I'm excited to be teaching a new Queer Studies class in Fall 2015 here at Western Washington University. Advice/ideas/inspiration welcome! Thanks to Ann Tweedy and Greg Youmans for feedback on this course description. It's a work in progress, and I expect the class to reflect the challenge of talking about identities that are grounded in history, but shifting and changing even as we speak. My main concern is to do justice to the specificity of American butch/femme lesbian history, while simultaneously appreciating and engaging with the abundance of gender identities/gendered experiences a new generation has learned to recognize and embrace. Also, I love this new photography project by artist Wendi Kali: The Butch/Femme Photo Project.
|Photo: Wendi Kali, "Frances and partner (and fur kids)"|
Butch/Femme: Exploring a Lesbian Subculture Through Literature
We’re here, we’re queer, but how did we get here?
Since its publication in 1990, Judith Butler’s essay “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” has set the stage for complex discussions of gender performance. Academics have embraced images of drag queens in films like Paris is Burning, while simultaneously expanding the definition of “gender trouble” to include mainstream reflections on personal style. The movement from bar culture to Stonewall to ACT UP to academic discourse to assimilation invites the question: what lived subcultures within the LGBT movement created the conditions for a consideration of gender and its relation to sex and sexuality?
Lesbian butch/femme culture is just one of those subcultures. This course will begin by setting the practice in an historical context. We’ll examine first wave butch/femme bar culture and clubs, second wave feminism, and the clash of cultures that exploded in the lesbian sex wars of the early 1980’s. Second wave butch/femme, the impact of ACT UP and the Lesbian Avengers, and the rise of the transgender rights movement will bring us to the date of Butler’s essay, which marks a productive proliferation of discourse on gender, even as LGBT social activism narrowed its focus to the assimilationist goals of marriage, monogamy, and military service. The course will end with an examination of Nancy Burkholder’s ejection from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 1991 and Donna Minkowitz’s 1994 coverage of the murder of Brandon Teena, incidents whose history of debates serve as a useful field for examining the clash between second and third wave feminist ideologies, and between cisgender and transgender identifications.
Although some familiarity with Queer Studies would be useful, all students are welcome in this class. Students will write numerous short response essays, as well as one long research paper or creative project.
Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers by Lillian Faderman
Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme edited by Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
Women in the Shadows by Ann Bannon
Zami by Audre Lorde