Category Archives: Exercises

Exercise #4: Reflection


What have you learned this quarter about queer literature, literary studies, and/or doing comparative work across historical periods, national literatures, or theoretical approaches to queer literature that seems important to you?  Pick one or more aspects, ideas, texts, or  moments from class discussion (in class or on the blog) that seem particularly important or valuable to you, and insert them right here below.  (You can address anything here you already mentioned in our last in-class session on Wednesday, or add something entirely new–it’s up to you!)

It’s been a huge pleasure working with all of you this quarter, and I thank you for a wonderful teaching experience!  Please take care and stay in touch!

Petra Dierkes-Thrun


I think what I will most take away from this class is, as mentioned in class, the change in lens I know have from reading these queer texts, allowing me to read other books I will read differently. Also I was really changed in my view of the gender binary and now realize that there are an infinite number or types of ways people can identify. Putting a label on someone’s identity seems pretty useless because within each “definition” there are many subcategories and some identities that do not even have a set “name”. The class also really opened my eyes to the beauty of graphic novels, which before this class I probably would never have considered reading but I am now very intrigued by!


This class has supported the idea that queerness heavily intersects with so many other identity markers, including race, nationality, and social class. As such, it is always important to understand positionality and how one person’s definition of queerness might be different from another’s based on identity and social position. In addition, the class has also allowed me to think about the meaning of queerness and what actually makes a text, reader, or author queer. In discussing this, I’ve decided that queerness is something that can’t ever be truly defined and it is always historically situated. This is why texts like those of Wilde can be read as queer even though it was not meant to be so originally.


This class was different from any other class I have ever taken here at Stanford. I have studied science my whole life and continued studying science here and I have looked into the science of individuals and what makes an individual a female or male, but science does not tell you the sexuality of the individual. I was very interested in the sexuality of an individual and came across this course. This class has taught me a lot about how queerness is interpreted and how queerness can be defined in many ways. I have learned that there is not one definition to define homosexuality. Every persons definition is different and interpretation is based on their knowledge and social relation. The second thing I learned from this course is how homosexuality has evolved and has changed with time. I have learned what defines a queer text or what makes a text queer from its context or from the author. I really enjoyed how when reading a text you may read it one way, but knowing that the text is queer you can interpret the text completely different and read into the eroticism. All in all, I would say that this class has allowed me to understand that queerness cannot simply be defined and that these texts showed how homosexuality comes in many ways. This has allowed me to step away from science and learned through literature and graphic novels. I have learned that not everything is defined by science.

— Calais

I think the biggest thing I will take away from this class is learning how to be a queer reader. Understandably, we never resolved the questions posed at the beginning of the quarter like “What makes a text queer?” but I do think we made productive progress. Instead, I feel like I have learned how to be a “queer” reader. What I mean by this is that this class has taught me how to read literature (and theory) that may not be explicitly queer and analyze them with a queer lens. Furthermore, I learned how to read texts that are explicitly queer with a critical  queer lens and think about how historical and social factors influence a text as well as how race/class/gender/sexuality/etc are important.


One major theme from this course that seems very important to me is the concept of “The Death of the Author” within the genre of “queer” literature. The intellectual exercise of considering the merits and challenges of “the death of the author”- that is, understanding and interpreting the texts without significant consideration of the author’s own identity or original intention- within queer literature is extremely engaging and complex. On the one hand, I believe that the birth of the reader, especially the queer reader, is an essential component of a text, and something that can create new meanings from past texts that are intriguing and completely valid. I do also believe that there is something valuable from allowing the reader to have the intellectual and creative freedom to understand a text from their own perspective, regardless of the initial goals or context of the book’s author. On the other hand, I believe that completely losing all recognition of the author’s identity and intent can be dangerous, as it can change the authenticity of an author’s voice and/or experience in problematic ways. I am really grateful that  this class gave me the opportunity to continue to think and debate about the relative importance of authors and readers in the significance of a text, as this is a relevant issue of great importance.


At the start of this quarter, I was feeling out of my depth in this class because 1) after a summer and a quarter without IHUM or other humanities classes, I had forgotten how to function without problem sets, 2) I considered myself a more science-y person (although being raised by architect parents and being immersed in music, art, and literature has made that a little more complicated), and 3) I had never been exposed to queer literature before. It is true that in high school I read and loved Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and I wrote a research paper on the connection between the modernist theme of transience versus intransience and painting in To the Lighthouse, but queer literature? The word was not in my vocabulary and I regret to say the author was dead to me. However, I decided to throw myself into the deep end and out of my comfort zone upon a suggestion from my PWR1 professor to explore the realm of comparative literature because she thought I would enjoy it as much as the science and bioethics. Turns out she was right. I’ve come away from this class with several new things to ponder, my top two favourites being the idea of “the death of the author” and what makes a text, film, or artwork queer. To me, these concepts are as much an exercise in philosophy as in comparative literature and I learned in this class to investigate and analyze my own opinions on these matters. I also thoroughly enjoyed probing the meaning of identity, the performativity of gender, and realizing that “queer” can encompass so much more than sexuality, i.e. in relation to transgression, style, etc. This class has given me a new perspective with which to view and appreciate literature, art, and the world and this lens is something I will carry with me into the future, even if I won’t be queering problem sets anytime soon.


Having read literature treating queer themes and attempted to “queer” readings of more traditional texts in academic settings that were skeptical, to say the least, of this kind of interpretation, it was a breath of queer air to be actively encouraged to make this kind of analysis. Although the word “queer” still meets resistance, I think it is a useful term for the sake of its multiplicity: it can address sexually non-normative subjectivities, ideas that challenge assumptions often taken for granted, modes of representation that engage or take on unconventional questions—and, in terms of literature, both styles of writing and hermeneutic gestures that go beyond the beaten path. Rather than designating an umbrella term meant to encapsulate something like the ubiquitous LGBT signifier of the rainbow—an image that is multicolored and arced, but linear—“queer” can touch an array of themes and inspire modes of thought that are twisted and complex, and is all the more gratifying for it. The multiplicities in this class have helped expand my notion of the queer. We have looked across genres and media of artistic expression, engaged geographic, racial, class, and other intersections of diversity and marginality, and taken on a range of theoretical lenses—from Barthes’ death of the author to Butler’s performativity to Dean’s transgression. Each of these approaches, I think, has made our interactions with these literatures both more complex and more rewarding. Not only has this class been an inspiration to “queer” our styles of reading; it has also opened up new ways of viewing and interacting with questions in our everyday lives.


I feel as though the thing I most enjoyed from this class, and what was most valuable to me personally, was the ability to be exposed to a multitude of different opinions and insights from my peers. I feel as though the texts we read, and the way we utilized discussion, really gave precedence to the ability to people to speak their minds. Additionally, the blog was a great resource to gain further insight into what people found most interesting about the texts. This aspect to queer literature was what stood out to me. It seemed as though, to a certain extent, queer literature creates a liminal space in which people are much more receptive to personally identifying with than some other types of literature; and being able to hear the ways in which people identified with stories, and what aspects to what were most poignant to them as individuals, is what I will take from this class personally. There are a multitude of ways to read and experience every story, and this should never be forgotten or devalued.


Of the many things I will take from this class, two things stand out to me in particular. The first, like I mentioned in class, is that I will be more careful of how I use the LGBTQI (the list goes on) terms and will be cognizant of how the terms are used around me. I found myself having to redefine the terms I had previously used to liberally, especially in relation to the texts we read. Often times I would want to simply classify someone as gay when really the term queer or bisexual was more fitting. As an English major, I’ve always been a particularly “careful” reader but always skeptical as well, not wanting to go too far with the literary allusions I thought I found. Sometimes, the walls are just blue and they don’t stand as a metaphor for sadness. This class, however, has taught me to take nothing lightly and to trust what I had previously considered my over-analysis of a work of literature, particularly when it is a well-done piece. For example, I thought I had detected a deeper meaning to the colors in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, but wrote it off as my overactive imagination. Upon further research, however, I discovered that there was in fact implications of racial identity that are attributed to colors in the novel, and I had to go back and reread the novel to pick up every reference I had dismissed.


As a reader and I natural observer of the world, I’ve always wanted to classify things in categories and binaries—it was the easy thing to do. But from this class I’ve realized that you miss all the nuances and details that really enliven the world (be it the one that I’m reading or in which I exist). It is the nuances that define, if I even should use that word at all now, a thing, a being, and they cannot be ignored. We read books in this class through a “queer” lens, which would assume a single dimensionality in its reading. However, I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. From the first day of class when we discussed “what makes something queer?” and failed to come up with a solitary answer (and that is completely for the better), I would read each text with the intent of trying to figure out a new dimension to “queer.” How is queer being interpreted in each text? How does it act? The disparity in answer from week to week allowed be to settle upon the fact that it’s okay that I have no idea what completely constitutes a queer thing by the end of this process. The human experience of being “queer” should not fall subject to compartmentalization in neatly bundled packages within one’s identity; the messiness allows you to figure out who you truly are. —BPS

While I wrote on the blog mostly about uniting threads of queer literature like burdens, transgression, loneliness, and other “negative” or difficult factors, what I would like to take from this course also is the celebration of and within queer literature: our course on queer literature is treated with such importance and respect, integrated into an academic department and held at the same standards as other fields, but also given room to be “queer” in its own ways, in that we seemed to sympathize more with students and readers than, at least as far as I have perceived, many traditional humanities courses do. This approach dignifies queer literature but also allows it its unique traits and listens to the corrections it would like to make to everyday life, including in the academic realm. The texts we read also seemed to bring this together, demanding that attention and respect be paid to queerness by publishing books about it but also queering texts and genres. I quite like this balance and would like to add it to my previous interpretations of queer literature’s unifying features, which I had viewed as quite difficult. Queer literature is self-referential, self-celebratory, self-correcting: it’s nervous, in a way, to get it all right. I will take this nervousness with me for my own projects, creative and academic both, and use it to queer my literature and my life. -EE

I absolutely loved this class! As someone who hasn’t taken a literature class since freshman-year IHUM I was very ambivalent about the thought of diving into the field again thinking I would have trouble understanding the deeper meaning of texts and contributing to the class. However, all the readings were engaging, refreshing, and really built on top of one another to form a truly outstanding synthesis course. As a proud member of the queer community it was deeply moving to better understand how our modern-day existence and cultures have been shaped by the likes of Wilde, Hall, and many others. As Rachel Maddow mentioned in her speech on campus this past Saturday, many heroic individuals who wrote openly and brought attention to queer issues in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century “paid it forward” to newer generations by being open about these kinds of issues. I cannot fathom the courage it took for Oscar Wilde to artfully craft such a homoerotic novel amidst the horribly oppressive laws of 19th century Great Britain. The writings of Chu T’ien-Wen and Chu T’ien-Hsin shattered the glass ceiling when it came to queer texts and lives in Taiwan. These and many other of the pieces we read serve as fragments of activism and as arguments for acceptance for the minority queer culture. By using traditional storytelling in some instances and scholarly theoretical work in other instances, these readings made the once-taboo topic of queerness more accessible to others. I will cherish this experience forever and I can honestly say it’s inspired me to pick up a book or two to further understand the genre better in the future.

– Martina Navratilova


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My Queer Valentine: The Results

Literary authors and texts, roughly ordered by century/time period

19th century

Michael Field


Oscar Wilde

Emily Dickinson

Walt Whitman

20th and 21st century 


Allen Ginsberg

Adrienne Rich

Andrea Gibson 

Augusten Burroughs 

Buddy Wakefield 

Sarah Waters

Emma Donoghue

Eileen Myles 

Ellen Wittlinger 

Lauren Zuniga 

David Sedaris

David Levithan (with John Green)

Emily Danforth

Abha Dawesar, Babyji

Christopher Isherwood, Berlin Stories

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America

Moises Kaufman’s Gross Indecency


Brokeback Mountain

The Beginners

Saving Face

Patrik 1,5

Kyss Mig

Gods and Monsters

The Beginners

Show Me Love

A Single Man


Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (musical, too?)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (musical, too)

Were the World Mine (musical)

Paris is Burning

Pedro Almodovar: All About My Mother, The Skin I Live In

Happy Together


Circumstance (modern Iran)

Mulan (Disney)




La Cage aux folles


Ani DiFranco …

Tegan and Sara

The Knife

Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party

Elton John

The Cliks

Scissor Sisters

Michael Stipes of R.E.M.


David Bowie



Popular culture, youtube etc.:

Mae Martin

Tig Notaro

Hannah Hart

Liz Lemon

My sassy gay friend


RuPaul’s Drag Race

Lip Service


Lost Girl

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Queer As Folk

The L Word


Links to “100 best” on the web:

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My Queer Valentine: A Twitter Biblio-/Filmo-/Arto-/Popularography

Help Us Spread the PINK LOVE!

On Friday, February 15, 2013, our class will be tweeting all day long under the hashtag #queerlit.  Please join in and participate–we want your contributions!  Tweet and retweet as many times as you like, share on Facebook, Tumblr. etc.  

We will be tweeting

  • favorite queer authors’ names
  • favorite queer book titles
  • favorite queer film titles
  • favorite queer TV show titles
  • favorite queer artists
  • favorite queer art works
  • favorite queer moments in popular culture
  • favorite queer youtube videos
  • and so much more!

Feel free to include links to websites, films, clips, images etc.

JOIN US! Let’s see what giant list of queer stuff we can come up with together!

The results of this Twitter Biblio-/Filmo-/Arto-/Popularography will be published on this blog next week.  Feel free to leave us comments below, too.

See you in the Twitterverse–off you go to run to read and tweet and LOVE #queerlit!

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Exercise # 2: Crowdsourced Reading Notes for M. Kuzmin’s Wings (1906)

This is a space in which we add together some notes for reading and interpreting Mikhail Kuzmin’s novel Wings. Since the names and references in this novel can sometimes be rather confusing (often several names are used for one character), the first section will be the most useful to most of you in reading and understanding.

Under “additional notes” you can put anything else you needed to look up in the process of reading the novel, or anything you already know but would like to share with classmates who might find this useful.

This exercise is voluntary, but please contribute as much as you can! (Don’t forget to “sign” your contribution with your pseudonym.)


Vanya (Ivan Petrovich Smurov; Ivanushka; Vanyechka)

Larion Dimitriyevich Stroop (Shtrup; throughout the novel referred to as English, half-English or a British subject)

“Uncle” Kolya (Nikolai Ivanovich, actually Vanya’s cousin)


  • Konstantin Vasilyevich (Uncle Kostya, Alex’s brother)
  • Alex/Alexei Vasilyevich (married to Anna)
  • Anna Nikolayevna (married to Alex)
  • Their children:  Koka (loves Ida Goldberg), Boba, Nata (Natalia Alexeyevna, loves Stroop)

Daniil Ivanovich (Vanya’s Greek teacher)

Ida Pavlovna Goldberg (loves Stroop, tragic suicide)

Fyodor/Fedya Vasilyevich Solovyov (a gay bathhouse attendant and Stroop’s hired paramour) *note: for the Russian reader, the surname Solovyov would conjure up two significant meanings: first, the 19th-century philosopher Vladimir Solovyov argued for an outlook combining Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Hellenistic philosophies, and was an important influence for Symbolists (presumably including Kuzmin). Second, the word “solovey” means “nightingale” in Russian, which may suggest something about the physical beauty or artistic symbolism of Fedya’s role.

the Shpeier sisters (friends of the Kazanskys)

THE SOROKINS (with whom Vanya stays in the country during part 2):

  • Prokhor Nikitch (“old” Sorokin–a timber merchant and Old Believer)
  • Arina Dmitriyevna (his wife)
  • Maria Dmitriyevna (Arina’s sister, tends to romanticize)
  • Sasha (Arina and Prokhor’s son, same age as Vanya)
  • Also connected to the Sorokins, but not related: Sergei and Malanya (servants), Ivan Osipovich, Parfen

Vanya (the name of the corpse that washes up at the end of part 2)

Ugo Orsini (composer or musician?)

Monsignor Mori (the Canon; writes about Roman emperors and Antinous)

Mme Monier (acquaintance in Italy)

Sergei/Seryozha (“the artist,” symbolically chooses lust for Veronica Chibo over his “purer” love for Blonskaya)

A note on Russian naming customs:  Russians usually have a given name (such as Ivan), a patronymic (Vasilyevich), and a surname (Smurov). The given name can take multiple forms called diminutives, forms that usually share the first letter or root with the given name. Diminutives generally denote affection, a close relationship, that someone younger is being addressed, or occasionally, condescension. Because Ivan is in his teens, his elders and friends address him familiarly as Vanya; his uncle addresses him endearingly as Ivanushka when trying to get money out of him. Patronymics are formed from the father’s given name; for men, “ich” or “ovich” is added to the root of the father’s name, and for women, “ovna” or “yevna”. Therefore, Konstantin Vasilyevich’s father was named Vasilii, and Natalya Alexeyevna’s father is Alexei. Surnames also change based on gender, adding “a” or “aya” to female surnames, so Natalya Alexeyevna would not be Kazansky, but Kazanskaya (though some translations choose not to include this detail). -AMU


Link for Antinous as a signal figure for homosexuality; see also Wikipedia entry on Antinous

Introduction to Kuzmin and his work

Biographical book review of Kuzmin’s life and work from “Gay Today”

Russian literature and homosexuality (from glbt online encyclopedia)

Contemporary Symbolist author Vyacheslav Ivanov, part of Kuzmin’s circle in St. Petersburg, wrote the following about Kuzmin in his diary: “[Kuzmin] is a sort of pioneer of the coming age when, with the growth of homosexuality, humanity will no longer be maimed and crippled by the modern // aesthetic and ethic of the sexes, understood as ‘men for women’ and ‘women for men’ […].  This aesthetic of savages and this biological ethic, which blind every ‘normal’ person to an entire half of humanity and cut off an entire half of its individuality in favour of the continuation of the species.”–Quoted in Evgenii Bershtein, “’Next to Christ’: Oscar Wilde and Russian Modernism,” in  The Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe, ed. Stefano Evangelista, London: Continuum, 2010, pp. 296-7.

Kuzmin’s title and recurring metaphor (Wings) obliquely allude to a passage in Plato’s Phaedrus where Socrates explains the image of the soul with reference to wings. Here is the passage in Benjamin Jowett’s contemporary (1892) Greek-to-English translation:

“All soul is immortal, for she is the source of all motion both in herself and in others. Her form may be described in a figure as a composite nature made up of a charioteer and a pair of winged steeds. The steeds of the gods are immortal, but ours are one mortal and the other immortal. The immortal soul soars upwards into the heavens, but the mortal drops her plumes and settles upon the earth.  Now the use of the wing is to rise and carry the downward element into the upper world—there to behold beauty, wisdom, goodness, and the other things of God by which the soul is nourished. On a certain day Zeus the lord of heaven goes forth in a winged chariot; and an array of gods and demi–gods and of human souls in their train, follows him. There are glorious and blessed sights in the interior of heaven, and he who will may freely behold them. The great vision of all is seen at the feast of the gods, when they ascend the heights of the empyrean—all but Hestia, who is left at home to keep house. The chariots of the gods glide readily upwards and stand upon the outside; the revolution of the spheres carries them round, and they have a vision of the world beyond. But the others labour in vain; for the mortal steed, if he has not been properly trained, keeps them down and sinks them towards the earth. Of the world which is beyond the heavens, who can tell? There is an essence formless, colourless, intangible, perceived by the mind only, dwelling in the region of true knowledge. The divine mind in her revolution enjoys this fair prospect, and beholds justice, temperance, and knowledge in their everlasting essence. When fulfilled with the sight of them she returns home, and the charioteer puts up the horses in their stable, and gives them ambrosia to eat and nectar to drink. This is the life of the gods; the human soul tries to reach the same heights, but hardly succeeds; and sometimes the head of the charioteer rises above, and sometimes sinks below, the fair vision, and he is at last obliged, after much contention, to turn away and leave the plain of truth. But if the soul has followed in the train of her god and once beheld truth she is preserved from harm, and is carried round in the next revolution of the spheres; and if always following, and always seeing the truth, is then for ever unharmed. If, however, she drops her wings and falls to the earth, then she takes the form of man, and the soul which has seen most of the truth passes into a philosopher or lover; that which has seen truth in the second degree, into a king or warrior; the third, into a householder or money–maker; the fourth, into a gymnast; the fifth, into a prophet or mystic; the sixth, into a poet or imitator; the seventh, into a husbandman or craftsman; the eighth, into a sophist or demagogue; the ninth, into a tyrant. All these are states of probation, wherein he who lives righteously is improved, and he who lives unrighteously deteriorates. After death comes the judgment; the bad depart to houses of correction under the earth, the good to places of joy in heaven. When a thousand years have elapsed the souls meet together and choose the lives which they will lead for another period of existence. The soul which three times in succession has chosen the life of a philosopher or of a lover who is not without philosophy receives her wings at the close of the third millennium; the remainder have to complete a cycle of ten thousand years before their wings are restored to them. Each time there is full liberty of choice. The soul of a man may descend into a beast, and return again into the form of man. But the form of man will only be taken by the soul which has once seen truth and acquired some conception of the universal:—this is the recollection of the knowledge which she attained when in the company of the Gods. And men in general recall only with difficulty the things of another world, but the mind of the philosopher has a better remembrance of them. For when he beholds the visible beauty of earth his enraptured soul passes in thought to those glorious sights of justice and wisdom and temperance and truth which she once gazed upon in heaven. Then she celebrated holy mysteries and beheld blessed apparitions shining in pure light, herself pure, and not as yet entombed in the body. And still, like a bird eager to quit its cage, she flutters and looks upwards, and is therefore deemed mad. Such a recollection of past days she receives through sight, the keenest of our senses, because beauty, alone of the ideas, has any representation on earth: wisdom is invisible to mortal eyes. But the corrupted nature, blindly excited by this vision of beauty, rushes on to enjoy, and would fain wallow like a brute beast in sensual pleasures. Whereas the true mystic, who has seen the many sights of bliss, when he beholds a god–like form or face is amazed with delight, and if he were not afraid of being thought mad he would fall down and worship. Then the stiffened wing begins to relax and grow again; desire which has been imprisoned pours over the soul of the lover; the germ of the wing unfolds, and stings, and pangs of birth, like the cutting of teeth, are everywhere felt. (Cp. Symp. 206 foll.) Father and mother, and goods and laws and proprieties are nothing to him; his beloved is his physician, who can alone cure his pain. An apocryphal sacred writer says that the power which thus works in him is by mortals called love, but the immortals call him dove, or the winged one, in order to represent the force of his wings—such at any rate is his nature. Now the characters of lovers depend upon the god whom they followed in the other world; and they choose their loves in this world accordingly. The followers of Ares are fierce and violent; those of Zeus seek out some philosophical and imperial nature; the attendants of Here find a royal love; and in like manner the followers of every god seek a love who is like their god; and to him they communicate the nature which they have received from their god. The manner in which they take their love is as follows:— I told you about the charioteer and his two steeds, the one a noble animal who is guided by word and admonition only, the other an ill–looking villain who will hardly yield to blow or spur. Together all three, who are a figure of the soul, approach the vision of love. And now a fierce conflict begins. The ill–conditioned steed rushes on to enjoy, but the charioteer, who beholds the beloved with awe, falls back in adoration, and forces both the steeds on their haunches; again the evil steed rushes forwards and pulls shamelessly. The conflict grows more and more severe; and at last the charioteer, throwing himself backwards, forces the bit out of the clenched teeth of the brute, and pulling harder than ever at the reins, covers his tongue and jaws with blood, and forces him to rest his legs and haunches with pain upon the ground. When this has happened several times, the villain is tamed and humbled, and from that time forward the soul of the lover follows the beloved in modesty and holy fear. And now their bliss is consummated; the same image of love dwells in the breast of either; and if they have self–control, they pass their lives in the greatest happiness which is attainable by man—they continue masters of themselves, and conquer in one of the three heavenly victories. But if they choose the lower life of ambition they may still have a happy destiny, though inferior, because they have not the approval of the whole soul. At last they leave the body and proceed on their pilgrim’s progress, and those who have once begun can never go back. When the time comes they receive their wings and fly away, and the lovers have the same wings.”

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Exercise #1: Thinking about Queer Genders and Sexualities, Then and Now

DUE:  This exercise is due Sunday, Feb. 3, before midnight.

This week and last, we have talked about prominent 19th-century views of gender and sexuality–especially regarding the gender binary and homosexuality, but also transgender issues.  For this exercise, I’d like you to do two things:

1. Find and transcribe (or briefly describe) a moment or a scene in one of the following three primary texts that you found interesting, puzzling, provocative, or otherwise noteworthy for its view or representation of gender (cis or trans) and/or homosexuality: Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Edward Carpenter’s On Homogenic Love, or Rachilde’s novel Monsieur Venus.  In no more than a paragraph, briefly say what you found interesting/noteworthy here, and why.  Add your contribution under Part 1:  19th-Century Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities below.  (Don’t forget to “sign” with your pseudonym.)

2. Find and add under Part 2: Contemporary Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities:  one image, video, sound file, or a verbal comment (headline or brief quote) that seems to represent one important way in which our society views, embraces, or censors queerness today.  This can be anything you find interesting, provocative, puzzling, or otherwise noteworthy.  If you like, add brief explanation of why you picked this image (not required but encouraged).  Again, please don’t forget to “sign” after your contribution with your pseudonym.

If you run into any technical problems with posting an image or sound file on WordPress, please let me know and just send me the link so I can help you with it.

* * * * *

Part 1:  19th-Century Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities

Please add your contributions here; don’t forget to “sign”:

“For once, they both played this comedy sincerely, and they had sinned against their love, which in order to live had to face the truth while fighting against it with all its strength” (Monsieur Venus, pp. 184).

I think the most interesting part of this quote is the fact that “they [Raoule and Jacques] both played this comedy sincerely.” Going back to Week One’s Butler reading on gender performativity, it is interesting to note that the performances of Raoule and Jacques’ genders (Raoule a masculine figure, Jacques a feminine one, as imposed by Raoule, just in case non-class readers are curious) are undermined by the presence of anatomy. Specifically, Raoule is forced to confront the mismatched sentiment of being in the wrongly gendered body through her nakedness and intimacy with Jacques. Physical actuality of gender trumps, in this rather intimate moment, artistry and artifice. This harkens back to our conversation in class about why we (in modern times) are still shocked or fascinated by the transgendered. Our expectations of a seemingly constant aspect of identity, as dictated by the physical presence of genitalia, is meddled and morphed into the inverse; gender is now hard to define on the basis of appearance. –BPS

“This is a condition which may be ameliorated, and it may be treated in much the same way as if no inversion existed, by physical and mental tonics, or, if necessary, sedatives”

I found it very interesting that the arguments made in the 19th century are much the same as the arguments made today. Even though we think of ourselves in the 21st century as nuanced and modern, we maintain these archaic views of the world and back them up with the same out of date reasoning. It is slightly more understandable in the 19th century when the LGBT social movements were starting, but now that it is such a large portion of the social movements taking place and there is so much information available, I find it hard to believe that people would revert back to this argument mentioned by Ellis of claiming homosexuality as a “condition”. Since this seems to be the reaction of many people both in the 19th century and today, it brings us back to the question of what about this idea is so shocking to people that they feel the need to label it as a “condition” and something that can be “treated” or “fixed”.


“Nor is it possible to view with satisfaction the prospects of inverts begetting or bearing children. Often, no doubt, the children turn out fairly well, but, for the most part, they bear witness that they belong to a neurotic and failing stock. Sometimes, indeed, the tendency to sexual inversion in eccentric and neurotic families seems merely to be Nature’s merciful method of winding up a concern which, from her point of view, has ceased to be profitable.”

I found it interesting that Ellis not only attacks the idea of children in non-heteronormative families, but also the idea that Nature, somehow, utilizes homosexuality as a way to prevent future generations from failing stock. In this, there’s the idea that homosexuality is a curse or a blight upon people for falling outside the acceptable boundaries of society. The idea that eccentric people may beget homosexual children merely because Nature deems them unprofitable surprised me, especially because eccentric is merely a term designated by societal norms and standards and not an inherent natural aspect of any personality. —KO

“‘… And what does the sex of our caresses matter to our frenzied passion? What matter the proofs of affection that can pass between our bodies? The memory of love throughout the ages, the censure of every living man and woman – do they signify …? You are a beautiful woman… I am a man, I adore you and you love me!’” – Monsieur Venus

This scene of Raoule and Jacques’ wedding night was interesting to me and provocative because of its portrayal of the relationship and distinction between sex and gender and its reinforcement of the gender binary. In this particular quote, Raoule seems to discount the idea that sex should come between their love for each other, but her identification of herself as a man and Jacques as a woman is confusing; it solidifies the gender binary and yet blurs the lines between sex and gender. Raoule’s masculinity makes her a “man”, and yet Jacques is revolted when his skin and her breast make contact, exclaiming “Raoule, you are not a man? You cannot be a man?”. Thus begs the question, “What makes a man?” Though it appears simple enough, texts like Monsieur Venus and Marjorie Garber’s “Spare Parts: The Surgical Construction of Gender” show it to be more complex than it seems. – HSK

“‘I’m a man in love  with a man, not with a woman!’….I wanted the impossible…It’s mine…That’s to say, no, really…it’ll never mine!…” (Monsieur Venus, page 73)

I read this as an interesting moment within Raoule’s ongoing process of self-awareness and inner realization. Readers can observe her struggle with her identity and how her perceptions of her situation and circumstances darken as the novel moves along. This quote is derived from one of the first serious confrontational arguments Raittolbe has with Raoule and is perhaps one of the first times within the novel’s passages that Raoule consciously realizes she will never truly be a cisgendered man due to her anatomical nature. I wonder if her ultimate grotesque decision to turn Jacques into an inanimate object for sexual pleasure correlates with the increasingly hopeless view she has on the anatomical state that she cannot ever truly change.

– Martina Navratilova

“A spring hidden inside the flank connects with the mouth and animates it at the same time it spreads apart the thighs.” (pg. 210)

I found this sentence at the end of Monsieur Venus extremely complex and interesting for a variety of reasons. The first thing I noticed was how gender-neutral the sentence is: Rachilde avoids gendering the wax figure or its master. This is especially interesting when penetration is deeply gendered by society: men penetrate women. However, in the relationship between Raoule and Jacques, it is Raoule who penetrates Jacques. By refraining from gendering this penultimate sentence, Rachilde challenges the reader’s expectations of gender and sexuality by dismantling the socially constructed nexus between male/penetrator and female/penetrated. Furthermore, this sentence also challenges the reader’s conception of sexuality by asking the question: How can we define the relationship between Raoule and Jacques with our limited vocabulary and understanding of gender and sexuality? Is this a heterosexual relationship, because it’s between a man and a woman, is this a homosexual relationship because a man is being penetrated, or is it something entirely else that we do not have the framework to understand?


“If he is still young, and if the perversion does not appear to be deeply rooted in the organism, it is probable that — provided his own good will is aiding– general hygienic measures, together with removal to a favorable environment, may gradually lead to the development of the normal sexual impulse. ” – Ellis

I thought this passage was interesting because it reveals certain themes and ideas about  homosexuality that were present in Ellis’ time, but that also still ring true today. Ellis asserts that a person’s homosexuality can be reversed through his own good will, hygienic measures, and a favorable environment. Though I have never heard the claim that good hygiene can reverse homosexuality, comments about the importance of environment and a strong will to change are common in anti-LGBT rhetoric and programs. For example, certain programs or camps that claim as their mission to “cure” people of homosexuality often cite personal conviction/will, as well as a “pure”/”healthy” environment as keys to change. It is both unfortunate and troubling that these messages from Ellis’ time are still very prevalent in conversation today. – LGT

“A man madly in love! Yes! Already I want to raise an alter to my idol, though I know I’ll never be understood!… Alas! Can an unnatural passion that is at the same time a real love ever become anything but dreadful madness?…” Monsieur Venus pg 73

It is interesting to consider this question which Roule posits.  Here it is clear that the unnatural is referring to the love between her and Jaque.  Clearly their love is unnatural by the standards of those days.  Yet, was is interesting is the reason she would pursue such a love even if she knows it will be complete dreadful madness.  Could the love between her and Jaque ever evolve into something that must be kept a secret and hidden?  They did after all get married, but even in matrimony neither one was able to completely be in public what they were in private.  Eventually, however, it was clear that their love was in fact a dreadful madness which Roule was not able to handle.

Basil Hallward

“He led the lazy existence of oriental women confined to the harem who know nothing except love and for whom everything comes back to love.” (p93, Monsieur Venus)

This portrayal of Jacques speaks to both his transformation into a “woman” during the novel, and further serves as an interesting reading of what a “woman” is — the image Rachilde paints here of the harem life seems almost luxurious, but is lacking in the purpose / freedom that men have.


“The yokel waltzed well, and his supple body, with its feminine undulations, seemed made for this graceful exercise. He did not try to hold his partner, but made himself part of her, one waist, one torso, one being. To see them pressed together turning round and round melting in an embrace where their flesh, despite their clothes, molded together, one could picture the single divinity of love in two people, that complete individual spoken of in the fabulous tales of Brahmins, two distinct sexes in one monster.” (Monsieur Venus, pg. 155)

I found this excerpt very interesting because not only does it express the feminine features that correlate with Jacques, but emphasizes the way the two of them are seen as one. One true love and two bodies meshed together as one “monster”. Their views upon themselves may seem unnatural to some, but their love is beyond natural. The “single divinity of love” that was portrayed in this scene forgets about a man being a woman and a woman being a man and sees them as two people folded together as one and moving in perfect harmony. However, the very last word in this quote, “monster” struck me as very interesting. The whole scene they are portrayed as this beautiful image, seemless, and then the word monster created this automatic negative connotation. Is this relationship between the two creating a monster?

— Calais

“In the studio, Jacques Silvert let himself fall back on the couch, bewildered. He looked like a small child surprised by a big storm. So, he was set up in a home of his own, with brushes, paints, carpets, curtains, furniture, velvet, a lot of gilt, a lot of lace…” (29) In class we discussed many of the ways Rachilde compares Jacques to a child. Here he is like a scared child, and Rachilde juxtaposes that comparison with her list of the objects Raoule has arranged in his studio. This combination fuses his childishness with her control over his environment, a control that only mounts in her “Temple of Love” later in the novel. This control over a domestic space and its translation into sexual power interests me because it subverts the expectation of the aristocratic late 19th century woman to take care of her home. Raoule twists the traditional link between women and the domestic sphere by linking such control to her domination (and penetration) of Jacques, who plays not the role of a husband but that of a child. This mix of interior design and S&M charges Raoule’s power over her own home due to gender and class with a sexual and subversive power. -EE

“I’m a man in love with a man, not with a woman!” –  (Monsieur Venus, Page 73)

I feel that this is a telling depiction of how Raoule officially defines herself within the story. For her to officially state and mark that she is a man, when obviously she was born a woman, signifies the strength in her sense of masculinity and taking up the ‘role’ of a man. It is sad, for Raoule, that no matter how strongly she seems to identify with her male identity, she can never quite complete such a transformation without the appendage that she will never be able to attain. It’s strange as the more that I have read and thought about such topics as transgender I have come to think that gender is its own stage performance with all those that identify with one gender or another, simply are just acting out its script. It makes gender seem something that is ‘played’ rather than something that is inherent.


“There is no obscurity in the principles of healthy morality involved; that there is no exception here to the law that sensuality apart from love is degrading and less than human” (Carpenter 336).

What I find particularly striking about this passage is the phrase, “less than human.” It seems to suggest that the only proper form of expression between a man and woman/man and man/woman and woman, etc. is through the faculty of love. But, how does one fall in love? It’s it a sensuous experience? A development of feeling that, at its core, stems from a type of sensual attraction? There are all different types of relationships, many of which do not involve love, but this passage argues that these relationships are immoral, and I have to wonder if this much attention was devoted to heterosexual relationships during the authorship of this piece, because it seems like this notion of “healthy morality” is only brought about in discussions of homosexual relationships.   –MGA

“It is for us primarily a disgusting abomination, i.e., a matter of taste, of esthetics; and, while unspeakably ugly to the majority, it is proclaimed as beautiful by a small minority.” From Havelock Ellis, “Studies in the Psychology of Sex,” 335.

In each of the works we’ve discussed I’ve been fascinated by the connection between aesthetics, sexuality, and death. The links between these themes have emerged in both the fixation on art and beauty materialized (sometimes to the point of art replacing life, as in Wilde, or rendering life material, as in Rachilde) in our literary texts as well as in discourses of revulsion in reaction to non-normative sexual practices. We’ve seen death eroticized in queer narratives on the one hand, and queer sexualities condemned as deserving the death penalty on the other (such as by the judge evoked by Ellis who “regretted…that ‘gross indecency’ [sodomy] is not punishable by death”—Ellis, 335). The quotation above highlights the role of aesthetics in judgments on sexuality, and the tension or contradiction between the lofty aesthetic ideals espoused by the sexually non-normative characters in our texts as opposed to attacks on their non-normativity precisely for the fact that it is deemed aesthetically displeasing. Today, gay men in particular are often stereotypically associated with a heightened aesthetic sensibility (as in Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp,” shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” or “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” etc.). Is there a link between the “unnaturalness” of which homophobic discourse accuses queer sexualities and the artificial—implying both artfully constructed and non-alive—of aesthetic impulses?  -AMU

“The more he forgot his sex, the more she created around him multiple opportunities to feminize himself, and, so as not to frighten too much of the male inside him that she wanted to smother, she treated each degrading idea at first as a joke, content to make him accept it seriously only later. Thus, one morning she sent him via her footman an enormous bouquet of white flowers […] Jacques turned very red when the flowers arrived, then he solemnly placed the flowers in pots around the studio, playing out the game himself, catching himself being a woman for the pleasure of art.” (Rachilde, 94)

For me, this passage particularly brought to mind Judith Butler’s article, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” In the Rachilde passage, the small opportunities that Raoule sets out for Jacques to feminize himself through start as some sort of comedic acts. As though it is appropriate for him to take on a womanly role because the performance did not disturb his maleness. Calling this process “a joke” reminds the reader of a section that a previous student wrote about when Raoule and Jacques are described as sincerely taking part in a “comedy.” (As a side note, the historical symbolism of the white flowers is fascinatingly interesting as it indicates that white flowers are always appropriate because neither Raoule nor Jacques ever menstruate.) Jacques’ reaction to Raoule’s bouquet further shows how his sexual character is developed through the art of performance. Once he receives the flowers, Jacques takes on the role of being a woman into the private setting of his own studio. By “playing out the game himself,” the “joke” of roleplaying becomes a sincere act. When Jacques takes on the role of a woman without the presence of Raoule in the studio, it becomes clear—his gender is a personal performance.


In Haverlock Ellis’ Studies in the Psychology of Sex, the author takes a transgressive and progressive stance defending and accounting for the subject known as the homosexual. However, what I found particularly interesting was the author’s reasoning for why homosexuality was not only an acceptable component of sexuality but one that was essential to natural section and the survival of heterosexual reproduction. When explaining why he believes homosexuality to be essential to the human species, Ellis writes that the “cure” of inversion is both unnecessary and destructive to human reproduction. He writes, “The success is unlikely to be either permanent or complete, in the case of a decided invert; and in the most successful cases we have simply put into the invert’s hands a power of reproduction which it is undesirable he should possess.” (P. 332) For Ellis, reproduction makes up the future of humanity and this reproduction cannot and should not happen in homosexual relations. And if the homosexual does in fact manage to reproduce, Ellis implies that this would be undesirable because the homosexual would genetically reproduce his inversion to his offspring.  This viewpoint can be argued to be one of the earliest examples of queer futurity. That is, Ellis seeks to bring up the possibility that homosexuality and inversion can be eradicated through heterosexual reproduction, thereby preventing the future existence of queerness and homosexual. As such, homosexuality becomes a historical subject that only exists in a particular time period; it has the potential to be eradicated or removed from human existence. It is not permanent, only a subject that is exists within a set and fixed period. As such, heterosexuality only exists because it is pitted against homosexuality and the existence of the former is predicated on the destruction of the latter. –VCA


“While there is, no doubt, a temptation to aid those who are anxious for aid to get rid of their abnormality, it is not possible to look upon the results of such aid, even if successful, much satisfaction.  Not only is the acquisition of the normal instinct by an invert very much on a level with the acquisition of a vice, but probably it seldom succeeds in eradicating the original inverted instinct.”  -Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 328, Havelock Ellis

When I was first reading Ellis, this passage caused me to raise my eyebrows.  It reminded me of the “Cure the Gay” industry that exists in modern day-wherein people offer “those who are anxious for aid” so-called cures in the form of camps, “therapies” books and other materials.  Havelock Ellis knew this and wrote about it over a century ago-and told readers that trying to overcome homosexuality “seldom succeeds.”  How interesting, that this is something still debated in courtrooms and homes across the world.


“All that I desire – and I claim it as my right, is the freedom to exercise this divine gift of loving, which is not a menace to society nor a disgrace to me. Let it once be understood that the average invert is no a moral degenerate nor a mental degenerate, but simply a man or a woman who is less highly specialized, less completely differentiated, than other men and women” (Ellis 334)

This quote from Ellis’s so-called American lady correspondent surprised me at first because it seems incredibly progressive for the times. I felt that, in a society where judges openly claim that homosexuals should be put to death, this women (if she really exists and is not Ellis in disguise) must be magnificently brave to write such an unapolagetic letter. It’s interesting because the quote itself both refers to the dominant views on “sexual inversion” and also soundly rejects them. I love the idea that, no matter what the common view of society, there will be people who are unashamed, even proud, of their identities. It also struck me because of the reference to an “invert” being less highly specialized. I think that, today, this idea persists that people attracted to their own gender are also less likely to follow dominant gender norms, that homosexuality and genderbending are linked and sometimes even interchangeable.  – Ash

The man seated on her right in the clouds of some imaginary heaven has relegated his female companion to the second rung in the scale of beings. … The inferior role that her form imposes on women in the generative act evidently gives rise to an idea of the yoke of slavery. … Man is matter; pleasure is woman, the eternally unappeased. (90-1)

This passage illustrates the immense power over life that sovereign distinctions, when they are operative, possess. Rachilde here reverses Aristotle’s hierarchical distinction between form (eidos) and matter (hylē) in order to subvert traditional views regarding male and female gender roles. She does so not in favor of a new, more egalitarian relation between ‘the sexes’—she does not render the distinction inoperative—but rather preserves the violent operativity of the distinction, simply inverting the direction in which power flows. Aristotle’s supreme accomplishment in Metaphysics Θ is to establish being-in-energeia (actuality, activity) as absolutely prior in being (ousia) to being-in-dunamis (potentiality, capacity). He shows how this distinction maps analogously onto the distinction between form and matter; form, then, has absolute priority in being (or ‘substance’) to matter. In the reproductive act, Aristotle thought, the male donated his form (via his seed) to the matter of the female body, which took on that form, thereby produced a new human. The female form, then, is material—and, as such, absolutely posterior to the male form, which is more closely connected with the formed, rational part of the soul than the body. This is the context in which to understand Rachilde’s reference to the “inferior role that her form imposes on women in the generative act”; and, even more significantly, to understand her/his declaration that “[m]an is matter”. We can, indeed, understand why this chapter might have been cut from certain early editions of the book. Rachilde here does nothing less than turn the history of metaphysics against itself—but, we must note, without yet destroying it (by rendering it inoperative). We will have to wait to see if any of the other books in this class might provide us a paradigm with which we might attempt to think inoperativity.


* * * * *

Part 2:  Contemporary Perspectives on Queer Genders and Sexualities

Please add your contributions here; don’t forget to “sign”:

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 9.45.28 AM –petradt

“Origin of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch–BPS

“When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

by Tombstone of Leonard Matlovich (1943–1988)

                           — Calais


– A.C.T.



MJ intern Gavin Aronsen reports:

landmark survey of 6,450 trans and gender non-conforming people released in February by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force revealed some disturbing numbers:

  • Ninety percent of responders reported facing discrimination at work.
  • Unemployment rates were double the national average.
  • More than a quarter said they had been fired due to their gender identity.
  • Those who had lost their jobs were four times as likely to be homeless and 70 percent more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

And, perhaps most remarkably (and most related to Monday’s post), a full 41 percent of responders admitted to having attempted suicide.


I find it heartbreaking and mind-boggling that marginalized populations like the transgender community still face so much discrimination because of the need to fit into the model of capitalism (in order to obtain work) and the expectations of “appropriate behavior” embedded in our culture.


Here is a very interesting video on Casey Legler, an up-and-coming model who identifies as female but works as a model in men’s fashion. Really interesting look into someone who seems very comfortable as a cisgendered person who is willing to mend gender binaries regardless:

Casey Legler, a model who identifies as female but works as a male model – Martin Navratilova

I found this music video interesting because the artist really dismantles the gender binary that society is so keen on perpetuating by combining both masculinity and femininity in their gender presentation. The juxtaposition of lipstick and a mustache I think really upsets people because they want things to be “either” masculine or feminine, not both.



Male model Andrej Pejic

-Basil Hallward

A picture from the Seattle Times of marriage ceremonies on the first day of legal same sex marriage in Washington — speaks to the celebration as a group, not just as a couple, of love.


Picture 1 —DA

Picture 56

This image is the headline and main photo of a Huffington Post article, which illustrates the growing conversation about the intersectionality of queer issues with other social issues, including immigration reform. – LGT

In this video, drag queen Sharon Needles acts as an example of the intersection many people inhabit between sexually queer identities and other alternative subcultures, as well as providing a critique of “mainstream” drag performance and telling an interesting queer coming-of-age story: -EE

Beautiful as a woman, beautiful as a man –MGA.

Sharon Needles has already made an appearance with EE’s post of Sharon’s video about “how death gave her an edge,” but I wanted to include the music video for her new song “This Club is a Haunted House” (, which unites some of the questions of how sexuality, aesthetics, and death can be linked. Sharon plays the boundaries of aesthetically appealing and evokes the aesthetics of death in her looks and her newly released album, which features songs like “Let’s all die,” “Call me on the Ouija Board,” “Dressed to Kill,” and “Dead Girls Never Say No” (which of course reminded me of Raoule’s play with the Jacques-mannequin at the end of Monsieur Venus). In the “This Club is a Haunted House” video, the song begins at 1:51 and the true blood orgy begins around 4:55.  -AMU

Censorship of Madonna’s “Justify My Love” music video (first video to be banned on TV for displays of queerness) –VCA


Infographics are being used for non-profits to garner the attention of readers used to “quick bites” in their media-not everyone wants to read an article, but peoples eyes are attracted to the format of an inforgaphic.
In the above video, a straight male asks a lesbian acquaintance  for advice on pleasing a women. It’s both a hilarious sitcom moment, and also a moment that I think argues that lesbians and straight men have quite a bit in common.  – Ash
“The ups and downs of political fortune may measure the social order’s pulse, but queerness, by contrast, figures, outside and beyond its political symptoms, the place of the social order’s death drive: a place, to be sure, of abjection expressed in the stigma, sometimes fatal, that follows from reading that figure literally, and hence a place from which liberal politics strives–and strives quite reasonably, given its unlimited faith in reason–to disassociate the queer. More radically, though, as I argue here, queerness attains its ethical value precisely insofar as it accedes to that place, accepting its figural status as resistance to the viability of the social while insisting on the inextricability of such resistance from every social structure.” (Lee Edelman, No Future: Queery Theory and the Death Drive, p. 3)


Filed under Exercises