FOUR years ago, I leafed through Jonathan Ned Katz's Gay/Lesbian Almanac (1983) that was standing in my boyfriend's bookcase. At the time I was just coming out; learning to deal with myself as a gay and struggling with all the homophobic baggage around me and upon me.
Like a deaf child born into a hearing family, I found myself born with a radical difference that suddenly made me alien to my family and to society. Exploring Katz's history of American same-sex relations since 1607 opened up a vast terrain on the horizons of history and culture.
Since then I have slowly discovered gay political identities, cultures and intellectual communities. Now, four years later, I find myself welcoming 200 scholars, activists and artists to "Pleasure/Politics" the 4th Annual Lesbian Bisexual and Gay Studies Conference held October 26-28 in the Harvard Science Center.
The broad representation of a variety of lesbian, bisexual and gay voices is a vital part of the aim of this conference: to display and discuss the amazing upsurge of gay and lesbian intellectual discourses and the relationship they create between activism and the academy.
This relationship is vital, as lesbian bisexual and gay studies examine how all gay pleasure--and any other pleasure on the social margins--is political. Indeed, Katz's Gay/Lesbian Almanac begins with the Massachusetts Bay Colony's 1641 legal code that made a "man lying with a man" a capital crime.
Today, Gay Studies courses are taught at programs at City College of San Francisco, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California Santa Cruz, City University of New York and Duke. This year Harvard has its first course on "Topics in Gay Male Representation" taught by Professor of English D. A. Miller.
How did this discipline develop?
FROM its beginnings, the gay movement has had a diversity of political affiliations. The gay identity and rights movement was born with the courageous participants of the Stonewall (1969) and Women's Movement in the 1970s and the earlier civil rights movements.
In the 1970's gay and lesbian texts, lives and history were brought to light by many scholars outside the university--scholars who were shut out of universities because of resistance to lesbians and gays as well as exclusion of women and people of color. Nevertheless, gay, bisexual and lesbian scholars continued to push for visibility by teaching courses and forming gay and lesbian caucuses in academic professional associations.
The last 10 years has seen a huge outpouring of gay and lesbian works that bridge the domains of literary criticism, cultural studied, sociology, history, anthropology, and political theory.
The last 10 years have also seen the devastating impact of AIDS that has forced gay men and lesbians, Blacks whites and Latinos to inform our communities and others, and to fight discrimination disguised as health policy--and sometimes not even disguised at all.
The intellectual and political alliances that have resulted from these events in the academy, in gay and lesbian communities and in the streets have produced some of the most fascinating analyses of contemporary culture as well as re-evaluations of the past.
To delude oneself into believing that we are insulted from the political struggles outside the academy is to allow the ivory tower to become a closest of ignorance. In an intellectual community truly dedicated to diversity and education, being "out" must be in.
Vernon Rosario is a student at Harvard Medical School and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He is co-chair of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Studies Conference.