of their choice. Samples of past student work may be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

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The Political and Cultural Work of Women Writers in the United States, 1790-1990

Open , Seminar—Year

"This is what I want you to do,” novelist Rebecca Harding Davis wrote in 1861. “I want you to hide your disgust, take no heed to your clean clothes, and come right down with me—here, into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. I want you to hear this story. There is a secret down here, in this nightmare fog, that has laid dumb for centuries: I want to make it a real thing to you." Using the literary and expository writing of US women, we will explore American stories and secrets, what these writers are working to make “a real thing to you.” Readings will include autobiography, novels, stories, and cultural criticism. Rather than just following canonical literary or intellectual history, we will investigate less well-known and popular fictions alongside classics. Major themes will include questions of politics, race, class, and regional conflict; womanhood, manhood, and sexuality; American identity and nationalism; and immigration. Course work will focus on literary and print culture, but students may explore other media in conference. Particular emphasis will be placed on careful research of the historical context when analyzing primary documents from the period. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary; students who need refreshing will be expected to consult a textbook regularly.

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The Art of Democracy: A Cultural History of the United States

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Open to juniors and above; permission of the instructor is required.

The story most typically told of America focuses on the path taken, the victors and the nature of their victory, the dreamers whose dreams were realized, and central figures in a largely political narrative. In this course, we will revisit the United States through the art and lives of those more on the margins—dreamers and doers who faced heavier odds or who dreamed of a world that never arrived. Through short stories, novels, memoirs, and cultural criticism, we will revisit the story of the idea and reality of America as it has unfolded. Themes will include gender and sexuality, race and prejudice, class and class struggle, region and religion, and immigration and national identity. Readings will include primary sources from the time period, as well as historical articles and books. In the spring, we will add film. As we read and watch, we will also write; this will be a course that emphasizes the synthesis of historical research and expository writing. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary. Students who need refreshing will be expected to consult a textbook regularly.

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First-Year Studies: Health, Illness, and Medicine in a Multicultural Context: A Service-Learning Course

Open , FYS—Year

What is the difference between disease and illness? Do people in different cultures manifest the same illness similarly? Has the biomedical model resulted in better health for all? Why do women get sicker but men die quicker? This course offers an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness within a cultural context. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness. We will also examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment. A lifespan approach examining child, adolescent, and adult issues will provide additional insight. Issues of sexuality, gender, race, and ethnicity are a central focus, as well. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or in public health. Conference work may range from empirical research to bibliographic research in this area. The community partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class. We will work with local agencies to promote healthy and adaptive person-environment interactions within our community.

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Challenges to Development: Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

For graduate students and for juniors and seniors by permission of the instructor.

This course addresses the multiple factors that play a role in shaping a child’s development, particularly as those factors may result in what we think of as psychopathology. Starting with a consideration of what the terms “normality” and “pathology” may refer to in our culture, we will read about and discuss a variety of situations that illustrate different interactions of inborn, environmental, and experiential influences on developing lives. For example, we will read theory and case material addressing congenital conditions such as deafness and life events such as acute trauma and abuse, as well as the range of less clear-cut circumstances and complex interactions of variables that have an impact on growth and adaptation in childhood and adolescence. In discussing readings drawn from clinical and developmental psychology, memoir, and research studies, we will examine a number of the current conversations and controversies about assessment, diagnostic/labeling, early intervention, use of psychoactive medications, and treatment modalities. Students will be required to engage in fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or elsewhere and may choose whether to focus conference projects on aspects of that experience.

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