Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 17, 1994

Sexuality Studies Stimulate New Methods of Learning
By Sujata Massey

    This fall, the School of Arts and Sciences is
    holding a wide assortment of classes in gender and
    sexuality studies, which bring new perspectives to
    history, literature, politics and the social
    sciences. This is the second of a three-part series
    examining some of the ongoing work.

Women's studies and ethnic studies came first, born out of
the civil rights movement. Now, as lesbian, gay and bisexual
activism grows, so does the field of sexuality studies. 
    Tyler Stevens, a graduate student in English, believes
sexuality studies will permanently reshape the study and
teaching of literature, history, philosophy and other topics. 
    "One way to define sexuality studies is as the analysis
of desire and identification, and the social and political
structures informed by and informing these forces," said the
graduate student in English whose dissertation-in-progress
examines sexuality and moral philosophy in 19th-century
English literature. "It serves the community because it
allows you to examine the rhetoric of sexuality and sexual
hatred, to see whose interests are being served." 
    Stevens teaches a dean's fellowship course for
undergraduates titled Problems of Identity in Straight,
Lesbian and Gay Sexuality. Though the course has an
anti-homophobic slant, Stevens stresses it is not a
"coming-out" class. He asks students to withhold revealing
their sexual orientations in the interest of "not having turf
wars over knowledge."
    "Still, it can't help but be a personal journey for
heterosexual and homosexual students. We analyze how identity
is produced, what is involved in making speech acts such as
'I am gay' or 'I am male,'" Stevens said. The class examines
literature for representations of gender, sexuality and race;
they pay particular attention to the relationship between
sexuality and law, and how sexual acts are said to produce
harm within the social body and the human body.
    Stevens is also the organizer of "Queer October,"
Hopkins' first symposium on lesbian and gay studies, Saturday
and Sunday in 323 Gilman Hall. The symposium is co-sponsored
by the university community and ELH, the English language
history journal edited by English professor Ronald Paulson.
Prominent scholars in lesbian and gay studies who will speak
include Eve Sedgwick and Michael Moon, English professors at
Duke University; Michael Warner, an English professor from
Rutgers University; and Janet Halley, a law professor at
Stanford University. Selected Hopkins graduate students will
present papers relating to sexuality studies. 
    Giulia Sissa, chair of the classics department, deals
with the history of sexuality in ancient Greece. Legend has
it that ancient Greeks were hedonists, but Sissa believes
they were deeply troubled by sexuality.
    "[They had] a very pessimistic, nihilistic view of
sexuality," she said. "Sex was deeply despised in Greece
because it is an endless desire, an illusion of pleasure."
The early Christians, on the other hand, worried that people
would prefer such temptations over what they perceived as the
real pleasure: the enjoyment of God.
    Robert Reid-Pharr, the English department's new
assistant professor, has found plentiful references to gender
and sexuality in 19th-century African-American and Caribbean
    "African-American people have largely been defined in
relation to their bodies; the idea of who is black and who is
white has been worked out in terms of women's bodies. Having
a slave mother makes one a slave, but having a slave father
does not necessarily make one a slave," Dr. Reid-Pharr said.
"It's an easy step to go into literature and see a concern
over abuse of the body and rape, where women's bodies stand
for the lack of autonomy of the black community."
    Dr. Reid-Pharr cut a slightly unusual figure when he
began to pursue his interest in black feminism and women's
studies during his graduate years at Yale University.
    "I was always received with lots of curiosity, but also
with lots of encouragement," he said. "I know that I maintain
male privilege. That's not something I can get away from. My
own feeling is I am a feminist. I am not doing this work to
try and colonize the field, I'm doing it because I think it's
important to all of us."

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