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Course Description

This course introduces scholarly debates about sexual identities, gender identities and expressions, and sexual orientation and its representation in various media. We begin with an investigation of the theoretical underpinnings of the emerging field of queer studies, from the nineteenth century to the present day, and consider how subsequent work in transgender studies continues to challenge traditional understandings of sex, gender, and sexuality. Tracing theories of and about gender, sexuality and sexual identity over time, we will examine the genealogy of "queer" (and subsequently "trans") as a term that has emerged to trouble and challenge static and essentialized notions of sexual identity. The social, cultural, and political effect of "queer" has been to pose critical challenges to gay/lesbian/straight identities predicated on a sexual binary; now "trans" and "genderqueer" accomplish much the same thing with regard to gender identity. Queer studies shifts the focus of inquiry from sexual identities to sexual practices, many of which contradict traditional assumptions about the relationships between sex, gender, and sexuality. The course moves from a philosophical consideration of key theoretical texts (Foucault, Freud, Sedgwick, Rubin, Butler, etc.) to an exploration of the impact of those theories on historical and contemporary sexual and gender identities and communities.

Course Objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to do the following:

  • Explain how queer and trans theories have reconfigured notions of subjectivity and established sexual (and gender) identity as discursive and historically specific;
  • Identify the contested aspects of "queer" as a term and a politically viable concept;
  • Discuss the historical rift between women's studies and queer and trans studies, and the overlapping areas of inquiry between these fields;
  • Consider the intersection of gender and sexual identities with race, class, gender, ethnicity, age and disability;
  • Consider how queer and trans theories inform and impact our understanding of gender identity, sexual identity, the family, media representation, heterosexism and heteronormativity, and LGBT movements and communities.

Required Texts

Amazon logo Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1990. ISBN: 9780679724698.

Amazon logo Jagose, Annamarie. Queer Theory: An Introduction. New York, NY: New York University Press, 1997. ISBN: 9780814742341.

Amazon logo Stryker, Susan, and Stephen Whittle. The Transgender Studies Reader. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. ISBN: 9780415947084.

Amazon logo Freud, Sigmund. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1976. ISBN: 9780465086061.

Course Requirements

Attendance and Participation 20%
Critical Response Papers 40%
Final Paper/Project 40%


Attendance and Participation

Attendance and participation are critical to your success in this course. Each class session will focus on one or more topics and be accompanied by appropriate readings. Please be sure to read all assignments in advance, come to class on time and be prepared to discuss your reactions and ideas. Failure to attend will adversely affect your grade. Missing more than two weeks of class will cause you to fail the course. Facilitation of one week's readings and active participation in discussion in class and on the forum of our class Web site is necessary to receive full credit.

Critical Response Papers

Short critical response papers (2-4 pages each) will be due periodically during the semester. These essays are opportunities for you to reflect on a key concept through a close critical reading of one text, or a comparison of two. You may wish to pursue a theoretical question raised in our forum discussions or in class in more detail in your critical response papers.

Final Paper/Project

The final research paper or project represents the cumulative effort of your work this semester. It should be 12-15 pages in length. The final will demonstrate your proficiency in applying concepts relevant to queer and trans theory we have been studying to a topic of your choice. This assignment may also be created as a Web presentation for a queer culture Web site.

Additional Requirements

Please be sure that all assignments are word-processed, double-spaced documents in 12 point type of a conventional font. Make sure to include page numbers when quoting from source texts. This course assumes abilities in spelling, sentence construction, punctuation and other basic writing mechanics. For additional practice with these writing skills please visit the MIT Writing Center.

Grading is according to the following guidelines:

A Denotes work that is of exceptional quality. Exceptional quality is represented by evidence of engagement with information and ideas in course materials and lectures, and from other sources, thoroughness, careful thinking, integration of material across topics, logical reasoning, precise and artful writing.
B Denotes work that is above average vis-à-vis your peers' work and the expectations of the assignment.
C Denotes work that fulfills the course requirements in every way, but only adequately.
D Denotes work that does not adequately fulfill requirements, but still deserves credit.
F Denotes work that does not deserve credit.



1 Introduction to Course  
2 Medicalization and the "Birth of the Homosexual"  
3 Medical Science, History, and Theories of Gender and Sexual Identity  
4 Constructing and Deconstructing Gender - the "Truth" of Sex First response paper due
5 Psychoanalysis, Desire, and Sexual and Gender Identities  
6 The Invert, Third Sex, and Lesbians in History Second response paper due
7 Performativity, Drag, and Gender Identity  
8 Stonewall, Marriage, and the Closet  
9 Local and Global Movements Third response paper due
10 Lesbian Feminism and the Trans Debate  
11 Visibility/Invisibility: Queering Gender and Sexuality Fourth response paper due
12 Regulating Gender and Sexuality: Masculinity, Violence, and Public Space  
13 Contemporary and Futuristic Portrayals of Gender and Sexuality Final project due