Sunday, July 29, 2007

A hypothetical conversation

Sometimes I like to think about funny hypothetical conversations...This conversation emerged out of my 1) dislike of quantitative statistics and 2) the "size queen" in all of us.

Statistics is in many ways centered on the need to have a large sample size. I don't really think a large sample size is important because it inevitably subsumes the individual, the contingent. So with no further background, here is the conversation.

"The problem with qualitative analysis is that it utilizes such a small population. The results, or whatever you call them, do not generalize to other populations."

"So, if qualitative analysis utilized a larger population, it would be more 'legitimate' which means you and all quantitative researchers are size queens. Is that what you are saying...that you are a size queen?"

"Excuse me?"

"You know, a size queen. As in, size matters and the bigger the better? You said that I as a qualitative researcher need to have a larger sample size, meaning you privilege size and not any size but large size, therefore making you a size queen."

"Huh, I am just saying that a larger sample size decreases the variability and allows one to make broader conclusions and/or generalizations. I am not a size queen."

"No, you a size queen. You want a big sample size. Let's draw a parallel. A big cock in sex is much more enjoyable, ergo a size queen Or for the hetero-crowd, big tits make a better motor boat. Size matters and you are a size queen."

Hypothetical Paper Titles utilizing this logic:

Quantitative Analysis: Size Queens and a Queer Analysis

Size Queens: The False Assumptions of Sample Size

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Queer Reading List

1. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by: Judith Butler
2. The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life by: Michael Warner
3. Epistemology of the Closet by: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
4. The Straight Mind and Other Essays by: Monique Wittig
5. The History of Sexuality (Vol I-III) by: Michel Foucault
6. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive by: Lee Edelman
7. The Politics of Reality by: Marilyn Frye
8. This Sex Which is Not One by: Luce Irigaray
9. In a Queer Time and Place by: Judith Halberstam
10. Gender Queer: Voices From Beyond the Binary ed. by: Nestle, Howell, Wilchens,
11. Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame: Where Black Meets Queer by: Kathryn Stockton
12. Gender Outlaw: Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by: Kate Bornstein
13. Black Queer Studies ed. by: Johnson and Henderson
14. Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power by: Elizabeth Grosz
15. Academic Outlaws: Queer Theory and Cultural Studies in the Academy by: William Tierney
16. Queer Theory in Education ed. William Pinar
17. Thinking Queer: Sexuality, Culture, and Education eds. Talburt & Steinberg
18. Undoing Gender by: Judith Butler
19. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex by Judith Butler
20. Queering Straight Teachers: Discourse and Identity in Education by: Nelson M. Rodriquez and William Pinar
21. Hispanisms and Homosexualities eds. Sylivia Molloy and Robert Irwin

Other Important Authors: Gayle Rubin, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Leo Bersani, Lauren Berlant

On Porn

Feminists have for decades discussed, heatedly at times, the issue of pornography. These discussions revolve around the representation of women, the subjugation of women, the objectification of women, and the violence, sexual in particular, that women face. Does pornography aggravate these issues, does it minimize these issues, is there an answer at all? Does have pornography have value or is it simply value-less? Is pornography so contextualized to the individual that making broad, sweeping statements about it do nothing except piss people off of the various sides of the argument (i.e. consumer, the porn industry, the pro-porn advocates, the anti-porn advocates, the middle-ground advocates). My interests here are not to debate the issues that the feminists have brought up more profoundly and insightfully than I ever could (i.e. Catherine MacKinnon, Drucilla Cornell, Laurence O’Toole). Instead, I want to think about the issue of pornography from the ”gay” perspective, in particular gay porn, and perhaps a little bit on lesbian porn. Much of debate I previously mentioned focuses on hetero or “straight” porn where the issues of objectification, violence, and the such arise. Now, these issues exist also in gay porn with scenes of gang rape, etc., but violence is not my concern for now. Before getting to my concern though, I think it is appropriate to position myself as the author of this query. I see pornography as a educative tool. It provides the viewer with insight into sex, sexual positions, etc…information that is not taught inside schools during the “abstinence only” campaign that currently reigns supreme. It provides an outlet, in particular to trans, gays, lesbian, questioning, queer, persons since we do not see “representation” of queer sexualities in the mainstream media…except for the moralist debates that terms such acts as “unnatural,” “perverse,” or “immoral.” Therefore, the “free” porn that exists through pay sites and blogs provide an outlet for queer teens and beyond to experiment and expand their knowledge and views on sex and sexuality. Now, obviously the individual user can interpret porn in a way that many find distasteful or inappropriate and this is often used as an argument against pornography, but why is it that these interpretations of porn are any different than interpretations of other varieties, such as literary or biblical? Also, with such interpretations we often see issues of shame and guilt emerge which is peculiar. Why do we shame individuals for seeking such knowledge, even if we disagree with that knowledge? If we did not “shame” or guilt others because of their actions, but discussed such issues in an open and honest (whatever that means these days), would such issues really be such issues?
Ok, so to my thoughts for today, which may in fact contradict some of my positions as an author. I have been amazed at what seems to be the increase in gay porn that sells itself as “barebacking” or “condom-less.” Now, I do not recall the various porn sites I have visited over the years and I do believe porn has become more accessible than it was years ago, but I question what such “bareback” porn does to those emerging into their sexual selves. [I should note here that I deal extensively with Queer Theory so I do not buy into the notion of the hetero/homo binary, so when I think of the sexual self, I do not define it as the gay or straight or bi self but just sexual]. This thought emerged after I heard several people say something about the “post-AIDS” era, only quickly to rephrase such a statement. Has the rise in “BareBack” gay porn arisen because of the assumed decline in HIV/AIDS in the gay male population - even though recent stats show a rise? Is it because HIV/AIDS is not the same “death warrent” it once was? Are we just apathetic about HIV/AIDS or do we not discuss it because it is not a “politically smart” move to make…unless dealing with Africa, far removed from the streets of the USA?
I am assuming, which is dangerous I know, that within the porn industry regular tests and check-ups are done on the performers to assure safety. I applaud the industry for such diligence, even though there was a scare a few years back in regards to this vary issue. However, viewers (consumers) of this pornography are not aware of the precautions of the industry, rather they only see what is on camera. Is there an obligation on the porn industries part to educate its viewers not only in the variety of sex that exists, from fisting, to docking, S & M, and beyond, but also in terms of safe sex (HIV/AIDS, STIs, etc.). Yet, the porn industry is not the only one who I can implicate because porn has moved beyond (if it ever was beyond) the studio to amateur porn where anyone with a camera and the ability to upload files can perform for those wanting to watch. Do we then have an obligation ourselves, either as the producers or consumers of porn, to perform in a manner that is educative once again not only in positions, but in safety - be that literally or symbolically? If so, how is it done? Do we censor those films that show unsafe sexual penetration (is it unsafe though if precautions and testing is done?) or does censoring potentially lead to more issues and problems with the already restrictive and “immoral” position of pornography?
All in all, what does the rise of bareback pornography mean for the educative nature of pornography as I see it? Is it itself educative and I have just taken a negative response to it? Is it educative if we alter (or transform) how we discuss sexuality and sex (of all varieties) within the education system - perhaps bucking the abstinence only programs that have shown to be ineffective on numerous levels? Is it then not the pornography that is “bad” but how we as society view it and discuss it (or don’t discuss it) that creates the issues that are ever so present around the issue of pornography, sex, sexuality, and perhaps inevitably our binary gender system? As a closing thought, something I have neglected to think about, which I will think about further and eventually post, is how the issue of race plays out in not just this topic, but the topic of porn in general. How are stereotypical and iconic views of race played out in pornography, such as the “big black dick”?

On "Distasteful Antics"

While recently reading Critical Lessons: What our Schools Should Teach by prominent educational philosopher, educator, and feminist Nel Noddings, I was struck by the following statement. “But wait. Students may object that not all gays and lesbians are ordinary, decent folks. Look at the disgraceful displays in the so-called gay parades. It can be admitted that many of us find these antics distasteful. We don’t have to romanticize a group by creating a false, positive stereotype.” (Nodding, 2006, p. 248). What struck me about this quote was the apparent lack of critical thinking about what was being said. The value-laden judgment and subjective nature of disgraceful, decent, and distasteful lack any clarity and thought as to what such words mean and evoke in/to a reader. Why is it that such antics are viewed as distasteful and why are “so called” gay parades disgraceful? What and who are decent people and how is such decency determined? Exactly what about them or us is distasteful and disgraceful? Is it the queens dressed better than most flaunting their gender subversion through performance? Is it the leather daddy’s in the not so business like leather suits (or less)? Is it the dykes on bikes? The trannies? The genderqueers? Are they distasteful because they subvert a rigid binary gender system, “fail” at abiding by the norms of “decency”? Because they make the mainstream feel uncomfortable? That they force questions to be asked about what exactly is taste and grace? What exactly is natural - making the others potentially question (critically think perhaps) who they are, what gender is, and the effects of such binary, heteronormative thinking on others?
It surprised me in a book about critical thinking and lessons that we should teach in school that such a statement could be made. Yet, I wonder if this is representative of the current state of education discourse around issues of gender and sexuality (in terms of “mainstream discourse”). Does Noddings statement illustrate the work that still needs to be done in all our hearts and minds in order to transform our thinking and subvert discourse around the issue of sexuality and gender? Can we (and should we) simply accept gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender as being the same and try to make those who aren’t the same - the same? OR should we “accept”/”embrace” the differences, the distasteful antics, as a part of the unique variety of human expression that cannot be defined, quantified, and boxed in to perhaps minimize the amount of hate and pain that is inflicted on those who fall outside of definition, outside of the box? I recognize that such a move is not simple, perhaps impossible, but can we consciously and uncritically accept a charge of distasteful and disgracefulness as legitimate without seeking to undo such notions? To work not for acceptance that we are “decent” and “ordinary” but recognition for our “queerness”, our differences, upsetting the ideal of normal?
As a side note, while I criticize Noddings in this entry, I do think Noddings has made very important insights about lessons that should be taught in our schools (and beyond). This book in particular brings to the reader questions about what the curriculum should be teaching and how such topics as gender, religion, war, etc. are educational topics and should be taken up as intellectual inquiries. Noddings is a prolific thinker, scholar, and educator. As such, I think her work is important, but should not be given a gold stamp but itself critically analyzed and thought about. I assume she would expect nothing less from her readers.

Education and the Erotic

I recently saw the film The History Boys after having read about it in several magazines and hearing about it word of mouth. I was fascinated by the film for a variety of reasons, namely because it was set in the realm of education and dealt extensively with notions of the erotic and sexuality. As someone interested in queer theory in education, I found moments in the film where the issues queer theory brings to the forefront in education discourse. Such occurences in educational films seem rare when thinking about other school related films such as Dangerous Minds, The Freedom Writers, To Sir With Love, and many more. These films often deal with issues of “disadvantaged” students and the hero/heroine teacher who transforms their lives - with the audience leaving feeling that the education system is saved and not in shambles…with “no child left behind.”
Yet, The History Boys while ending with the students being accepted to university, leaves the viewer unsettled - unsettled because the queer teachers are still teachers, a threat to the innocence of the male students. Yet, from the perspective of the characters, all is well, as they move onto university and beyond, they are not scarred for life or full of regrets about their experiences in school.
There are several issues during the film that are interesting to examine though, the end itself being one of them. First, when being recommended to “retire early” after Hector’s actions are reported by a traffic guard, Hector states “the transmission of knowledge is itself an erotic art.” Such a statement illustrates the erotic nature of education - the transmission of knowledge through intimate relations, a dance of some sorts. In terms of psychoanalytics, education or the desire to learn emerges from the precocious desires of infancy…as infants we desire confort, love, not knowing the societal rules and regulations…propelling us to desire to learn and find the comfort, the pleasures. Second, Hector never apologizes for his actions. He will not accept the ”shame” that others would place on his actions, for his actions are neither detrimental to him nor his students. Yes, in a world where the psychiatric clinic decides the norms, we might label instances in this film as pedophila (from a US perspective - more on this later), but such notions seek to maintain a system of norms that posits an essential, knowable, natural sexuality…as opposed to an unknowable one that is focused on pleasures and not identity. Hector, as an example, illustrates for the viewer with close examination the problems with the current discourse on sexuality that operates on rigid notions of normality, a binary gender system that negates the notions of pleasures and propels heteronormative and heterosocial relationships. Further more, it is not just sexuality discourse, but educational discourse that operates on the system of norms as the headmasters states “this is a school and it (Hector’s actions) is not normal.” Inevitably seeking to separate the sexual from the educational, the private from the public. Third, the relationships portrayed are in the end consensual and not pedophilic since the film is set in Britain where age of consent is 16, as opposed to 18 in the US. The “boys” are not forced into these genital gropes as Hector simply asks “Who goes home today”…potentially leaving alone if no one “goes home today.” Yes, the boys see Hector as a joke and laugh about his “genital gropes” but are both parties receiving some form of pleasure…should it be less about societal norms and about the local, contextualized situation? Is Hector really perverse or as viewers of film do we have to as Foucault asserts, ask ourselves what it means to understand ourselves (and others) through a form of knowledge (sexuality) that did not exist until the 18th century? Is The History Boys difficult to watch because it upsets the norms of sexuality in education, it illustrates the erotic nature of education, it focuses on pleasure as opposed to identity? It threatens our notions of childhood as a de-sexualized site and perhaps even questions the notion of futurity that is proferred in current discourse in terms of the “child” (i.e. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive: by Lee Edelman).

Education and Grades

As a graduate student in education, I think alot about the state of education, what the education system(s) are, and what transformations I would like to see in my little world. As a 1st year student, one of the 1st things I was told was that “grades don’t matter” and that “I shouldn’t worry about grades.” Fortunately for me I have never been hugely motivated by grades…perhaps because I have always gotten good grades and not needed to worry about them. However, I started thinking about this statement recently because I realized I had been lied to. Grades do matter, because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t use them. So, what does it mean to say that grades don’t matter, but still give grades. From an educational standpoint, grades could be viewed as a obstacle to educative experiences or “learning” because students will only want to gain “knowledge” that is useful to get a good grade and pass the class. We perhaps think that once we get to the “highest” levels of education that grades won’t matter as much because we will be delving into the specialty area and want to gain “knowledge”…unfortunately this is not the case. Yes, I do want to gain knowledge, but in the back of my head, I am constantly reminded that I want to “pass” and get a 4.0 because that “legitimates” me. But inevitably, it does not legitimate me or make me feel better…in fact the courses where I don’t have to worry about grades are the classes where I feel I experience the most growth. Why then, do we grade, especially at the graduate level? Is it because we are to anxious to let go of this tradition of grades? Is it because we need a standard measure of how people are “progressing” in their education? Can knowledge and the engagement in knowledge be assessed in such a matter (obviously NCLB assumes so, but then does NCLB actually deal with engagement in knowledge or just vomiting knowledge on a standardized test). If grades truly don’t matter, why does my particular College of Education still rely on this method of assessment? Why not imagine new possibilities for assessing students that do not hinder students from engaging with knowledge so that they can get the “best” grade. Why not focus on dialogues and discussions with students to actually engage them and ourselves in the issues being discussed in a course. Yes, such a method could take more time, but would it transform education to focus on the engagement of knowledge, the ability to debate and dialogue about issues, rather than the ability to pass an exam that often does not allow one to engage in knowledge. All in all, don’t say grades don’t matter when students are still graded…having grades makes them important and an issue of mattering. If grades don’t matter, throw them out. Don’t use them and imagine an alternative, that may not be perfect and perhaps may not be better (afterall how do we make such a value judgment) but may perhaps allow us to view education as a form of engaging in knowledge as opposed to simply obtaining knowledge as docile bodies in desks…docile in order to “learn” and achieve by the standards that are set, docile by the disciplinary powers that provide us with the freedom, but a freedom that inevitably constrains us from taking risks and truly engaging ourselves and others.