Since the late 19th century, "queer" has been a term of contempt used against gender variant and non-heterosexual people. Many contemporary LGBT folk of a certain age remember distinctly the taunt and slur being used against them in their communities of origin.
During the 1980s, however, LGBT rights activists, particularly those fighting the American government's refusal to address the AIDS crisis, began using the term "queer" as an umbrella term for LGBT people. They reclaimed the homophobic insult as a term of power, a way to fight back against discrimination and oppression: 'We're here, we're queer, get used to it!'
With that said, not everyone in the LGBT community, even now, identifies with the term. And often it is important to use more specific words, like "lesbian" and "trans" and "bi." But "queer" has persisted as an important term to mark how gender variant and non-heterosexual people have turned a hateful slur into a rallying term for activism and pride.
UCI Chancellor's Professor of English
Scholars in the UCI School of Humanities study LGBTQ+ histories and cultures from multiple angles. They explore it through creative writing, document significant events in LGBTQ+ history and research media created and influenced by LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. These books will expand your world and bring fresh perspectives to your summer reading.
Bo Ruberg, associate professor of film and media studies at UCI, is an expert on gender and sexuality in digital media and digital cultures and on queerness and video games. They've authored two books that bridge game studies and LGBTQ+ studies: The Queer Games Avant-Garde: How LGBTQ Game Makers Are Reimagining the Medium of Video Games (Duke University Press, 2020), which won the 2021 Stonewall Book Award-Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award, and Video Games Have Always Been Queer (New York University Press, 2019). They are the co-founder and co-organizer of the annual Queerness and Games Conference.
Ruberg's newest book, Sex Dolls at Sea: Imagined Histories of Sexual Technologies, investigates and reimagines the origin story of the sex doll. Interrogating the sailor sex doll origin story, Ruberg finds beneath the surface a web of issues relating to gender, sexuality, race, and colonialism. What has been lost in the history of the sex doll and other sex tech, Ruberg tells us, are the stories of the sex workers, women, queer people, and people of color whose lives have been bound up with these technologies.
Jonathan Alexander, Chancellor's Professor of English and informatics at UCI, is author, co-author and editor of 22 books, spanning from computing studies to creative nonfiction. In Stroke Book: The Diary of a Blindspot (Fordham University Press, 2021), Alexander uses a medical crisis as the catalyst to explore existential questions in lyrical diary-like prose, including the nuances of being a queer person subject to medical intervention. His Creep Trilogy — which includes Creep: A Life, a Theory, and Apology (Punctum Books, 2017), Bullied: The Story of an Abuse (Punctum Books, 2021) and Dear Queer Self: An Experiment in Memoir (University of Chicago Press, 2022) — is a series of memoirs that interweaves personal narrative with culture analyses about growing up queer.
Alexander’s books resonate with readers: They come at a time when queer people, despite finding new forms of freedom, are still making sense of a homophobic history. Last October, Lambda Literary named Stroke Book on its "Most Anticipated LGBTQIA+ Books" list.
In his newest book, Dear Queer Self: An Experiment in Memoir, Alexander chronicles his path from closeted and tortured younger self to self-acceptance.
To learn more about Dear Queer Self and for advice to those who may find themselves on the outside looking in, listen to an interview with Alexander on the UCI Podcast. For more reads that center queer voices, check out Alexander's top five picks.
For a journey into queer film history, read UCI Professor of Film and Media Studies Lucas Hilderbrand's tribute to "Paris Is Burning," Jennie Livingston's award-winning 1991 documentary that captures the energy, ambition, wit and struggle of African American and Latino participants in the 1980s New York drag ball scene.
The scholar contextualizes the film within the longer history of drag balls, the practices of documentary, the fervor of the culture wars, and issues of gender, sexuality, race and class.
At UCI, faculty teach undergraduate and graduate courses on LGBTQ+ histories and queer cultures that encompass everything from the tech world to medieval times, and they communicate their scholarship in creative and engaging ways.
Students can learn about contemporary and ancient queer cultures from leading experts in history, art history, film and media studies, gender and sexuality, English, African American studies and more.
Jeanne Scheper is chair and associate professor of gender & sexuality studies at UCI. She is currently completing a book project, “Policytainment: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Transgender Military Service, and Popular Culture.” A scholar of feminist performance studies and visual culture and activism, Scheper is author of Moving Performances: Divas, Iconicity, and Remembering the Modern Stage (Rutgers University Press, 2016) and The Specter and the Speculative: Afterlives and Archives in the African Diaspora, with Mae G. Henderson and Gene Melton II (Rutgers University Press, forthcoming 2022).
Assistant Professor of History Chelsea Schields is the co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Sexuality and Colonialism (New York: Routledge, 2021), essential reading for students and researchers interested in gender, sexuality, race, global studies, world history, Indigeneity and settler colonialism.
Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature Alicia Carroll wrote the chapter “Queer Indigenous Feminism: Unsettling ‘Gender’ as a Decolonizing Methodology" for The Routledge Companion to Gender and the American West (New York: Routledge, 2021).
In 2019, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, one of the most important events leading to the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States, UCI presented the art exhibit “Burning Time: A Graphic Book Collaboration.”
Jointly produced by Jonathan Alexander, Chancellor’s Professor of English, and Professor Antoinette LaFarge of the Department of Art, it paired eight poems and associated panoramic paintings to bring to life the story of a young gay man arriving in New Orleans in the late 1950s to start a new life.
Meet the current students and alumni broadening our understanding of LGBTQ+ histories through innovative research. Graduate students have the option to add a Graduate Feminist Emphasis (GFE) through the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies, which is available to all UCI scholars. Participating in the GFE provides students with advanced interdisciplinary training in feminist studies and offers them an opportunity to join a network of feminist scholars at UCI and beyond.
“As a trans Latinx person, I want to bring the issues and concerns that are important to me and to the communities I am connected to into my research here at UCI. What might be a margin for some is a center for me, and that is where my work comes from.”
"I'm interested in analyzing how contemporary lesbian, bisexual and other sexual dissident women writers from the Caribbean and Brazil have been creating anti-colonial, anti-cis-heteronormative aesthetics through their fiction and theory."
“I love to write, read, present, create and be in the throes of knowledge production. I’m always finding ways to straddle the line between creative and academic – because I’m definitely both.”
"My short film is loosely based on my family's history of queer people passing as straight due to social and religious pressures. I’m a queer filmmaker who is also part of the first generation of people able to marry and live more openly and I wanted to appreciate that in this project."
"[My book], Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime, explores an aspect of gay culture (anonymous sexual encounters in public spaces) in an attempt to destigmatize an otherwise-taboo practice and see it as an act of rebellion and not a perversion."
“UCI was my top choice. I found faculty whose work I thought was really significant and wanted to model my own after. Their scholarship incorporates art history, film and cultural studies. In my research, I put LGBT cultural history in dialogue with media industry studies.”
“My research shows that LGBT activism was not just an urban phenomenon. It happened in areas all across the country, even in areas that are thought of as being extremely conservative, like O.C., and this activism was extremely influential and important for the nationwide LGBT rights movement as well.”
"My master's thesis is about queer Vietnamese American artists utilizing the powers of pop and sub culture to fabricate identities, communities and imagined spaces of belonging. I wanted to conduct research close to myself as a queer Vietnamese American.”
"My research traces the relationship between lesbian feminist history and contemporary popular culture in the US. In particular, I look at how lesbian feminist political legacies are circulated & reinterpreted through music, TV and social media platforms."
“Feminism teaches us that the personal is political. For example, with projects like mine, the academic is also political and deeply personal. It's a true honor to have my work recognized.”
"I have autism, and as a neurodiverse student, I have the opportunity in the UCI School of Humanities to take classes to explore my creativity and pursue my passion for counseling and advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ and neurodiverse communities.”
"My dissertation contributes to the field of queer modernist studies, a branch of literary studies focused on 20th-century sexual cultures and their relation to experimental writing in the period between the two World Wars."
Read about how UCI students and graduates go on to give back to their communities:
"I am the information & referral specialist for the Newport-Mesa Family Resource Center; we serve children and families in primarily the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach areas. I started the Story Time program for a few reasons: 1. The need I saw in the community for literacy engagement, 2. as an opportunity for families to have a safe and fun environment to spend time together, and 3. my love for literacy as a tool to explain topics that are often considered sensitive or difficult. Though we touch on a variety of topics like mental health, child abuse awareness and domestic violence, this month it was important to me to put an LGBTQ+ narrative at the forefront of our story-time.
It is my hope that by showcasing LGBTQ+ stories to children, we can help them grow up with a better understanding of themselves and the world around them and know the joys that come with being your authentic self, and what it means to support and love their friends, families and communities for who they truly are. I am so grateful to have the support of my team to grow this Story Time program and to be able to explore topics that are so near to my heart!"
"My experience at UCI has shaped my commitment to equity and diversity throughout my career. Learning along with a racially, ethnically, linguistically and socioeconomically diverse group of peers, teaching in the Gender and Sexuality Studies program, and receiving mentorship from brilliant and rigorous professors taught me the value of openness, respect, attentiveness and care in my research as well as my teaching and university service.
Two decades after receiving my Ph.D., I remain convinced that my formative years at UCI prepared me for the intellectual and institutional challenges of an academic career."
"Comparative literature taught me to never bend to the disciplinary procedures that limit our ability to envision a radically different world.
As someone who grew up in rural poverty in East Texas, I hope to use my position at UT Austin to empower my people on their individual — and our collective — journeys in this world."
"My home in the queer literary community was found through a genuine passion for creating a celebrated space for other storytellers, especially those whose stories are found at the margins. I learned how to do this as an Anteater. At UCI, I learned that uplifting the art and stories of others is a deeply artistic and nourishing act. I experienced during my time as editor-in-chief of New Forum (the undergraduate literary journal), a position which taught me that leadership can be a platform of love and empowerment for not only my fellow editors but also all of the incredible writers we showcased in our journal. Many of the writers we featured were LGBTQ+ or writers of color, and we were one of the first literary spaces to feature their work. The joy that this gave us made me chase similar opportunities in the world beyond college, and I found it at Foglifter.
Also, my internship at the School of Humanities — specifically with the Armenian studies program — helped me learn how to care for a particular community through social media.
As community manager at Foglifter, I use our online platforms to create a joyful and authentic atmosphere for queer and trans writers. I achieve this by using specific knowledge of our communities’ vast needs, histories and triumphs to draft our content.
Foglifter is a radical, gorgeous literary magazine by and for LGBTQ+ writers. It’s helped me connect to so many writers whose urgent work reminds me that my stories have a place in this world — which is becoming increasingly hostile to those with diverse genders and sexualities (like myself and the people I love). My work with Foglifter has become my act of resistance against nation-led homophobia and transphobia. It has become my way of loving my community. Our safety is uncertain, but our stories and hearts remain."
"My research begins by asking how people thought about transition centuries before the modern language of trans identity was invented. One answer is that religion was a repository of ideas about how sex could change, and about all the many forms of gender that were neither strictly male nor female.
In the classroom, I teach about nonbinary angels, genderless resurrected bodies, the hermaphroditic Adam in the Garden of Eden, spontaneously transitioning saints, and Jesus's confusing anatomy."
"Working with the LGBTQ Center of OC and Special Collections and Archives was an incredible experience. Working closely with the center to develop a community-centered archive allowed me the opportunity to gain hands-on archival experience with a group that is personally significant to me. All the people I met over the course of this internship, both people helping build the archive and community members contributing to it, strengthened my interest in researching and documenting local histories."
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