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EN 6559 3.0: Sexuality and Literature: Sexology vs. Fiction

Instructor:  Terry Goldie

E-mail:  tgoldie@yorku.ca

Office: 351 Stong College, office pone 416-736-2100, ext. 22146

The awarding of the Pulitzer Prize to Jeffrey Eugenides for Middlesex has done much to emphasize the relationship between the science of sex and sexuality and their representation in literature. While Eugenides has tried to be sensitive to intersex needs in the  novel he very clearly has come down on the side of fiction rather than trying to fulfill some perceived responsibility either to science or to the intersex movement.  In one response to Middlesex, intersex activist Morgan Holmes recollected her conversations with other authors of intersex novels:
I would advise them simply to accept that they wanted their monsters to tell particular kinds of stories, usually within the genres of fantasy and science fiction, and that because my answers would only disappoint them, they ought to proceed without the farcical consultation with a ‘real’ intersexed person. I would also tell the would-be writers that I wasn’t likely to have much interest in the ways in which they would call upon their hermaphrodites to carry whatever pieces of cultural baggage they might be trying to address in their writing. (224)

This course begins in my own work, both the recently published queersexlife and two projects on which I am presently working, a book tentatively titled “John Money: The Man Who Invented Gender,” and an article titled “Middlesex and Science: Fiction and John Money.” The course considers a number of novels that centre on variants in sex, gender or sexual orientation. Most are in some sense canonical, central to various debates. The one apparent exception, Raj Rao’s The Boyfriend, has been a similar focus in India. All have been discussed in relation to the “real,” as Holmes suggests, but all have also been compared to the real as constituted by various academic studies from psychology through sociology through biology. The constant question is how real they are.

This course explores that question through reference to scientific studies in sexology. We begin with Foucault’s History of Sexuality, to the groundwork but thereafter our emphasis is less on social studies than on psychological and biological ones. After Foucault, the second week looks at texts by Havelock Ellis and Freud, to establish late nineteenth century and early twentieth century views of sexology. Then we read The Well of Loneliness. The approach throughout the term is to consider the relationship between science and the novels.  Thus  before Giovanni’s Room we turn to selections from Jeffrey Weeks, Chandler Burr and Simon LeVay to consider possible understandings of the homosexual male.
After Giovanni’s Room we examine two key texts, Man & Woman, Boy & Girl: Gender Identity from Conception to Maturity, by John Money and Anke Erhardt, and Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body. These two books, with very different approaches, consider the possibilities of sex and gender and their relation to sexuality. Throughout the course will be the Handbook of the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Seidman et al. This is available as an E-Book at Scott library.  We also examine selections from a number of other sexological texts. These discussions provide an overview of what sexology offers.

We then turn to a novel that many have considered to be barely disguised autobiography, Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. We compare this to two novels that use the assumptions of sexology but at the same time reject them. We begin with the more overt rejection, Jeannette Winterson’s Written on the Body . The next week we turn to Middlesex, which might seem to offer a rather straightforward Bildungsroman of the intersex person but at the same time emphasizes its fictionalization.

The last weeks of the course debate the ways in which the apparent erasure of cultural difference in much of sexology shapes our readings of literature that might be “exotic” to many Canadian readers, in this case from South Asia. The first is Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy. Written in Canada but completely set in Sri Lanka, it offers a very classically structured bildungsroman of the development of a male homosexual. The second is Raj Rao’s The Boyfriend, about gay life in Bombay/Mumbai.

This course remains constantly cognizant of the literary scholarship that informs our understanding of sex variant and variant sexuality literature, from Judith Halberstam’s Female Masculinity to Jean Bobby Noble’s Masculinities without Men? to Lee Edelman’s Homographesis to my own Pink Snow. The course, however, instead emphasizes intersections and conflicts between the scientific assumptions of sexology and those “pieces of cultural baggage” found in novels.

Evaluation will consist of one essay of 4000 words (40%), one seminar (30%), a 2000 word written summary of the seminar (20%) and participation (10%).  The structure of the seminars will depend on the size of the class but my intention is to allow seminars on both novels and scientific texts. I encourage innovation in the seminars but the following are required: an outline and a "Works Cited" of at least five texts.  These texts may be articles or books, creative, critical or from another field.  As well, I would like each seminar-giver to suggest in the week before a focus: possibilities might be medical intervention, social construction, physical or psychological development, etc.  I would like you to think of the seminars as pedagogical experiences and therefore each should demonstrate some overt pedagogical method: in other words, not just a written paper that is read to the class.  It would be best to devise this in consultation with me.