Teaching queer history in the Ellenic vs. the Ellenistic eras

The Ellenic vs. Ellenistic Eras

Over at Notches, they’ve got yet another excellent description of a panel last month at the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City, this time reporting on “Teaching Queer History.”  John D’Emillio described his brilliant periodization for students of queer history:  “Pre-Ellen” and “Post-Ellen.”  Or, to put it in terms of the Classics, we might call them the Ellenic versus the Ellenistic generations.  To wit:

Familiar with the oppression LGBT people faced in the past, the undergraduate students of the “pre-Ellen” generation (before 2001 or so) were thrilled by the stories of resistance to that oppression. By contrast, D’Emilio found the “Post-Ellen” generation (undergraduates coming of age after 2001) more normalized to the idea of LGBT people and less comfortable with the narratives of oppression and resistance. Because of ongoing cultural normalization, LGBT oppression and the resistance movements they spawned seem distant and foreign to these recent students. This shift, D’Emilio noted, is reflected in the students’ own involvement with and awareness of LGBT politics today: while many students know of or attend pride parades, few of them have heard of Stonewall or know its significance.

D’Emilio ended hopefully, adding that while these somewhat more disengaged Post-Ellen-ites were unaware of much of LGBT history, they were nonetheless keen to learn. The clear solution was greater exposure to LGBT history earlier in their education.

I find that most of my students are still drawn to the “stories of resistance,” perhaps because the queer students at Baa Ram U. probably still feel like a very small presence at a big state university whose student culture appears to be organized around the culture and rituals of youthful heteronormativity.  (That is, I wonder if many U.S. American college students are more of the Ellenic than the Ellenistic generation, depending on their backgrounds and exposure to urban culture and/or people with college educations.)

How about you?  (By the way, those of you who have known me for a long time may remember that my hairstyles have changed along with Ellen Degeneres’s, almost exactly, although I never had the bangs as in the Ellenic era photo above.)

12 thoughts on “Teaching queer history in the Ellenic vs. the Ellenistic eras

  1. I’ve been teaching history of sexuality as part of my high school classes in all my courses. The Ancient World Course is definitely the queerest. The US survey has some queer elements to it, but really not until we get to the 1920s with the invention of straight and gay. I should have a little more time next year as we get some lost teaching time restored back to us. Modern World probably gets the least (it kind of comes up in the Freud, Darwin day). And it’s always a big part of my electives regardless of the name.

    My department just a hired a kid who is 24 and he is really into teaching this stuff as well so it’s not just me anymore.

    The kids really respond to it. Although one of the weird downsides (?) is that I’ve had several students who refuse to identify themselves as gay, straight, or bi. They tease me that I’m the one who taught them that sexuality is a social construction and they are engaging in acts of resistance. I used to think that they would have to declare at some point when they got to college, but the more I read about life in college, the more I realize that the sexuality landscape is way different than when I was there.


  2. The last time I saw you, your hair did look a lot like Ellen on the right. Even in the 80s you never had bangs? I’m skeptical.


  3. Our niece came out recently, and my partner and I have been stunned at the difference between her teenage years (she’s 17) and ours. Our niece’s parents are fully supportive, and she grew up with a pair of lesbian aunts, as boring as any other adult relatives. Nonetheless, I think that a fully normal adolescence is still the experience of a minority of LGBT kids. The struggle is all too real to them.


  4. Western Dave–thanks for commenting. I thought you’d have some interesting things to say on this subject.

    NB: David Sedaris had an essay on this subject recently (on being gay in HS now versus 30 or 40 years ago.) His comment, on meeting the out gay son of a neighbor in the neighborhood he grew up in, was that it was like someone in an iron lung meeting with kids who have been vaccinated for Polio. I hope your niece’s life continues to be happy and safe.

    And CPP: no bangs for me, at least not since 7th grade. Bangs are the kind of fashion statement that, like bluejean overalls or those ear plug piercings, must be resisted because they never, ever look good. Never.

    (Why do all the young men put those plugs in their earlobes? Time, the avenger!)


  5. I was looking at my high-school yearbook a few weeks ago, and damn, there was a lot of bangs, feathering, and Stray Cats-style retro-rockabillies. The recession of my own hairline from then to now made me lolsob: I would gladly return to my ridiculous towering rockabilly in exchange for all that hair! Anyway, sorry to derail the subject.


  6. I had bangs, until they decided to fall out all on their own accord.

    For sure, I note a difference in my history of sexuality courses. I would say students today are still interested in stories of queer resistance; however, they also have slipped into the mode of thinking that today represents “triumph” over that cruel and unenlightened past. They are much, much less likely to express a sense of radical politics.


  7. “They are much, much less likely to express a sense of radical politics.”

    I wonder if this is the result of the past decade with its focus on marriage equality? The radical queers in academia I know of are all like, “hellz, no!” to marriage both for themselves as well as offering critiques of the essentially conservative strategy of focusing on marriage, but the students aren’t nearly that radical, even the queer ones (for the most part.) Certainly not in NoCo (Northern Colorado), anyway!


  8. For sure! My students often have a hard time when we talk about the ways that many GLBTQ leaders in the twentieth century framed [heterosexual] marriage as something to escape/avoid through liberation because of its gender expectations and implicit notion of one person “belonging” to another.


  9. one would think the AIDS crisis changed the feeling regarding gay marriage not only woth regard to respectability politics, but also simple practical concerns.

    we all can be hospitalized unexpectedly or die at any moment. not having your medical decisions and visitation limited to potentiallyy homophobic parents actually matters. so does ensuring that the home and possessions you have built up with your partner not be stolen out from under them upon your death.

    private contracts and half-stepping legal measures like civil unions have repeatedly proved powerless against a motivated and heartless next-of-kin. being able to just go down to the courthouse and pick up an ironclad license for a small fee actually matters, especially to people who can’t afford Good lawyers.


  10. Indeed, we have to deeply analyze the history of the LGBT community to be understood by others. Just like the elaboration of the 93-year old Simone Klugman on “Woman Ahead of Her Time”, women have the ability to be powerful in making a difference towards the lives of others and to seek their own happiness, regardless if it’s gender-related or not.


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