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ENGLISH 3AA3 Theories: Gender & Sexuality

Academic Year: Winter 2016

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: E

Instructor: Dr. David Clark

Email: dclark@mcmaster.ca

Office: Chester New Hall 321

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23737


Office Hours: Monday 12:30-1:30 pm

Course Objectives:

This course explores the cultural, historical and theoretical foundations of queer theory and critical practice.

Beginning in the 1980's, activists and researchers re-appropriated the term queer to name the richly dissenting and fluidly differentiated ways in which sex, gender, and sexuality communicate with each other and articulate desirously thinking human life. What had once been a vicious slur now became a positive rallying point for new possibilities for experience and for thinking about justice, equality, and embodiment. Queer theory, the specific focus of this course, is the rigorous and still unfolding critical reflection on these possibilities–the politics, ethics, desires, and practices of non-normative life, in all of its myriad manifestations. 

Our investigation falls into three movements:

1.0       “Queer Theory:  Some Opening Moves”

2.0       “Queer Critical Practices”

3.0       “Queer Cultural Locations” 

In the first prefatory part of this course, we briefly survey the definitional questions and problems swirling around queer life and thought, focussing on the transgressive questions that queer studies raises about sex, gender, and sexuality.  In the second part, we turn to examination of the work of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, three of queer theory’s most influential thinkers. These theorists—each one at once difficult, challenging, and welcoming--will provide us with a useful vocabulary with which to explore the meaning and importance of queer politics and ethics. Then in the third part of the course we will explore a selection of specific cultural locations in which to consider the heterogeneous nature of queer lives, ranging from the complex ways in which questions of gender and sexuality got caught up in the emergence of HIV/AIDS in North America, to the challenges of representing transgendered and transsexual subjects in film. 

Note that the assigned readings for the course are concentrated in its first half, this, so that students may focus on the preparation for and composition of their essay during the second half.

This course affirms the joyful diversity of queer pleasures, desires and forms of embodiment. To do that work, we’ll be using the frankest possible language, verbal and visual. Students should be prepared to work with this language and to think with it. Because queer pleasures, desires, and forms of embodiment are sometimes subjected to violently exclusionary practices, we will also need to address that violence in candid ways.

Please see the course outline posted on Avenue for more information about this course, including a lecture schedule.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

English and Cultural Studies 3AA3E Course-pack (Available from the Campus Bookstore)

Materials available on-line (through the Mills Memorial Library portal; on Avenue-to-Learn; or on the web).  See the list of Course Readings below for the specific locations of all on-line materials.

Films (screened in class):         Brokeback Mountain

                                                Boys Don’t Cry


In addition, as the course unfolds, various materials relevant to the development of the course will be posted on Avenue. These materials include:

  1. Course Outline
  2. Supplemental remarks posted on Avenue (see explanation below)
  3. Midterm Examination Format and Study Tips
  4. Essay Question Assignment
  5. Midterm Examination Debrief
  6. Online Course Evaluation Form Link
  7. Final Examination Format and Study Tips

I will be using the “News” section of Avenue to post supplemental remarks about the lectures and course materials. These remarks are not lecture summaries but comments and queries designed to help you consolidate your understanding of the lectures and the assigned texts. They therefore form part of the course content for which you are responsible. For example, you can expect to see keywords and important dates, names, concepts, and critical terms associated with the materials that we study in class, as well as questions designed to return you to significant points made in lectures about the texts that we are taking up together. So if you haven’t already done so, please change your Avenue settings so that you receive notification when “News” items related to the course are posted or updated.

Method of Assessment:

Midterm examination:                         20%

Essay (10-12 pages / 2500 words):      45%

Final Examination (2 hours):               35%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Essay due date and late submission policy:

You have the choice of two essay due dates.  Essays are initially due in class, at start of class, Wednesday 16 March 2016. Essays submitted at this point will receive a full marking commentary.  Essays handed in after 16 March will be graded exactly the same way but without comment.  Essays may be submitted up to 7 pm, Wednesday 6 April, the last day of the course. No essays will be accepted after 7 pm, Wednesday 6 April. A grade of zero/F will therefore be assigned to essays not submitted by 7 pm, 6 April. No essays can be accepted as e-mail attachments or dropped off with the Department of English and Cultural Studies.

If you are a smoker, please ensure that you print your essay in a smoke-free environment.


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Course Readings:

1.0  Queer Theory:  Some Opening Moves and Background Reading

Berlant, Lauren and Michael Warner.  “What Does Queer Theory Teach Us about X?”  PMLA 110.3 (May 1995):  343-349. [Available on-line in Mills periodicals collection @ http://libaccess.mcmaster.ca/login?url=http://www.jstor.org/stable/462930 ]

Britzman, Deborah.  “Is There a Queer Pedagogy?  Or, Stop Reading Straight.”  Educational Theory. 45.2 (Spring 1995):151-165. [Available on-line in Mills periodicals collection @ http://libaccess.mcmaster.ca/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-5446.1995.00151.x  Note:  Click “Get PDF (1107K)” at top right corner for best resolution.]

Rubin, Gayle.  “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.”  In The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader.  Eds. Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina Barale, David M. HalperinNew York: Routledge, 1993.  3-44. [In course-pack]

Rubin, Gayle.   “Afterword.”  In American Feminist Thought At Century’s End: A Reader.  Ed. Linda S. Kauffman.  Blackwell: Cambridge, MA, 1993.  56-64. [In course-pack]

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky.  “G e n d e r  C r i t i c i s m.” [Available on Avenue-to-Learn.  Click “Content” under 3AA3E].

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky.  “Axiomatic.”  In Cultural Studies Reader.  Ed. Simon During.  New York: Routledge, 1999.  320-339. [In course-pack.]

2.0  Queer Critical Practices

2.1  Michel Foucault

Foucault, Michel.  The History of Sexuality. Volume 1: An Introduction.  Trans. Robert Hurley.  New York: Vintage Books, 1990. [Available on Avenue-to-Learn.  Click “Content” under 3AA3E.  You are responsible for pages 1-73 and 103-114 and 135-159.]

Foucault, Michel.  “Sex, Power, and The Politics of Identity.”  Ethics, Subjectivity, and Truth.  New York:  New Press, 1997. 163-173.  [Available in course-pack]

2.2  Judith Butler

Butler, Judith.  “Excerpt from Introduction” and “Critically Queer.”  From Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.”  New York: Routledge, 1993.  1-16; 223-242; 243-249; 281-284. [In course-pack]

Butler, Judith.  “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.”  The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader.  Eds. Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina Barale, David M. HalperinNew York: Routledge, 1993.  307-320 [In course-pack]

2.3  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky.  “Epistemology of the Closet.”  In Epistemology of the Closet.  Berkeley:  U of California P, 1990.  67-90. [In course-pack]

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky.  “Queer and Now;” “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl ” and “How To Bring Your Kids Up Gay: The War On Effeminate Boys.”  From Tendencies.  Durham: Duke UP, 1993. 1-20; 109-129; 154-164.  [Available as an e-book in Mills collection:

http://libaccess.mcmaster.ca/login?url=http://libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/login?url=http://www.MCMU.eblib.com/EBLWeb/patron/?target=patron&extendedid=P_179501_0&userid=^u ]

3.0  Queer Cultural Locations

3.1  Trans-

Garber, Marjorie.  “Spare Parts:  The Surgical Construction of Gender.”  In The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader.  Eds. Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina Barale, David M. Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993.  321-336. [In course-pack]

Butler, Judith.  “Doing Justice to Someone:  Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality.”  GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 7.4 (2001): 621-636. [Available on-line in Mills periodicals collection @


Halberstam, Judith.  “Lesbian Masculinities: Even Stone Butches Get the Blues” (selection); “Transgender Butch: Butch/FTM Border Wars and the Masculine Continuum.”  In Female Masculinity.  Durham: Duke UP, 1998. 111-128; 141-173; 290-297. [In course-pack]

Hale, Jacob. “Suggested Rules for Non-Transsexuals Writing about Transsexuals, Transsexuality, Transsexualism, or Trans____.” [Available on-line at:  http://sandystone.com/hale.rules.html]

Hale, Jacob.  “Leatherdyke Boys and Their Daddies:  How to Have Sex Without Women or Men.”  Social Text 52/53 15.3-4 (Autumn - Winter, 1997):  223-236 [Available on-line in Mills periodical collection @ http://libaccess.mcmaster.ca/login?url=http://www.jstor.org/stable/466741 ]

3.2  Boys Don’t Cry

Noble, Jean Bobby.  “Boys Do Cry:  Hilary Swank and the Politics of a Pronoun.” In Masculinities without Men?  Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004.  142-154; 166-167.  [Available on-line as an e-book in Mills collection @ http://libaccess.mcmaster.ca/login?url=http://site.ebrary.com/lib/oculmcmaster/Doc?id=10125052 ]

Halberstam, Judith.  “The Transgender Look.”  In a Queer Time & Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives.  New York: New York UP, 2005. 76-96; 191. [In course-pack]

3.5  Brokeback  Mountain

Daniel Mendelsohn, “An Affair to Remember.” New York Review of Books 53.3 (February 23, 2006). [Available on line in Mills periodical collection @

http://libaccess.mcmaster.ca/login?url=http://www.nybooks.com.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/articles/18712 ]

Joel Conarroe, James Schamus, Reply by Daniel Mendelsohn. “Brokeback Mountain: An Exchange. (In response to “An Affair to Remember”).”  New York Review of Books 53.6 (April 6, 2006).  Available on-line in Mills periodical collection:

http://libaccess.mcmaster.ca/login?url=http://www.nybooks.com.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/articles/18846 ]

Proulx, Annie.  “Brokeback Mountain.”  New Yorker 13 October 1997: 74-85. [In course-pack]