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Harvard Queer Issues Magazine Debuts

By Claire Provost, Crimson Staff Writer

It’s queer, period. And Harvard’s first literary and cultural journal dedicated to queer issues is also the first intercollegiate publication of its kind.

About 15,000 copies of the first issue of “queer.” featuring poetry, fiction, art and essays by students at Harvard and from colleges across the country—from Yale to Chicago to the University of California, Berkeley—were distributed in dining halls, academic lounges and resource centers, as well as at the other participating colleges last Thursday.

According to co-editor Christopher R. Hughes ’06, queer. is dedicated to providing a literary and cultural forum for academic discourse coupled with reflective, informal and artistic meditations on queer issues. The editors also hope to secure for the journal formal respect and credibility among theorists in the field by incorporating an advisory board of seven prominent professors from around the country, “for general guidance on the theory and the direction of the magazine,” Hughes said.

The journal’s editors say its title has caused some controversy, but that they chose the word “queer” as part of an effort to reclaim what had long been a derogatory term.

Co-editors Timothy M. Pittman ’06, Ryan W. Coughlan ’06 and Hughes dedicated their first letter from the editors to a discussion of the journal’s controversial title.

“We hope to further an understanding of what queer people share in common, if anything,” they wrote. “[Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) people] seek to claim the menacing nature of the term and redeploy its power for their own program.”

But Pittman said the journal initially had trouble procuring funding due to a dispute over the appropriateness of the term. (The journal eventually garnered funding from the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, the Ann Radcliffe Trust, the Harvard Foundation and the Undergraduate Council.)

“A lot of [LGBTQ] people in older generations still have qualms with the word,” Hughes said.

He said that in addition to the term’s long history of pejorative usage, the controversy is also due to the “very blasé way” in which television shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Queer as Folk” use it.

The journal’s first issue arrives at a cultural moment of increased gay and lesbian presence on television and in the media, as well as highly contentious debates about gay marriage.

“I think over the past 30 years queer people have become more prominent in public life in general, and because of that there has been a chance for more reflection on LGBTQ issues,” Hughes said.

Though the board of queer. features three board members from the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Supporters Alliance’s (BGLTSA), including BGLTSA co-chair Margaret C.D. Barusch ’06, the two entities are independent.

“There’s some overlap [between the boards of the BGLTSA and queer.], but there’s absolutely no formal tie,” Hughes said.

According to Pittman, the first issue received about four times the number of submissions it published. Pieces that made the cut include a critical essay exploring how “Michael Jackson’s image is a project for queer study” by a student from Smith College, another on gender roles in Victorian fiction by a student from Dartmouth, and a poem entitled “Generic Dyke Rock Band,” written by BGLTSA co-chair Stephanie M. Skier ’05. Skier also performed this poem at the BGLTSA “Gaypril” kick-off earlier this month.

Though the release of queer. corresponded with Gaypril, Hughes said the timing was coincidental.

“A lot of pre-frosh were hopefully able to look at the journal. And it’s fortunate that it [the journal’s release] corresponded with Gaypril but it wasn’t intentional,” he said.

Many University faculty and departments also publish journals, though they tend to be primarily theoretical and academic, Hughes said.

He said that though queer. is not the first undergraduate queer issues publication—Berkeley and Stanford have similar journals dealing with issues of gender and sexuality—it is the first to be written and read by students on more than one campus.

In a few weeks, the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) will launch their own ’zine, Fuel, on issues of gender, feminism and sexuality.

“The overall aesthetic will by very different from a journal—we’re going for something that looks as low budget as it is,” RUS Chair Ilana J. Sichel ’05 wrote in an e-mail.

—Staff writer Claire Provost can be reached

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