Monday, December 15, 2008


This summer, a GSE alumni suggested I should read Kenji Yoshino's Covering: The Hidden Assult on our Civil Rights. She was reading it for the 2008 UNC-CH summer read for new students and she thought it related directly to GSE's homophobia, their resistance to their behavior being identified as homophobic, and their efforts to differentiate their behavior from ADF's homophobic behavior.

In many ways, this has always been the strange part of this whole ordeal. Why in the world would GS repeatedly as a faculty to not use the words "gay" "lesbian" or "queer", encourage all contemporary academic work except for sexuality studies, and fire me and then keep insisting none of that was related. Why would ADF and GS not wear what they are with pride? Why work so hard to distance themselves from the label "homophobic" when wearing that label is not illegal and would actually ingratiate them to the audience they have chosen?

Yoshino's book (which I finally got to as this semester was winding down) does provide an excellent explanation for this type of behavior. It also places the responsibility for homophobic behavior back on the homophobes, no matter how much they may attempt to resist that label. Yoshino offers that queer equality (and most civil rights struggles) has three stages- conversion, passing and covering. Conversion involves attempts to deny an identity or "correct" that identity; passing involves an admission that the identity is there but hiding or disguising the identity; covering involves an acceptance of the identity but controls on how the identity is expressed.

"Don't Ask/Don't Tell" is the perfect example of covering behavior; it is not being gay that is the problem. Instead it is "acting gay" or performing gay in an unacceptable way. Or as Yoshino puts it, "Individuals no longer needed to be white, male, straight, Protestant, and able-bodied; they needed only to act white, male, straight, Protestant, and able-bodied." Doing is what is under attack, not being.

And of course, this defines exactly GSE demands. GSE and the GS administration doesn't ask its faculty to be straight or not to teach queer subjects. What it asks is that its faculty or their subjects not be obtrusively queer, queer in such a way that the ADF might be able to read it as queer. They had no trouble with me teaching the Human Sexuality Film Series. What they objected to was the word Sexuality because that would draw the attention of the ADF. What they objected to was my academic work on queerness because it is easy to find and identify. "We aren't like the ADF" they want to insist, but of course, it is the same homophobia reflected from a slightly different angle. As Yoshino puts it, "In the new generation, discrimination directs itself not against the entire group, but against the subset of the groups that fails to assimilate to mainstream norms. This new form of discrimination targets minority cultures rather than minority persons. Outsiders are included, but only if we behave like insiders -- that is only if we cover."

For the administration at GS and GSE, they like to believe that gives them enough distance from homophobia that they don't have to be tarred with its brush. But of course, to a young student who may be thinking about his/her sexuality, who wishes to be reflective about the sexual choices s/he makes, the message is the same either way and just as dangerous. "There's something wrong with you. Your behavior is deviant and it will be punished and brought into line or else you wind up like these we have exiled. You are so deviant we can't even bring ourselves to talk about te topics you are interested in." That responsibility lies on the heads of Mary Watson, Tom Winton, and Michael McElreath whether they feel comfortable with that or not. The question is, which, if any, of them will be brave enough to say what they know is true, for themselves, for the program, for the students?