Foundations of LGBTQ Studies: Exploring Complex Topics in Interesting Ways
Foundations of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies (LGBTQ) (GWS 211) was one of the best courses I’ve taken at Grinnell. We delved into so many different topics in the field, from dense theoretical works by Michel Foucault and Judith Butler to more contemporary takes on race, migration, and even temporality. While the focus was on LGBTQ communities, the class was far from single-issue focused. As students, we were encouraged to develop an intersectional analysis of issues in society, discussing the ways that sex, race, gender, and other identity categories interact. We learned how positionality colors our experiences, basically.
Beyond the course material, Assistant Professor of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies Leah Allen is an amazing lecturer, and class discussions were always very engaging. Almost every class involved an in-depth discussion of the readings, and Professor Allen was always clear in her explanations and great at answering questions. It was wonderful to talk to my peers in class about material we were all excited about.
The assignments in the class were fun, too. We did a few written assignments on queer social phenomena and artwork. In these short pieces, I was able to experiment with my writing in ways that really paid off. For example, I wrote an essay on how selfies are inherently queer (and I’m proud of it). Professor Allen was appreciative of our creativity and gave us the opportunity to explore it in these assignments and even the final paper (where I wrote 10 pages about a meme I saw about a cat in a gay bar).
While reading Foucault and Butler, among others, can be difficult, Professor Allen was great at explaining complex concepts in easy to digest ways. I found it helpful to come to her office hours to discuss the material. But much of the reading wasn’t difficult at all. I found a lot of it fairly easy to read, and the reading load rarely felt too intense. And even when it was a bit heavy, the material was interesting and useful, which helped me stay motivated to keep moving through it.
My favorite memory from class is when we read Gertrude Stein’s “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene,” a short story based on repetition of the word “gay.” I would recommend looking it up and just taking a glance at it. In class, we all read the piece out loud. So, I heard 15–20 other voices just repeating the word “gay” over and over again, interspersed with other random words and occasional laughter. The disorienting environment created by all that chattering can’t be easily described in text. Maybe you’ll just have to take the class to experience it.
While this course was mostly built on themes that I had already encountered in other classes, especially other GWSS classes, I feel that I came out of the course with a deeper understanding of all the themes we covered. This was because of the interesting material, the great lectures and discussions, and the fun assignments. I’m glad I took this course, and I couldn’t recommend it enough — even if you think you’re a pro!