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Introduction to queer studies at CSULB is ‘a place to think about the way you think’

Inside the Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum, a small group of students surveyed a black-and-white silhouette of a plastic bag with a tag on the end, sealing the contents inside. Beside the piece hung a second copy of the work, split into a bright orange half and blue half.

The students are from the Introduction to Queer Studies class taught by Abraham Weil, who was drawn to women’s, gender and sexuality studies for its rigorous study of life. Weil has taught at Long Beach State for two years and previously taught the class once before. 

Students analyzed how the work by Susan Boelle featured in the B.A.T. State III exhibition, an all-female showcase, could relate to the themes taught in class, like “how can objects be queer in the everyday sense.” 

Though the group was initially reserved, Weil provided insight for the assignment. 

“None of the pictures will have a human body,” Weil said. “Think about how queer manifests outside of [the] body.” 

For Weil, this meant that thinking about the queer sexuality requires individuals to be mindful of other variables including space, environment or politics. 

Julian Acua, a third-year women’s, gender and sexuality studies major, remarked how the image reminded him of an amniotic sac and how parents have a preexisting idea of what their child should be. 

First-year pre-social work major Maeve James Dudgeon observed something different. 

“Maybe [it’s about] how valuable a person is,” Dudgeon said. “If you’re in one circle you’re good. In the other circle, you’re bad.” 

Introduction to Queer Studies was developed in 2013, according to Jennifer Reed, the department chair of women’s, gender and sexuality studies. CSULB’s course catalog says the “focus is on the relationship between gender and sexualities.”

Dudgeon defined queer studies in their own words. 

“It’s just learning about and analyzing that which is deemed non-normative,” Dudgeon said. “That which goes against what society pushes kind of thing. Whatever goes against the [cisgender], patriarchal, able, etc. community and the society.”

Weil explained how students are often surprised by the scope of the class, which examines many questions about queer studies, including the history of queer theory and how it became institutionalized. Other topics address the idea of sexual orientation and how people utilize objects that align with it.  

“Coming into this class, I thought ‘Oh it’s just gonna be about LGBTQ people, stuff like that. I’m prepared to learn about that,’” Dudgeon said. “But we’ve talked about so much more than that. It’s really eye-opening.”  

The extent of the concepts discussed in class were apparent in the students’ dialogue at the Kleefeld Contemporary. Students noted how the two colors used in the second piece of “Tag Bag” added an aspect of binary thought and as a result, would reveal what is deviant. Another student shared how the bag represented disposability, with the contents inside the bag reduced to a label via the tag.  

Aside from the material taught in class, the larger contextual importance of the class is clear to both Weil and his students.

Akari Omyia, a third-year Japanese exchange student, shared that after she finishes this program, she will write a thesis on queer studies. 

“I don’t have this class in my country,” Omyia said. “In my country, there’s some LGBTQ friends, but they don’t have any idea of what to do. So I can help them.” 

For Dudgeon, the class helped educate them in areas they had not realized they still needed to be educated in and introduced them to important authors within the field.

These are the lessons that Weil intended for students to take away from the class.

“Attention to issues of gender, race, and sexuality is essential both on and off-campus,” Weil said. “More than anything, I hope students leave this class prepared to encounter and interrogate their assumptions about sexuality and the work of queer studies. It’s a place to think about the way you think.”

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