Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Time!

In case you're getting the impression from the last few posts that I am obsessed with and spend all my time watching movies and youtube videos, you are only half right. Sometimes I read too. So today I'm going to profile some of the books I've read for my "Gay & Lesbian Lives" class, which is great, by the way. I added it last-minute (like 2 hours before the class) when another class in my schedule got canceled, and I am so glad that I did. We read mostly memoirs, and I get few other opportunities to read full books (unless it's a several-month process) so that's fun. Here are my favorites!

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, a Biomythography by Audre Lorde
I really enjoyed this one. Audre Lorde, first off, is baller, and I'd read speeches and other things by her but nothing biographical/biomythographical. The "biomythography" tag refers to her use of the surreal, mythological, and magical interspersed in details of her life. She's a poet, so the writing style is markedly different from regular prose, but it's really interesting. And it's also a really great account of intersectional identity.

Cures by Martin Duberman
Duberman is a historian, and it's really obvious in his autobiography. I mean, he quotes his own diary. It's very meticulous. He grew up around the same time as Audre Lorde, but had a drastically different experience learning about his sexuality and went through years of damaging therapy to try and "cure" his homosexual desires. I'm really interested in reading other things he's written, and he's done a considerable amount of scholarship on the gay rights movement in America. This was interesting to read right after Zami because Duberman is so much more an archetype of the typical gay-activist (white, male, gay, upwardly-mobile, educated) but had so much more psychological trauma that Lorde did. ... I don't think you can really compare their experiences, but in general, Lorde sort of accepts her sexuality for what it is and her biomythography is an account of her search for love, while Duberman's experiences are much more fraught personally.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.
Yes! Alison Bechdel of the Bechdel test! This is a graphic novel and it's really beautifully illustrated. The detail is amazing, and the content is really interesting. Fun Home is partly autobiographical, and partly biographical of her father. She frames discussions of both her sexuality and her father's as intertwining narratives and relates them to literature, which is really poignant (and often heartbreaking) and I always love inter-textual references. I totally recommend this. It makes me wish I were a lot more literate than I am because there were some references that went over my head. But if you're a book nerd and want an intro to queer theory, Fun Home is for you.

Gender Outlaw
by Kate Bornstein
I loved this book. Kate Bornstein is just such a cool badass. This is a really great intro to queer theory because Bornstein so clearly and aptly questions constructions of gender and sexuality and sex. Kate is a male-to-female transgender lesbian, queer activist, playwright, and all-around cool lady. Queer theory is so dense because it is really difficult to wrap your head around the ways that gender/sexuality/sex are constructed, and learning about it makes (or should make) you question your experiences with gender/sexuality/sex. Who does make all these rules anyway? Bornstein basically advocates for breaking them all so that we can achieve fluidity. Which is not to say that these aren't valuable categories, because people do have experiences as a man or woman or third gender or lesbian or femme-man or butch-dyke or twink... We categorize because it's easy. But there are really valid questions that should be considered that do help in explaining or at least are helpful in disrupting these "concrete" notions of gender, sex, and sexuality. One of my favorite quotes from Gender Outlaw is "[a] fluid identity, incidentally, is one way to solve problems with boundaries. As a person’s identity keeps shifting, so do individual borders and boundaries. It’s hard to cross a boundary that keeps moving!" I really recommend reading this one, everyone in my class really enjoyed it. I just started reading the anthology she edited called Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation for another class which is also really good.

One of the reasons I decided to take "Gay and Lesbian Lives" other than the fact that I wanted to take another class and this one sounded interesting, is because that even as a women's studies minor, I have not read a lot about the plight of the queer community. And as a heterosexual person, it's kind of easy for me to overlook LGBT issues when experiences of coming out and discrimination and civil rights are not something that I experience personally. I experience them through my queer friends, but no matter how hard I try to understand them and be sympathetic to them, I can't ever really truly know what they have to go through. And I think it is really important-- and this is definitely my anthro major/women's studies minor coming out here-- to understand people as best I can and be able to relate to and represent others' experiences with empathy, respect, and reality. This has actually been a really challenging class for me, but challenging in a really good way. I'm still one of the first people to raise a hand (yep, I'm that girl in a lot of my classes... especially women's studies classes), and I'm really grateful that I have academic experience with gender and sexuality studies because otherwise I might feel a little intimidated about speaking in class.

But like other types of identity-based experiences, I think talking IS important! My multi-racial roommates and I last year (we were like the League of Nations or something) talked really openly about race and ethnicity and discrimination and I am so glad for that because those were really fun conversations. Sometimes they were serious, sometimes they were like me explaining what it felt like to have a blistering sunburn. But we all talked really openly about our opinions, and I felt like I was so much more comfortable (as a white lady) than other students when talking about race and ethnicity in my classes. "Taboo" subjects like race/ethnicity and queerness are taboos partly because people are afraid to talk about them. Talk about them! I try to be as open as possible on this blog, and there are a bazillion other blogs out there written by bloggers with much less bland identities than I have that are really interesting and that try to bridge these gaps kept open by fear, misunderstanding, and notions of propriety. Break those down! Be open! Try to learn about something or someone that you're not familiar with! It's FUN.

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