GWS 300: Special Topics
Trans and Genderqueer Literature
TC Tolbert, MFA
This course evolved in the way that most loves evolve – out of a complex and mostly serendipitous confluence of curiosity, desire, admiration, delight, confusion, and need. I am a trans and genderqueer poet and for many years I’ve been devouring (some might even say hoarding) creative work by trans and genderqueer people. But in looking at that passion, my first challenge was always with the word “creative.” What work isn’t creative if by “creative” we mean sourced, at least partially, by the imagination? Gender theory is some of the most imaginative (and linguistically decadent) writing I can think of and one could easily argue that scientific and legal writing both require huge leaps of imaginative thinking. This is not to mention the creativity required of activist texts – particularly those doing work around social justice and the prison industrial complex. Then there is the question between non-fiction and creative non-fiction. The lines between autobiography and memoir – somehow this all starts to sound like policing gender identity to me…
Yet, although these texts may be creative in a variety of ways, and as much as I love engaging with ideas, I realized I was missing (we were missing – those interested in trans and genderqueer embodiment and/or experience – those interested in literature) the sensual “things made with letters” – the richness of attention to (a witness to the mastery of) narrative, arc, sound, image, metaphor, character, plot, description, rupture, symbolism, etc. in the context of trans and genderqueer speakers, characters, and voices. Essentially, I realized I was starving for creative written and visual work by and about trans and genderqueer people that stepped outside of documentary, explanatory, and/or theoretical modes. And so I proposed this class because there have been no other classes like it here at UA. And you signed up for it. And if you are here and decide to stay, it seems likely that you are starving for this work, too.
Here we will explore work that is, as Roger Scruton says, “presented through the senses, to the mind.” We won’t spend much (if any) time rehashing the tired limits of trans and genderqueer people’s expression as defined by mass media (i.e. freaks, victims, jokes, or teachers). We will wonder about Kant’s “purposiveness without purpose” as enjoyed by trans and genderqueer folks. We will watch as trans and genderqueer folks experience this freedom. In other words, we will look for beauty. We will analyze these works of literature through several theoretical lenses but this is not a course in theory. Oh, but then again we will be curious about how trans and genderqueer authors work inside of (and experiment with, push against, rupture, expand) what we consider literary form.
Logistically speaking, you can expect to do a lot of reading and discussing. Plan on about 100 pages a week for the first half of the semester. Although the reading load lightens up in the second half, the work load does not. Then you will be writing more and engaging with films and visual texts. (See daily schedule below for specifics.) In other words, this will be a really fun class but it will also be a lot of work. Please be prepared for both!
This class begins with questions and it will likely end with questions. It’s a conversation and a practice of paying attention. It is an attempt to enjoy, indeed to delight in (which does not preclude a critical analysis of), creative works by trans and genderqueer authors and artists that qualify as literature. But what qualifies? I suppose that is our first question. And it’s a big one. So, let’s go.
The following are guiding questions we will return to again and again throughout the semester.
- What is trans and/or genderqueer about this literature?
- Why/how is this trans and/or genderqueer work considered literature?
- Who is framing the discourse on trans and genderqueer bodies and identities and how are those narratives solidified?
- What are trans and/or genderqueer narratives? What are trans and/or genderqueer counter-narratives? In what ways do trans and genderqueer narratives and counter narratives repeat lesbian or gay assimilationist tropes and in what ways do they resist them? What do these narratives and/or counter-narratives allow and what do they prevent?
- Which metaphors do these narratives and counter-narratives employ and to what end?
- How do trans and genderqueer writers and artists utilize discursive and non-discursive strategies? How do trans and genderqueer writers and artists work with exposition, narrative, argument, and description? How do trans and genderqueer writers and artists employ confession, disclosure, landscape, character development, syntax, lyricism, and dialogue?
- What is the trans and genderqueer author/artist’s relationship with form?
- What is the relationship between trans and genderqueer narrative and social justice? Self-help? Education? Voyeurism? Entertainment? Politics? Health? Power? Privilege?
- Is this work beautiful? Why/why not? What is beauty? What is the body? What is form?
Course Objectives and Expected Learning Outcomes:
The overall goal of this course is for you to gain a nuanced understanding of the discourses surrounding, available to, and utilized by trans and genderqueer authors and artists. For the purposes of this class, we will specifically focus on literature (poetry and prose), art, and film from the last 30 years created by those who self-identify as trans and/or genderqueer.
Throughout and as a result of this course, it is expected that each student will:
- engage with the work of some of the major trans and genderqueer literary and artistic figures in our current U.S. context
- become inspired by, and able to advocate for, trans and genderqueer literature, film, and art
- think critically about trans and genderqueer literature, art, and film in the last 30 years in the current U.S. context of cis literature, art, and film
- develop a nuanced and complex understanding of trans and genderqueer identities and be able to articulate that understanding clearly and respectfully
- develop a nuanced and complex understanding of one’s personal gendered identities and the ways those identities are shaped through discursive and non-discursive strategies with particular attention to narrative strategies
- think critically about gender identity, gender expression, race, class, and sexuality and their multifaceted relationships to safety, cultural capital, and access to resources and the means of production and publication
- analyze discursive and non-discursive strategies used by trans and genderqueer authors and artists and understand those strategies in the larger contexts of legibility and safety
- become aware of the inadequacies of this course and become inspired to further engage with trans and genderqueer literature, art, and film
My Teaching Philosophy: To Learn:
Upon looking up the word “teach” in the Online Etymological Dictionary, one will find this: “Old English tæcan had more usually a sense of “show, declare, warn, persuade” (cf. German zeigen “to show,” from the same root); while the Old English word for “to teach, instruct, guide” was more commonly læran, source of modern learn.” While some classrooms are spaces in which you will strictly be persuaded or shown how or what to think about a given subject, this class will employ the fullest range of teaching strategies I can imagine. I will bring my knowledge and passion for trans and genderqueer literature. I will show you some things and I will direct your attention to others but mostly I will ask you questions. I will want to hear from your areas of expertise and your experiences. There will be guest speakers. You will lead some discussions and there will be a healthy dose of small group work. We will find that I am not in control of this classroom anymore than you are. We will get it right sometimes and, honestly, we will probably sometimes get it wrong. This might scare some students and it may even scare some teachers (and yes, sometimes it does scare me!). But I embrace this dialogic pedagogy and I look forward to teaching and learning alongside you. In other words, for me, to teach is to be willing (indeed, to be excited by the opportunity) to be curious, to be surprised, to be challenged, and to learn.
- Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein
- Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler
- The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard edited by Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod
- Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson
- Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex edited by Eric A Stanley and Nat Smith
- GENDERqUEER: voices from beyond the sexual binary edited by Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins
- Gender Outlaws, The Next Generation edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman
- Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity edited by Mattilda a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore
- Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Heath Justice, and Deborah Miranda
- Transgender History by Susan Stryker
- Disidentifications: Queers Of Color And The Performance Of Politics by Jose Muñoz
- The Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
- Gender Trouble and Excitable Speech by Judith Butler
- Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives by Marilyn Farwell
- Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
- The Queer Art of Failure by Jack Halberstam
In class, Mondays 5:30-8pm Homework for the following Monday
|Jan 20 – no class – Martin Luther King Jr holiday|
Intros, go over syllabus, hopes for the class
What do we mean by literature?
Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of the Single Story”
What is the “single story” of trans people and who creates that story? In class activity – complete My Gendered Workbook handout and compose your personal gendered biography.
Intro panel of stories. Abby, Ms. Jai, Michael, Ryka (via Skype), Alexandria, and Jonie.
|Read and annotate the following:
Note: this is about 100 pages of reading
Pushing against the boundaries of gender and literature – properties, functions, hopes, and practices of and for.
|Read and annotate the following from The Collection
Narrative and the role of narrative in our culture. Which are “acceptable” trans narratives? Intersecting identities – race, class, religion, and region. Narratives and counter narratives as shaped by historical and cultural contexts.
|Read Ch 6 in Literary TheoryWatch selected episodes of Orange is the New BlackRead “Behind These Mascaraed Eyes” from Nobody Passes (on d2l)Read “Fugitive Flesh” and “My Story” from Captive Genders (on d2l)
Read “(Auto)biography of Mad” from Sovereign Erotics (on d2l)
Representations in media, reality, the Prison Industrial Complex, assimilation, and making it safe. Janet Mock. Laverne Cox. Carmen Carrera. RuPaul. Chaz Bono.
|Read Chapters 1-10 in Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us.Read Ch 7 in Literary TheoryNote: this is about 130 pages.|
Performativity, language, and gender. Julia Serrano’s “Performance Piece” from Gender Outlaws and Susan Stryker’s performance/speech “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamonix: Performing Transgender Rage”
|Read Chapters 11-16 in Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us.Read Ch 8 in Literary TheoryNote: this is about 130 pages.
*Extra credit opportunity – Healthy Masculinity Panel on Tuesday, Feb 25.*
Performatives. What is genre? Hybridity in literature. Utilizing white space, voice, lyric, stage directions, and the page.
|Read Ch 5 in Literary TheoryRead selections TBA from Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics.|
Poetry and poetics. Sound, sense, and the line.
Panel discussion with trans and genderqueer poets.
|Read selections TBA from Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics.Compose midterm essay.
* Extra credit opportunity – CA Conrad poetry reading on Thursday, March 13 at 7pm
No class – Spring Break!
Mid-term essay due.
Visual poetry. Image and metaphor. Performance.
|Selections TBA from Troubling the Line and performances/videos by D’Lo and Jai Arun Ravine.|
The gaze, images, and passing. Visual art as literature.
|Selected work by Loren Cameron, Cathy Opie, Tobaron Waxman, Rae Strozzo, and Del la grace Volcano.|
Dance, installation, new media
|Selected work by Micha Cardenas, Amos Mac, Sean Dorsey, Dylan Scholinski, and Simon Croft.|
Panel discussion with visual artists.
|Watch Beautiful Boxer and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything.
Read essay by Riki Wilchins on d2l.
Film and narrative. Film as literature. Representations of non-binary gendered identities in film and literature. Clips from The Aggressives.
|Watch By Hook or By Crook and Stud Life.
Read “Now That You’re a White Man” by Max Wolf Valerio on d2l.
Beginnings and endings. What is trans literature?
|Selections from Thomas Page McBee’s “Self Made Man” posted on d2l.
Selections TBA from The Collection.
|May 5 – last day of class
Final exam essay.
TC Tolbert, MFA, is a genderqueer, feminist poet and teacher. Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, core faculty in OSU-Cascades Low Residency MFA Program, adjunct faculty at University of Arizona, and wilderness instructor at Outward Bound, s/he is the author of Gephyromania (Ahsahta Press, 2014) and chapbooks I: Not He: Not I (Pitymilk Press, 2014), spirare (Belladonna*, 2012), and territories of folding (Kore Press, 2011). TC is co-editor, along with Tim Trace Peterson, of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2013). TC writes and is arts co-editor for The Feminist Wire and s/he recently curated a trans and queer issue of Evening Will Come for the Volta.
See the rest of our back-to-school feature Syllabus-ness here.