Alternative Sexual Identities and Communities in the Contemporary United States

UGIS 20AC: “Alternative Sexual Identities and Communities in the Contemporary United States”

Dr. Martin Meeker, Instructor

Spring 2002, Tuesday and Thursday, 2:00-3:30pm

Discussion Sections:
Tuesday 8:00-9:00 425 Latimer
Tuesday 10:00-11:00 221 Wheeler
Wednesday 1:00-2:00 425 Latimer
Thursday 4:00-5:00 2304 Tolman

From the Harlem Renaissance to the Cold War, from Radclyffe Hall to Sylvester, and from science to social movements, sexual behaviors, identities, and communities deemed deviant have appeared at the center of the debates and dramas that make American culture American. In this course, we will take an extensive tour of deviant, variant, queer—here called “alternative”—sexual behaviors, identities, and communities as they emerged, evolved, and in some cases disappeared over the past 100 or so years. “Alternative sexuality” is defined in this course as behaviors, identities, and communities that stand in contrast and/or opposition to socially and culturally dominant sexualities. Once clarifying these concepts during the first week, we will examine closely a variety of “alternative” sexualities including fairies, prostitutes, blues singers, bohemians, homophiles, lesbian-feminists, transsexuals, gay clones, queer people of color, bisexuals, and gay college students.

As part of the American Cultures requirement this course does not consider alternative sexualities in isolation, but rather examines how sexuality influences the formation of racial and ethnic identities as well as how race and ethnicity influence the emergence and transformation of alternative sexualities. These parallel themes run throughout the course and will be a key component of lectures, readings, discussions, exams, and writing assignments.

Course requirements include two exams and one contextualized book review. Late papers will drop a full letter grade each day they are late; no exams will be rescheduled without serious cause and prior arrangement. All work must be completed to receive a passing grade in the class. Students are allowed three absences in their discussion sections (excused or unexcused) throughout the semester; additional absences will result in the loss of a letter grade in the final grade.

Discussion/participation: 20%
Midterm: 25%
Final: 25%
Book-in-context essay: 30%

There are no required books for this course. However, a course reader containing articles and documents is required and is available for purchase at [place tba].


Section 1: Alternative Sexualities and the Making of Race, Race and the Making of Alternative Sexualities from the 1890s to the 1920s

Sexuality and race are the themes of analysis and categories of identity most central to this course. The course begins the notion, as worked out in several assigned writings, that the social construction of the term “alternative” (and antecedents like “deviant” and “perverse”) is informed by social meanings attached to sexual behavior, color, and/or nationality. The first section of the course, thus, examines how racial discourses influenced the construction of alternative sexual identities and communities, and how discourses about sexuality changed racial identities and communities. For instance, in week 2 (“The Fairy and the Butch”), we will discuss how already existing racial discourses played a role in defining the meaning of sexual and gender deviance. In the following week (“Love for Sale”), we will examine the case of the making and unmaking of prostitution in San Francisco’s Chinatown and New York immigrant Lower East Side; we will discuss how racial and class differences cast women into subordinate, sexually-available positions and, then, how their racial and ethnic identities were fused with sexually deviant ones. In week 4 (“Top and Bottom”), we will focus on the making of the Harlem Renaissance and how conflict over appropriate gender roles and sexual behavior within the black community influenced everything from artistic expression to politics to the articulation of black identity itself.

Week 1 (1/22-24): Alternative to What?

Tuesday: “Defining ‘Alternative Sexualities’”
Gayle Rubin. “Thinking Sex: Notes Toward a Radical Theory of Sexuality” (1983).
Donna Penn. “Queer: Theorizing Politics and History” (1994).
Gary Nash. “The Hidden History of Mestizo America” (1995).

Thursday: “Sexuality, Race, and Science”
Siobhan Somerville. “Scientific Racism and the Invention of the Homosexual” (2000).
Jennifer Terry. “Medicalizing Homosexuality” (1999).

Week 2 (1/29-31): The Fairy and the Butch: Gender/Sexuality at the Turn of the Century

Tuesday: “Alice Mitchell and Her Kind”
F.L. Sim. “Alice Mitchell Adjudged Insane” (1892).
Lisa Duggan. “The Trials of Alice Mitchell” (1991).

Thursday: “Ralph Werther and His Kind”
Ralph Werther. Selections from Autobiography of an Androgyne (1914).
George Chauncey. “The Fairy as an Intermediate Sex” Gay New York (1994).

Week 3 (2/5-7): Love for Sale: Race, Class, and the Making of an Alternative Sexual Identity

Tuesday: Chinese Immigrant Women in Late 19th Century San Francisco
Benson Tong. “Adjusting to Life in Chinatown” Unsubmissive Women (1994).
Sucheng Chan. “The Exclusion of Chinese Women, 1870-1943” Entry Denied (1991).

Thursday: European Immigrant Women in Turn of the Century New York
Kathy Peiss. “Charity Girls and City Pleasures” (1983).
Selections from The Mamie Papers (1910-1913).

Week 4 (2/12-14): Top and Bottom: Alternative Sexuality, Race, and the Making of Harlem

Tuesday: High Culture, the Arts, and the Harlem Renaissance
Alain Locke. “The New Negro” (1926)
Nathan Irvin Huggins. “Harlem: Capital of the Black World” Harlem Renaissance (1971).
Houston Baker. “Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance” (1987).

Thursday: T’aint Nobodies Business if I do: Sex, Jazz, and the Blues
Langston Hughes. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926)
Richard Bruce Nugent. “Smoke, Lilies and Jade” (1926)
Angela Davis. “Blame it on the Blues” Blues Legacies and Black Feminism (1998).
Kevin Mumford. “Interracial Intersections: Homosexuality and Black/White Relations” (1997).
Songs of Bessie Smith, “Ma” Rainey, and Gladys Bentley

Section II: Mixings, Borrowings, and Meetings: The Interaction of Sexuality, Race, Class, and Gender in the 1950s and 1960s

Certainly racial mixings began well before the 1950s—1920s Harlem was a site of unprecedented and mostly uncoerced racial mixing. Similarly, racial “borrowings” and theft predate the 1950s; the popular culture of minstrelsy in the late nineteenth century is only the most obvious example. However, it was in the 1950s and 1960s with the rise of rock and roll, the popularization of jazz, and the ascendancy of the beats that such mixings, borrowings, and meetings came to dominate popular culture. The second section of the course begins with an exploration of these themes in the context of the postwar revolt of masculinity in which many men (and some women) decided that the culture of the organization man was not for them. This revolt provided a meeting ground for a variety of ‘outsiders’ including jazz musicians, drug users, gay poets, communists, and, in general, hipsters. In the cultural swirl that ensued, racial and sexual identities were reconfigured in significant ways. In the following weeks, we will examine some of the important transformations of racialized sexual identities and sexualized racial identities in relation to the homophile movement, gay male and lesbian bar cultures, and the Civil Rights movement.

Week 5 (2/19-21): Styles of Masculine Revolt: Race, Sexuality, and Bohemianism

Tuesday: Origins and Ideas of Revolt: Race and the Atom Bomb
Oswald Spengler. Selections from Decline of the West (1926).
Norman Mailer. “The White Negro” Dissent (1957).
Edward Komara. “The Bop Aesthetic and the Black Intellectual Tradition” (1994).

Thursday: Manifestations of Revolt: Music and Literature
Allen Ginsberg. “Howl” (1955) and “Many Loves” (1956).
Joyce Johnson. “Beat Queens: Women in Flux.” Rolling Stone (1974).
Scott Saul. “Outrageous Freedom: Charles Mingus and the Invention of the Jazz Workshop”
American Quarterly (2001).
Recordings of Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus

Week 6 (2/26-28): Working-class and Middle-Class Alternative Sexualities: Between Deviance and Respectability

Tuesday: Bar Culture in the 1940s and 1950s
Elizabeth Kennedy. “We’re Going to be Legends Just Like Columbus” Boots of Leather (1993).
Recordings of Jose Sarria and T. C. Jones

Thursday: Political Culture/Cultural Politics
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. “Lesbians United” Lesbian/Woman (1972).
Martin Meeker. “Behind the Mask of Respectability” Journal of the History of Sexuality (2001).

Week 7 (3/5-7): Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?: Civil Rights, Sexuality, and Race

Tuesday: Sex and Civil Rights
Jacquelyn Dowd Hall. “The Mind That Burns in Each Body: Women, Rape, and Racial
Violence” Powers of Desire (1983).
Sara Evans. “Going South” Personal Politics (1979).

Thursday: The Social Legacy of Loving v. Virginia
Loving v. Virginia (1968).
Rachel Moran. “Race and Romance” Interracial Intimacy (2001).

Week 8 (3/12-14): Midterm and Review

Tuesday: Midterm review

Thursday: Midterm

Section III: Media, Mainstreaming, and Diversifying from the 1960s through the 1990s

The third section of the course covers a great deal of ground both conceptually and chronologically. The basic premise is that once the mass media started to cover alternative sexualities (not coincidently at about the same time the Civil Rights movement was heating up and hitting the headlines) the pace of mainstreaming and diversification of identities began to increase. We will explore and question this trend through an examination of a series of media events in the middle and late 1960s (week 9); the birth control pill and the youth counterculture (week 11); transgender public identities and performances (week 12); gay male and lesbian separatism (weeks 13 and 14); identity politics of the 1980s and 1990s (week 15); and youth alternative sexualities (week 16). At the heart of most of these discussions is a consideration of the ways in which race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality separate and combine, forever creating new identities and even new communities. The perspectives offered by queer people of color are particular important in this section of the course because they articulate how it feels to occupy many salient identities simultaneously; how it feels to have to make strategic choices of self-identity; and how it feels to be forever engaged in a search for home.

Week 9 (3/19-21): Mass Media Made Identities

Tuesday: Lesbian Paperbacks, Physique Magazines, and Bar Guides
Selections from Physique Pictorial (1955).
Tracy Morgan. “The Pages of Whiteness: Race, Physique Magazines, and the Emergence of Gay
Public Culture, 1955-1960” Found Objects (1994).
Yvonne Keller. “Pulp Politics: Strategies of Vision in Pro-Lesbian Pulp Novels, 1955-65” (1999).

Thursday: A Gay Look at Life
Paul Welch and Bill Eppridge. “Homosexuality in America” Life (1964).
[Guy Strait]. “Heterosexuality in America” Strife (1964).
Jeffrey Escoffier. “Homosexuality and the Sociological Imagination” (1998).

Week 10 (3/26-28): Spring Break – No Classes

Week 11 (4/2-4): Make Love, Not War: Mainstreaming ‘Alternative’ Sexuality

Tuesday: Stomaching the Pill: Women, Race, and the Revolution
Gloria Steinem. “The Moral Disarmament of Betty Co-ed” Esquire (1962).
“Black Women and Birth Control” Ebony (1968).
Jessie Rodrique. “The Black Community and the Birth-Control Movement” (1989).

Thursday: Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll
Marcuse. “The Hidden Trend in Psychoanalysis” Eros and Civilization (1955).
David Allyn. “(Id)eology: Marcuse, Brown, and Perls” Make Love, Not War (2000).

Week 12 (4/9-11): Gender Terrorism: Transgender on the Stage and in the Street

Tuesday: On the Streets New York and San Francisco
“Rapping with a Street Transvestite Revolutionary: An Interview with Marcia Johnson” (1972).
Susan Stryker. “MTF Transgender Activism in the Tenderloin and Beyond” GLQ (1998).

Thursday: On the Stage with Sylvester and David Bowie
“Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman: Burroughs and Bowie.” Rolling Stone (1974).
Songs of Sylvester and the Cockettes

Week 13 (4/16-18): Separatism in the 1970s

Tuesday: Lesbian Feminism and Separatism
Radicalesbians. “The Woman-Identified Woman” (1970).
Lillian Faderman. “Lesbian Nation: Creating a Women-Identified-Women Community” (1991).

Thursday: Lesbians of Color and Separatism
Anita Cornwell. “Three for the Price of One: Notes from a Gay Black Feminist” (1976).
Alice Echols. “The Eruption of Difference” Daring to be Bad (1989).

Week 14 (4/23-25): Gay Ghettos

Tuesday: The Geography of the Ghetto
Carl Wittman. “A Gay Manifesto” (1969).
Martin Levine. “YMCA: The Social Organization of Gay Male Life” Gay Macho (1998)

Thursday: How to be—and not to be—a Gay Clone
“The Effeminist Manifesto” (1973).
Rita Mae Brown. “Queen for a Day: A Stranger in Paradise” (1975).
Thom Bean. “Racism from a Black Perspective” (1983).
Will Roscoe. “Living the Tradition: Gay American Indians” (1987).

Week 15 (4/30-5/2): Identity Politics: Race/Class/Gender/Sexuality

Tuesday: Thinking About Identity, Community, and Politics: Modern/Postmodern I
Audre Lorde. “I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities” (1980).
Gloria Anzaldua. “Bridge, Drawbridge, Sandbar, or Island” (1988).
Minnie Bruce Pratt. “Identity: Skin/Blood/Heart” (1989).

Thursday: Thinking About Identity, Community, and Politics: Modern/Postmodern II
JeeYeun Lee. “Why Suzie Wong Is Not a Lesbian” (1996).
Marjorie Garber. Selections from Vice-Versa (1995).
Sandy Stone. “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto” (1991).
Lauren Slater. “Dr. Daedalus” Harper’s (2001).

Week 16 (5/7-9): Alternative Sexualities and the Student Body

Tuesday: Youth, Race, and Alternative Sexualities
Alex Chee. “These Trees Were Once Women” Boys Like Us (1990).
Marlon Riggs. Tongues Untied (1989).

Thursday: Thinking About Matthew Shepard
JoAnn Wypijewski. “A Boy’s Life” Harper’s (1999).
Beth Loffreda. Selections from Losing Matthew Shepard (2000).

Week 17 (5/14): Review
Tuesday: Final review


If you have appropriate syllabi, please contact CLGH chair Karen Krahulik at