April 23, 2006

Goddamn my LGBT Studies instructor.

Goddamn him because, half an hour ago, as I was checking my email in preparation for going to bed, I found a breezy message from him to the general class list. It said, here is the assignment for the final paper (which thus far has existed only as an unelaborated note on the syllabus saying "final paper will be due sometime around this week"). It is vague, wordy, and internally contradictory. Bring a good draft to class on Tuesday. The final version will be due on Thursday.

  1. I have to present my final project in Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology in class on Tuesday.
  2. I don't have a fucking clue how to write this paper.
  3. I haven't even gotten my fucking first paper back yet.
  4. Discussion section isn't until Wednesday.

"This paper is very short (3-4 pages) but it should also be very very sharp and dispense with all the customary courtesies and vaguenesses - zero in on what counts and cut anything that is extraneous ... what i'd like you to do is to map [your] body, not so much its socio-cultural location (though that may be necessary to situate it) as its felt experience of sexed-gendered-sexualized embodiment within contexts ... use the texts in the second reader (incl. Max's visit and videos), that is, use 3 or more quotes that you feel help you explain your own embodiment ... Remember, don't write autobiography and don't give away private secrets - rather, do auto-ethnography, be your own interviewer and informant: scrutinize how you experience your sexed-gendered-sexualized embodiment in terms of our theoretical and ethnographic data, always situating that body (as if it were someone else's but then not since you're following TS models in exploring gender feelings on a par with gender facts) in socio-cultural contexts where necessary and explore how you can make plausible the complexity and limits and imaginary oddnesses (or not) of your living status quo to a radical outsider who does not share your habitus and its habits."

That's a shortened version of the prompt -- it's three long, rambling paragraphs, and so much for cutting out anything extraneous -- but I guarantee you that the long version is no more helpful. What I really want to do is print out very large letters on a page saying, What in the goddamned hell are you talking about? and turn that in as my draft. Fucker.

Posted by dianna at April 23, 2006 12:52 AM

...Wow. Um. I'd offer to help decipher it, but I probably have less idea what it means than you do. I will say that your GSI seems to be on remarkably poor terms with the muse of language. Can you attach physical evidence to GSI evaluations at the end of the semester? Because if so, this e-mail should be People's Exhibit A.

Posted by: Zach S. at April 23, 2006 10:54 AM

This was actually written by the instructor for the course, not my GSI. Gee, wonder why he's not a professor?

My main problem at this point doesn't actually concern either the unintelligible prompt or the lack of proper time in which to work on it. It concerns the fact that, as I see it, the assignment is to write (something?) about your personal sex/gender/sexuality and its embodiment.

The hell he has any business asking me to write that and turn it in. What is this, voyeurism? This is not a class for which I signed up with the intention of explaining my gender and sexuality to the instructor for a grade. This is not a class in which there has been any kind of announcement that if you're not comfortable with doing just that then you should not be in the class. This is frankly invasive bullshit, and self-contradictory invasive bullshit at that. Saying "don't tell private secrets" only serves to make it impossible for anyone in the class who does not wear their entire gender and sexuality comfortably on their sleeve to write anything whatsoever. Hi, welcome to LGBT Studies. For your final project, out yourself or fail the class.

The more I think about this the more outraged I get.

Posted by: Dianna at April 23, 2006 02:03 PM

Indeed. It seems like he's trying to skirt around that by (awkwardly) framing the assignment as auto-ethnography, with you as paper author assuming the role of detached observer, while the subject of observation happens to be yourself. I suppose the idea is that you erect a privacy barrier between yourself-the-ethnographer and yourself-the-subject.

The trouble is that the entire premise of studying yourself as a detached observer is untenable. You know too much about yourself to determine what a genuine third party would figure out from interviews, so you'll either reveal too little or too much.

Moreover, the ethnography angle assumes that you are a willing subject. Ethnography, from what I understand, requires the subject's consent; the instructor just assumed that all of his students are eager to gush about their sexualities.

The whole assignment seems like it would make a lot more sense if it were "pick a willing subject and study them." Granted, this would require that everyone find a willing subject, but it's a lot better than the instructor's method of making all of his students subjects, willing or not.

Posted by: Zach S. at April 23, 2006 02:37 PM

Heheh. You said both skirt and erect. In the same paragraph! Sir, where is your modesty?

I tried to explain my objection and got back as an answer a) still more verbosity and b) a reassurance that he's not asking for names and dates here. Well, yes, I knew that. I don't seem able to get the point across that to ask people to say, "my gender is such-and-such and it does or does not fit nicely with my body," is in fact asking for something more private than names or dates.

It's a battle of wills at this point, as I see it. He is demanding to know personal gropey sexy thoughts from everyone in the class and I am stubborn in my determination not to provide them. Jacob's suggestion has been to invent a fictional persona and write about that instead, which is intriguing. On the one hand, I would be subversively refusing to share private information about myself, but on the other hand, my scores of fictional personae are always kind of me anyway, so I might be sharing even more personal information than if I just wrote the damn thing as assigned. The instructor may have the upper hand in terms of constancy of position, but I do have the advantage of unpredictability and possibly being mentally unhinged.

No, wait. He might have that last one too.

Posted by: Dianna at April 24, 2006 12:52 AM

I'd totally ask him to write one about himself and post it publicly as a sample. Worst case it's as illuminating as the assignment, best case it's Exhibit B for the sexual harrassment class-action you file after the semester ends.

Posted by: poot at April 25, 2006 11:02 AM