Queer Lit

I’m the first one up in my house (if you don’t count the cats) and since J is still asleep, I get ready in total silence, which is great except that it gives me a lot of time in my head and that is not always a good thing.  So recently I was thinking about a post I was going to write in response to this one on marriage and then I started thinking about how a high school friend announced his marriage to his partner on FB recently (congrats!) and then I started thinking about a very memorable class I took in college.  Welcome to my rabbit hole.  It can be a very strange place.

Anyway. My senior year of college I had only two required courses that I needed to take, but my scholarship dictated that I take a minimum of 12 hours a semester, so I signed up to take two grad courses in English at NC State because I planned to enter grad school there in the fall and thought I’d knock out a few hours.

One of the courses was a standard class on the development of the novel/18th Century literature. The other class was a seminar in world literature.  What I didn’t know was that the seminar had a special topic that semester.

It turns out that I had signed up for a course on 19th and 20th Century British and French homosexual literature.  Or as the professor, the new head of the French department, called it “Queer Lit.”

I don’t think I said a word in class for the first month.  I prided myself on being liberal and edgy – after all, I was the one doing her senior thesis on the highly sexual, pornographic Lady Chatterley’s Lover instead of Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice. It wasn’t that I found the subject matter of the class objectionable.  I literally had no idea how to talk about it.  I worried about inadvertently saying something offensive or seeming naive. I had to learn the vocabulary and observe before I could contribute.

After I got over my shock and nerves, I really enjoyed the class.  Other than Oscar Wilde, I had never read any of the other authors, so the class broadened my horizons.   The students were a diverse group too.  We had a few English grad students, a couple of undergrads (one in political science and another in French), a creative writing grad student and a doctoral candidate in sociology.  We held one of our classes at Mitch’s Tavern (with beer), which for a Meredith student was the equivalent of having class in a strip club.

It was a really good class, and I enjoy the looks on people’s faces when I tell them about it (though it took me the entire semester before I could refer to it as “Queer Lit” like my professor did).  And that, my friends, is how there came to be a book that has butt plugs on its cover in my house.  Although I didn’t know that’s what they were until a Meredith classmate asked me why I was reading a book with butt plugs on them.  Maybe I should have wondered how she knew?

The reading list if you’re interested:

  • The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Lifting Belly
  • Giovanni’s Room
  • The Well of Loneliness (loved it)
  • A Boy’s Own Story
  • The Rubyfruit Jungle
  • Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
  • Les Guérillères

I apologize in advance if this post seems flippant compared to the last two posts.  I just needed to write on something other than preschool drama and sick grandmothers.

What is the  most memorable class you took in college?


  1. “We held one of our classes at Mitch’s Tavern (with beer), which for a Meredith student was the equivalent of having class in a strip club.”

    That sentence had me laughing out loud… How true!! When Monica and I got to AU for the Washington Semester program and the RA included the college tavern (!) on our campus tour, I thought we were going to get the vapors 🙂

    My most memorable classes in undergrad were both ones that dealt with revolutions – political, social, etc: Middle Eastern History, which is the first time I had a prof really drive home the revolutionary power of education (no one can ever take away your ability to read and write once you’ve learned), and Soviet History (more revolutions than you can shake a stick at).

  2. Also, if you liked The Well of Loneliness, try The Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault… Renault wrote it in direct contrast to Radclyffe Hall’s book, and it has a more lighthearted approach while also flipping some of Hall’s conventions on their heads. I have a copy you can borrow if the library doesn’t…

  3. So interesting! I know what you mean about waiting, watching, and listening until you figured out the lay of the land, the language and customs, the taboos and invisible barriers of the course. And I love this kind of post, it rounds out the person behind the web page.

    The most interesting course I took in college? Wow, hm. I guess the two courses that most influenced the direction of my life were intro to Philosophy, and a course called Third World Issues that was an introduction to the world of international community development. I ended up taking a minor in Philosophy (Eng Lit major) and in International Development so I never had much – ANY – room in my schedule for just-for-fun electives. I wish I had taken Creativity Practicum or some other art class. Ah well, hindsight.

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