Gay and lesbian groups have long been a part of campus life, but a new field of inquiry - gay studies, or 'queer theory' - has entered the classroom 'as a movement that won't be stopped.'
William Grace was surprised to see the six-page syllabus for a prospective course, "Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies," at Dartmouth College. A member of the class of 1989 and former editor in chief of the controversial Dartmouth Review, Grace had done battle with what he calls the "forces of multiculturalism" and continues to do so as executive director of the Ernest Martin Hopkins Institute, which seeks to restore a "traditional and solid curriculum at Dartmouth."
The proposed course, part of a Dartmouth faculty effort to address "race, gender, class and sexual-orientation issues " is one element in a multicultural curriculum from which students would choose required courses. With texts such as "How to Have Promiscuity in an Epidemic" and "Rita Mae Brown Goes to the Baths," the syllabus, according to Grace, lifts multiculturalism "to a new level of politicization of the curriculum," a further twist on a phenomenon he claims to have long observed at his alma mater. "It is material dictated by the gayrights movement and which celebrates the gay-rights agenda," he says.
Gay and lesbian groups have been a part of campus life for at least a quarter century; many colleges and universities offer a smattering of courses in "gay studies," widely regarded as a spin-off of feminist studies. Gay scholars have produced an impressive array of books and articles on the homosexuality of prominent people such as Michelangelo, Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein, and on gay history and the nature of gay society - subjects they believe have been ignored or forgotten.
But times change, and gay studies enjoys a newfound vigor and assertiveness. Major centers of gay studies, particularly those at the City College of San Francisco and the City University of New York, have emerged. A highly regarded scholar in the field who spoke to Insight on the condition of anonymity calls gay studies "a movement whose time has come and won't be stopped," whose momentum is fueled by the "certain economic payoff " of an academic job. Specialized publications such as the Journal of Homosexuality and GLQ have proliferated. The Division of Lesbian and Gay Studies of the Modern Language Association has nearly 1,000 members and conducts annual sessions on topics such as "Homosexuality and National Identity: Latin America, 1900 - 1930."
Gay studies has made inroads into long-established academic fields, including music, art history and sociology, but nowhere has it had greater influence than on English faculties. Major gay theorists such as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Michael Moon, both members of the English department at Duke University, command sizable speaking fees and are in demand as lecturers. Judith Butler, who teaches rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, is so popular that students and admirers circulate a photocopied "fanzine" titled Judy! Sedgwick, who is not gay but identifies with the movement by virtue of her experiences "coming out as a fat woman," has written two gay-studies classics: Between Men and Epistemology of the Closet, both required reading in gay-studies courses. Moon, who is gay, is famous for declaring that classic American literature is "queer, queer, queer."
Critics of gay studies claim they aren't motivated by homophobia - though gay activists disagree. Says Grace, who had gay professors in college whom he regarded as fine teachers, I'd rather have lunch with Oscar Wilde than Al Gore." (Wilde, the Victorian playwright, is the oft-quoted patron saint of gay studies; "Football is all very well as a game for rough girls" he once said, "but it is hardly suitable for delicate boys.") What galls Grace and others is the tendentiousness of gay studies and its propensity - like feminism and other manifestations of multiculturalism - to regard its subjects as victims of a white, male patriarchy. …