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Queering the Classroom

kjmason's picture



Learning should not be florescent lights and tablet arm desks. How have I learned about gender and sexuality most? Seeing it outside of that basement classroom. Walking around Philadelphia, seeing what sex work really looks like, dancing on Walnut Street, etc. Though it seems weird having a class where socializing would be an aspect of the course, I think it’s important to see the things we read and discuss in 3D. Seeing the man, arms crossed, head held high but nervously tapping his foot in the corner of Woody’s crowded dance area taking any opportunity he can to grind on any female just to make his preference obvious to everyone in the room. Seeing the streets fill with LGBTQ people, friends and family at pride in Philly. Hearing people whisper with disdain, “That’s the gay bookshop” outside of Giovannis Room. That’s where I’ve learned the most about this class.  
It’s as if in mathematics you went to all the lectures, read the books, participated in class, but never did any practice problems. Granted there are plenty of classes like history where oftentimes there isn’t a practice element. The course is just reading the book and listening to lecture. But students interested in the Gender and Sexuality Program have an advantage over that type of class. What we are studying is happening right now everywhere around us. So why would we waste the rare learning experience to become a part of what we are learning. It just seems like such a waste to have these opportunities and not take them. 
Most Praxis programs include some sort of “job” type aspect, either working for an organization, or observing a classroom of students, or something else along those lines. As Staceyann Chin tells us about “Girls who are only straight at night, hardcore butches be sporting dresses between 9 & 6 every day.  Sometimes she is a he, trapped by the limitations of our imaginations.” (Stayceyann Chin “Feminist or a Womanist” (transcribed) .") This is why Gen/ Sex praxis would have to be different. Because working with LGBTQ advocacy programs, working for people who are openly gay, or anything of the like is so different than just seeing these “Girls in tight dresses, who drag with moustaches” living their lives openly. No one can see sexuality on paper or read gender. You can see and read theories on these but there is a devastating confinement of the potential for learning by keeping things all books and discussion. There is definitely something about putting yourself physically into a space with what you are learning about that takes it to another level. 
Our class represents several different races, different economic backgrounds and ages, but we are all feminists of a kind. We already know that categories are constraining and they rob people of their basic human rights on a daily basis. We know that sexuality is a spectrum and that gender is a mere performance. It’s the 15 yr old boy from Wyoming who has feelings for his best guy friend but can’t bear to be “gay” that needs this class. It’s the homophobic fundamentalist who doesn’t feel gay people are “god’s people”. Not until these people take classes in Gender and Sexuality programs will there be a chance for the LGBTQ community to be embraced fully by society. It’s that boy who grows up in Texas on a ranch who becomes president and “might hate his own daughter if she were gay” ("Dear Mr. President") that needs to be in these classes. I think the focus of the program should be along the same lines of how scientists pushed the teaching of Evolution in classes. People are not going to want their highschoolers learning about gender and sexuality as diversity just like they didn’t want their white boys and girls taking classes with black children. But if we ever want society to change and if we want to continue the movement of the Gender and Sexuality program we can not just stick to educating the educated about this. Coming from an area with little to no understanding for anyone non-WASP I am acutely aware of the pandemic of ignorance that is drowning the united states in hypocrisy and violation of the fundamental ideas of Separation of Church and State, Human and Democratic Rights.("Fundamental Principles of the Constitution.")
The best part of this class was the final projects. This is because Gender and Sexuality is as Paul Grobstein described during our first weeks in this course, ‘A series of stories that need to be constantly changed with new observation’  (Grobstein) My main frustration of the course was that we were hearing from people who had stories of the movements and ideas that lead to our how Gender and Sexuality are perceived today, but no one from today. When we did our final performances we were the present voices, coming into our class and talking about Gender and Sexuality as it is now. Where our ideas of feminism, perceptions of labelling, etc come from. For me, that took what we had been learning all term and put it in the context of where Gender and Sexuality belong: in people who are living it now. With a program that is changing so constantly, ideas that were once groundbreaking can sound mundane at best in only a few years. Looking back to the forum posts that I’ve read, I find the ones that tell me something about my classmates personally, and don’t just regurgitate some theory we learned from an author to be the most refreshing. This is because we have a class of current thinkers with great ideas. We are the women who are going to change the way people see, teach and react to Gender and Sexuality. To leave this knowledge go untapped would be a great waste. Posting papers and discussion online is a wonderful way to incorporate current thinkers into the discussion without having to break the ever-bearing ceiling of the time constraint of a 3hr/wk class.
Learning is on harkness tables with crayons and coloured pencils for those ideas that don’t fit so well on lined paper in the constraints of letters. Learning is old books and new ideas, Internet and record players. Gender and Sexuality should be experienced through music, images, writing, reading and outside real-life experiences. I see the ideal classroom as one without walls where people walk in an out as they please while we listen to their conversations, hearing them talking about their homophobic parents, their 8 cats or the new apartment they may rent on Chesnut Street.
 In any collegiate level course there is a time limitation that weighs heavily and unfairly on the teacher’s ability to teach and on the student’s ability to absorb and develop all her ideas fully. This is why there must be a social element. To ask a student to change something about their non-academic life for a class sounds pretty radical, but Gender and Sexuality studies is very new and therefore merits consideration of new teaching practices.  I think its about time that we queer the classroom and break away from the archaic model of education that is completely irrelevant to the type of learning required in Gender and Sexuality.
Works Consulted:
"Dear Mr. President." AZ n. pag. Web. 17 Dec 2009. < >.
“Don’t Forget Us Obama”.Photo. Flickr. 17 Dec. 2009. <>
“Exeter Harkness”. Photo. Phillips Exeter 17 Dec. 2009. <>
"Fundamental Principles of the Constitution." n. pag. Web. 17 Dec 2009. <>.
“Got Pride?”. Photo. Myspace. 17 Dec. 2009 <>
Grobstein, Paul. "Diversity and Deviance: A Biological Perspective." 08-Sept-2009. Address.
“Hand Holding”. Photo. Gay Bar Services. 17 Dec. 2009 <>
"Stayceyann Chin “Feminist or a Womanist” (transcribed) ." Sugar and Medicine n. pag. Web. 17 Dec 2009. <>.
“Tablet Desk”. Photo. School Outfitters. 17 Dec. 2009 <>