November 29, 2018, BY Beth Kaszuba

What Class? History of Sexuality

Who Teaches It? Professor Erica Delsandro, women's & gender studies

"This class is important for students who are interested in gender, sexuality, politics and power, because it historicizes and denaturalizes concepts such as sex and sexuality, which are made to appear stable, universal, essential and singular. Being able to relearn sex and sexuality through a social constructionist lens reveals the way in which social forces — including economics, politics, science and philosophy —  shape and shift our understandings of the sexed body, sexual interactions and sexual identity.

"The class is an eclectic mix of material, which I consider a strength. We read fiction, autobiography, philosophy, poetry, history and criticism. We look at images from the past and present. And we do so through an intersectional framework, which means we are always considering sex and sexuality in conjunction with gender, race, class and other identity vectors. One of the most important parts of the content is the students' own writing. Each week, students write short responses to the material we're reading and discussing, and they share their thoughts with the class. The next week, the new responses must incorporate the new readings and include references to students' analyses from the week before. In this manner, we are producing the text of the class. We are all engaged in the process of discovery and knowledge creation. It's super cool!

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"Although history plays a huge role in the course's orientation, our present moment also shapes our content, conversations and weekly objectives. We are constantly making links from the past to the present, comparing, analyzing and historicizing our present moment. This semester, for example, we've been able to talk about trans rights, Serena Williams and Colin Kaepernick, the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and sexual assault on our own campus.

"Students also undertake an independent writing project called A Transgender Conversation. They choose a documentary or film that focuses on trans experience, with selections ranging from Laverne Cox's The T Word to the Chilean film The Fantastic Woman. Students are asked to make links and create a 'conversation' between contemporary articulations and portrayals of trans identity and the history we are learning about. The projects are always incredibly interesting to read.

"My goal is for students to leave the class considering sex and sexuality as analogous to Jell-O, a concept introduced by psychiatry professor Leonore Tiefer. Sex and sexuality, like Jell-O, have no shape without a container. And the container is a socio-historical one made of meaning and regulation. In other words, sex and sexuality shift and change based on the historical and cultural context. There is no essential definition of what sex is, no essential sexuality that can be discovered once we strip away culture, history and politics. And if we can begin to perceive sex and sexuality in this manner, what other socially expansive perceptions might we begin to cultivate?"

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