Teaching Queer America

Trinity College Queer America students visiting the Christopher Street Piers in New York City. CC BY-NC Jack Gieseking 2016.
Trinity College Queer America students visiting the Christopher Street Piers in New York City.       CC BY-NC Jack Gieseking 2016.

This spring I taught two incredibly exciting courses. The senior seminar, Queer America, was comprised of a small group of students, primarily from our American Studies program. This is my second senior seminar at Trinity College and my first full-semester lgbtq studies course. Of course, the latter is the more shocking of these components: all of this queering I’ve been up to and I’m only just achieving this beautiful moment. I taught Queer(ing) New York with the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies with their Seminar in the Series course in 2013.

The course was framed around the following questions: What is queer about America? What can be and has been queered about America? What, if anything, is not queer about America?

I was really energized and excited to see what resonated with Trinity students. We began by diving into JSTimeline to map out key events in lgbtq history to situate the students in a landscape in which they were generally unfamiliar. While somewhat awkward with dozens of events listed, the students found the entire effort meaningful and exciting, plus they took in a new digital tool, homed some critical thinking skills in a digital medium, and developed WordPress skills.

Through interdisciplinary readings focused on lgbtq lives, spaces, cultures, and political economies throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries, the course took on a life of its own. Students became enthralled at how much the position of lgbtq people had radically been altered in recent decades. Was it acceptance, or mere tolerance? Could it ever be acceptance? What was the relationship between American exceptionalism and the exportation of homonationalism abroad and across the local cosmopolitan landscape? In the end, the queerness or queering of America questioned the very basis of what American-ness is as defined by gender, racial, and sexual “norms” that often defy actual experience and desire.

Students wrote final papers ranging from the closing the lesbian bars to Jay Toole’s role in changing NYC lgbtq youth homelessness, from the constructs of masculinity and femininity in American sports and film to the production of race, class, and gender identities in claiming a “normal” family life on YouTube. I am grateful to my students for a terrific semester that ended with our field trip–thanks to the Trinity College Flesichman Fund–to do a walking tour of lgbtq history in Greenwich Village before seeing “Fun Home” on Broadway. It was a great semester. I’ll post more about my other course, Data Driven Cultures, soon!