Susan Seizer’s reflections upon retirement

What article or book that you wrote are you most pleased with? Could you talk about

the story behind writing it?

Oddly enough the article I am most proud of is the first one I published, while
still a grad student: “Paradoxes of Visibility in the Field: Rites of Queer Passage in
Anthropology” (Public Culture, 1995 N1V6:73-100). Not part of my stated research on
Special Drama but rather fully within a genre of fieldwork reflections then considered
the “soft” rather than the “hard science” side of anthropology, writing this essay as soon
as I had returned to the States let me express so much about how I learned during my
first years of fieldwork in India. I wrote about the welcome, open homosociality among
women in Tamilnadu, and its flipside: how lesbianism wasn’t a recognizable “thing” at
the time. Writing about this let me muse about thinginess itself, about invisibility as a
cloak stitched of non-things that have no name, and the power of naming itself. A key
concept of linguistic anthropology, speech as action is very much in play in the Tamil

In the same essay I wrote about the palpably uncomfortable continuing
existence of White & English-speaking privilege in India, a colonial legacy of 150 years of
the British Raj. This unwelcome inheritance cropped up interpersonally in deferential
treatment tinged with suspicion. I managed to not personally drown in feeling the
weight of all this on my shoulders by peppering my essay with embarrassing quotes
from famous anthropologists (Malinowski, Mayberry-Lewis, Mead) that I used as
epigrammatic subheadings. I took these from their own “softer” and more vulnerable
writings (M’s posthumous Diary, M-L’s The Savage and the Innocent, and Mead’s
Blackberry Winter). Their squeamish company helped me laugh at myself.

An unanticipated pleasure of publishing this essay is that it has turned out to
serve prospective LGBTQ ethnographers as a kind of fieldwork guide. Evidently it was
risky to write and publish such stuff if you wanted to have a career in anthropology.
Carol Breckenridge, the Editor of Public Culture at the time, had offered to publish this
piece without my having submitted it to the journal (I showed it to her to ask her advice,
as I was a student in her grad seminar). Before publishing it however she wanted to
make sure I understood the risks posed by doing so. I assured her that this did not feel
risky to me, that I had been an out lesbian for fifteen years by then and had no plans to
go back in the closet for any job where homophobia reigned. What a different time that
was, when Anthro grad students could be so cavalier about T-T job options…. What
neither Carol nor anyone else in my grad school milieu knew at the time was how
uncomfortable I was grappling with a newly acquired “identity” I had been counseled to
hide. Vision troubles in the final summer of my fieldwork landed me back home a month
early, with a spinal tap and a diagnosis of MS (multiple sclerosis) the next day. Thus
began a tailspin that has lasted now for almost thirty years. In comparison to keeping
this bit of life-changing news quiet, outing myself as a lesbian in print felt easy and
familiar, and writing a refuge. The irony is that I did write this essay in an actual closet. My first Apple computer – Grape! – sat on a desk tucked into a narrow coat closet
underneath a dramatic spiral staircase with a sexy black leather banister. Perfect.

What class did you most enjoy teaching, and why?

I really enjoyed teaching using film, which I did in pretty much every course I
have taught, to varying degrees. I use films of all types – documentary and fiction, indie
and mainstream, foreign and not – primarily to enlarge the ethnographic picture
students get through readings and lectures. Only one of my courses focused on
filmmakers as well as their films. “India Lost & Found: South Asian diasporic feminist
filmmakers” was exhilarating to teach. It allowed me to introduce Indiana students to a
region and a history about which they generally knew very little. I focused on
filmmakers from the South Asian diaspora in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., recognizing
how diasporic distance allows these filmmakers to escape the rigid censorship of the
region to offer both biting critique and fierce love to the homelands they’d left. We
watched and discussed multiple films in the oeuvres of Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair, as
well as films by other important filmmakers including Gurinder Chadha and Hanif
Kureishi. I first developed this course while a faculty member in the department of
Communication & Culture (CMCL), encouraged by my film and media studies colleagues

Apart from this relatively rare pleasure (I taught India Lost & Found only four
times), the course I have enjoyed teaching most was “Stigma: Culture, Identity and the
Abject.” I feel passionate about this course. It is also probably the course for which I will
be most remembered. I taught it annually for over twenty-five years, and students from
three decades continue to contact me upon encountering something that reminds them
of the lens we developed together in this course. I approach the topic of stigma as a
compassionate rubric through which to view the lives of those who are marginalized as
“different” from the norm in some way. I draw on a wide range of material that students
generally do not encounter in other courses, from history of science texts about
conjoined twins to memoirs of carnival life, from discussions of eugenics to the attitude
of wonder fostered by cabinets of curiosity (wunderkammern). To give the best sense of
my approach, here is the course description

Cultural value systems in every society rely on sets of mutually defining terms — for example, normal/abnormal, able-bodied/disabled, free/enslaved, legal/illegal, white/non-white, heterosexual/homosexual — that largely determine local attitudes of acceptance or ostracism regarding particular categories of persons. Focusing on social stigma allows us to understand how specific cultural value systems affect our most intimate senses of self, contribute to our very notions of personhood, and inform the ways in which we communicate and engage with others in the world.

Stigma theory speaks broadly to the nature of the social relationships that create marked categories of persons, regardless of which particular attributes are devalued. In this class we look both at theory and at particular cases of stigmatized persons (individuals & groups), as attention to the particularities of a given stigma keys us in to the cultural values that create and support it. Since stigmas do (eventually!) change over time, identifying strategies that have been effective in creating such change is a primary focus of the course.

The theoretical centerpiece of this course is Erving Goffman’s 1963 study Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. We will read this text closely to appreciate Goffman’s insights, and attempt throughout the semester to update them (and the language he uses to convey his points) by applying his model to more recent historical and ethnographic case studies of stigmatized persons & groups. Our focus will be on the range and efficacy of the various strategies available for countering stigma.

Expressive arts — including written & spoken word, film/video, and performance — will be explored as popular strategies for disarming the stigmatizing gaze. We focus in particular on artists and activists whose work addresses contemporary cases of stigma. Weekly screenings of landmark films in fields including American studies, disability studies, black studies, queer studies, and gender & women’s studies supplement regular class meetings; viewing these films is a critical part of the course.

I am interested in passing the Stigma course on to anyone interested in carrying the torch. I would be happy to share syllabi and course materials I have honed for this course over the years; I changed at least some topics, films, and readings every year. The course has had many iterations: as a grad seminar, as an upper-level undergrad course, as a mixed 400/600 level, and most recently as an introductory GEN Ed course at the 200-level. In short, the rubric is malleable as well as valuable, and I hope the course will continue to be taught. DM me! (or find my syllabi on

What object in your life do you make into a sentient being?

I call the lift in my bedroom Wall-E. It helps.

What is the worst piece of advice you have ever gotten?

When I was a grad student at the University of Chicago, Prof. John Comaroff was Chair of the Anthropology Department. He inaugurated and taught a Professionalization Seminar in which he advised female students to wear stockings – pantyhose — when going for job talks. I consider this bad advice for at least two reasons: the advice is itself uncomfortably intimate and sexist, and pantyhose are super uncomfortable. Not a good confidence builder for fierce-feminist-yet- nevertheless-vulnerable women entering the academic job market.

Is there anything distinctive or unusual about your workspace?

I stole my sons’ two downstairs bedrooms to make one generous, accessible downstairs study for myself. The boys were young, 7 and 11, when we moved them upstairs to my old study and small yoga room. Now that they are teens, they like it (maybe even too much). Meanwhile, in my new downstairs study, a big picture window onto our front garden is where I look when I write.

Mathew Gagne take the page 99 test

While page 99 of my dissertation (see below) seems far from its focus on sex apps and digital media among queer men in Beirut, the connection is palpably beneath silence as an analytic of queer freedom and possibility within dense social constraints put upon queer intimacies. Silence, as the strategic offspring of constraint, suggests a struggle between violent social homophobias and the everydayness of gay sex and intimacy in Beirut. In the digital age, this queer silence is never perfectly achieved because of all the personal and sexual information queer men circulate within dense networks of sex app users who could be anyone behind the screen. Perhaps silence has never been perfectly achievable, but just a tool within liberalism for striving toward the idyllic antonym of constraint: freedom. While silence may structure queer men’s interactions within heteronormative time and space, this dissertation examines how men use sex apps and social media to bombastically announce their queer desires and arrange gay sex within the everydayness of Lebanese cultural politics and social constraints.

This research examines how, over three decades of telecommunications’ infrastructure development in Lebanon, gay sex has become more integrated into men’s everyday lives. I argue that gay sex in Beirut is not extraordinary simply because it exists against a set of marginalizing forces, but rather that it is ordinary because of its imbrication in everyday life, habits, and routines via the functions and structures of digital media, and all manners of communicating in the digital age. Via ethnography, I map the media practices, logics, meanings, categories, and debates queer men in Beirut have developed to live with one another sexually and relationally. I show how men’s engagements with sexy information – those pieces of information men circulate to describe themselves and their desires to others – has shifted the social and political conditions of queer male intimate life in Beirut. Information encompasses a set of political questions about queerness in Middle East: the degree to which men’s information ought to reproduce Lebanese cultural politics within their intimate lives or enable novel and unexpected formations to fuel new kinds of everyday intimate possibilities.

My page 99:

Through Rasa, Haddad connects queer secrecy and discretion to the Arabic word ‘eib, which roughly translates as shame, but is more: it encompasses a broad moral order that structures everyday social relations. He writes, “the implication of ‘eib is kalam el-nas, what will people say, and so the word carries an element of conscientiousness, a politeness brought about by a perceived sense of communal obligation… I’ve come to realize that if worn correctly, the cloak of ‘eib is large and malleable enough to allow you to conceal many secrets and to repel intrusive questions” (Haddad 2016: 26). In Lebanon, family members and family friends know a lot about one’s life, and ask detailed, prying questions. And men have to devise plausible stories for how strangers enter their lives. To Haddad, ‘eib speaks to a queer freedom based on silence. If one does not talk about one’s queerness, families and social networks do not inquire, thereby not stirring speculation and gossip as a form of policing within a moral order. I recall one man, Khadim, in his late 30s who thought that because of his Arabness, people would not accept him if he came out, and he would lose his job as an educator. So, he, like many other men, was selective with who he told. He cultivated a feeling of security before he disclosed his sexuality by carefully raising the topic and testing reactions. He particularly chose people he trusted not to disclose his sexuality to others. He also did not want to disappoint and possibly cause physical trauma to his ailing mother, for whom he was in Lebanon to care (he received Canadian residency a few years before but never emigrated). There is a strong social obligation to remain tied to the family and to be there to support the family, through material, financial and emotional means. Khadim empties Lebanese homophobia (as Merabet [2014a] calls it) from its cultural and historical meaning, reducing it to a quality of being Arab. Discretion is not always out of fear of risk, but also sometimes an act of love and care.

Mathew Gagne. 2020. Gay Sex and Digital Media in Beirut: The Social and Erotic Life of Information. University of Toronto Phd.

Claire Maree on her book, queerqueen

Laura Miller: Although there is a growing literature on queer sexualities and identities in Japan, there are fewer studies devoted to queer linguistics in the English language scholarship. Your book is very accessibly written yet is firmly planted within both of these research domains. What inspired you to work on a project that would address this research gap, yet still not require extensive knowledge of the Japanese language on the part of the reader? 

Claire Maree: I am delighted, and somewhat relieved to learn that the book is accessible to readers. As a key aspect of this research project is examining the rich social semiotics of script manipulation and design elements of popular media texts in Japan, I really wanted to be able to convey that to readers. So, I came up with a complex system of transcription symbols for the written texts, and for the script that appears in the audiovisual media as well. When combined with the conventions used for transcriptions of spoken texts, I was hoping that this would provide an insight into the layerings of meaning inscribed onto many contemporary media texts.

Language is a fundamental component of representation and performance of a wide diversity of genders and sexualities. Focusing specifically on Japan, research on conduct literature illustrates how notions about how one must (or must not) speak and communicate are overwhelming tied to gendered notions of personhood. Communicating as a successful businessperson, a caring parent, an attractive potential marriage partner are entangled with understandings of what it is to be a businessperson, a parent, a marriage partner. Moral panics that circulate around correct language use are regimented by cisgender, heteronormative, able-bodied, middle-to-upper-middle-class, urban centered ideologies of selfhood and citizenship. Subversion of these ideologies is also done with and through language. Creative use of and manipulation of language within queer communities is one such example. In this project I am interested in cultural practices that commodify such practices and mobilize them within mainstream cultural flows.

Laura Miller: You analyze the figure of the Japanese “queerqueen” through linguistic performance and media representations. For those not familiar with this term, could you describe what it means in your book?  

Claire Maree: queerqueen figures are flamboyant and creative individuals who offer wickedly acerbic commentary of popular culture and personalities. I take the term from a particular moment in contemporary Japanese culture when the so-called “queen-personality” (onē-kyara) saturated lifestyle media, and in particular the make-over genre. The term “queen” (onē) emerges from queer culture and the term entered mainstream consciousness around the turn of the millennium. Despite being touted as a “new” phenomenon, the queen-personality (onē-kyara) figure can be under understood as recycling a familiar cultural trope—that of the (sometimes) cross-dressing, (sometimes) cross-speaking figure who is a hybrid of men-who-love-men and the effeminate queer man.  

The term queerqueen is written in lowercase throughout the book. This is to avoid formulating a fixed, characterization of queerqueen and avoid it being used a static nomenclature. Rather, I aim to examine how the queerqueen has historically been inscribed into popular media texts through processes and practices of language-labour. That is, through collaborative practices such as transcription and editing. This collaborative work arranges specific linguistic stylizations to appear as authentic representation of personalities who are positioned as queerqueen figures.  These are curated as linguistic excess. The linguistic excess exceeds conventions of written and spoken Japanese—something that is both delightfully entertaining and politically subversive, and also in need of constant taming.

Laura Miller: You talk about the ways queerqueen linguistic performances are commodified and packaged. For example, there are a number of spectacular star-queens promoted by the Japanese culture industry. Can you tell us a little about one of them?   

Claire Maree: One writer and personality who has emerged as a super-star queerqueen figure in contemporary mainstream media culture is Matsuko Deluxe. Matsuko is a prolific columnist who gained mainstream popularity in the early 2000s, before transforming into the face of variety programs in the mid-2010s. The title of his collection of columns published in 2001 as I am Matsuko Deluxe is subtitled in English as “me, a sexy human-being torpedo!” In queerqueen: Linguistic Excess in Japanese Media, I analyse the late-late television show Matsuko no heya (Matsuko’s Room; Fuji Television Network, 2009-2011). Unlike the busy sets and text-on-screen style of variety shows of the same era, Matsuko’s Room is stark. The show pivots on a staged (im)politeness that is exploited for laughs. Creative censorship beeps are edited into the show in the post-production process to regiment Matsuko’s speech as excessive. Within the context of the tightly constructed “unedited” feel of the show, self-censorship inscribes limits of disclosure.

Laura Miller: How do changes in the media representations of the queerqueen personality correspond to changes in stereotypical norms of gender and sexuality?  

Claire Maree: I see these both as intertwined in non-linear ways. Part of what I argue in this book, is that sexuality, desire and gender are essential to the business of mainstream media, and that new trends and supposed booms around these are created though processes of reclassification and repackaging. How media representations may or may not map onto social change and/or legislative change, however, is a complex issue. For example, attempts to put forward legislation that “promotes understanding of LGBT people” were abandoned in May, and Japan’s Supreme Court’s Grand Bench has just this month (June, 2021) has upheld a 2015 ruling that requiring married couples to use the same surname is constitutional. My current collaborative project focuses on this issue—of how booms and the backlashes occur simultaneously as media discourses intersect with socio-cultural stereotypes in the context of political discourses, and transnational flows of discourse.

Denis Provencher on his book, Queer Maghrebi French

Queer Maghrebi French

Interview by Adeli Block

Adeli Block: Your monograph Queer Maghrebi French (2017) frequently references your first book, Queer French (2007). In what ways do you see your second book as an extension of your first book?

Denis Provencher: I definitely see them as companion volumes, where Queer French (QF) informs Queer Maghrebi French (QMF).  As I point out in the introduction to QMF, the map of “self-erasure in the Marais” drawn by Samir, which I analyze in the conclusion to QF, points me on a path to discover and analyze many untold and invisible stories of queer Maghrebi and queer Maghrebi French men. Moreover, in QF, I question the largely Judeo-Christian narrative in Anglo-American contexts of death and resurrection that undergirds the process widely known as “coming out of out the closet.”  I argue in QF, that French speakers rely more heavily on the post-World-War-II existential narrative of being authentic (living in good faith) and inauthentic (living in bad faith) and the French verb “s’assumer” (assuming one’s role in society) than the French expression “sortir du placard” (come out of the closet).  The queer French Maghrebi speakers in my second book build on this existentialist narrative, along with some transnational reliance on the coming-out narrative, to tell their own authentic stories that include but are not limited to images of “coming out of the harem,” “coming out of haram,” and “dropping the veil.” These are examples of flexible accumulation of language, which I address a bit more below.

Adeli Block: This book transcends nation-state borders (Algeria, France, Morocco, Tunisia), ethnic and geographical categories (Arab, Amazigh, French, North African, Middle Eastern), identity categories (gender, sexuality, race, class) and disciplines (anthropology, linguistics, queer studies, French and francophone studies, literary studies). You also integrate a mixed methods approach (or a queer methodology) of semiotics, visual/film analysis, conversation analysis, and critical discourse analysis. How were you able to achieve a project so multi-faceted and what were the challenges and rewards? Continue reading

William Leap on his book, Language Before Stonewall

Interview by Brian Adam-Thies

The Stonewall “Riots” occurred from June 28th-July 3rd, 1969 in New York City, Greenwich Village.   These events began as a result of police oppression and harassment of LGBTQ+ in the Stonewall Inn, a popular bar and meeting place.   The events reportedly evidenced spontaneous cooperation between people of all colors; gender conforming and non-conforming; cis-gender lesbian and gay men; different generations; and people from various socio-economic classes.  The Stonewall moment is said to mark the rise of the modern LGBTQ liberation movements.   Pride Month occurs in June each year to commemorate the events at Stonewall and their significance. Leap’s  book questions whether “it all began at Stonewall” accurately describes U.S. LGBTQ language history. Leap offers multiple examples showing that language before Stonewall was not buried in the closeted but in broad circulation, inflected variously across gender, race, class and other forms of difference, and associated with multiple moments of disidentification, rebellion and refusal before late June,1969.

Brian Adams-Thies: Pride month is based on what you term the ‘anchor ideology of Stonewall’.  This   powerful ideology  has both linguistic and material repercussions.  What inspired you to interrogate the ideology?  How did you come to write this book?

William Leap:. The stories about the events at Stonewall in late June 1969 that  are  presented at Pride events,   in the public media, and in many gay history books explain the event by telling the Stonewall story according to an appropriate, anchoring formula: experiences of “the closet” preceded Stonewall, and pathways to gay liberation swiftly followed, culminating in marriage equality, access to military service and federal promises of security within the workplace. We hear this story and we agree (with Althusser): “that’s good, that’s right, that’s true”.

But as is often the case for ideologies, this version of the Stonewall story  privileges a certain storyline while  excluding nonconforming subjects and narratives. Recent discussions of Stonewall have done much to decenter whiteness and gay/lesbian dominance.  For myself, I have long been  suspicious about the  Stonewall-related stories suggesting that language  before Stonewall was a secret “code,” shared but deeply concealed within the in-group,   unfamiliar if not entirely unrecognizable to outsiders. Through such mean, same-sex desiring, gender-transgressive and similar subjects could safely signal concealed identities to each other in public places —  dropping words and phrases like “[hair]pins”. The events at Stonewall and their aftermath brought this secret code  out of the closet and into the streets, making this linguistic usage public, visible, explicit, and open for anyone to hear.

This linear historical trajectory meshes with Stonewall’s anchor ideology:  the concealed becomes visible, the disguised become revealed. But  , this linear trajectory is not supported by the abundance of evidence documenting the widespread circulations of language before Stonewall within mainstream as well as “marginal” locations. Contrary to the anchor ideology, language before Stonewall was already “ … in the streets.” What Stonewall did was strengthen a more privileged discourse of sexual sameness tied to racial and economic hierarchy and privilege which was already in place before and would soon become    a language of homonormativity.

Having worked with language and sexuality studies for some time, I wanted to tell this story, and bring forward parts of the argument that I left unaddressed in Word’s Out  (Leap 1996).  Language before Stonewall is the result.

Brian Adams-Thies:  What do you mean by queer historical linguistics?  And why is Halberstam’s “scavenger methodology” (1998: 13) a helpful orientation for work in this mode of queer inquiry?  

Continue reading

Rusty Barrett on his new book, From Drag Queens to Leathermen

Cover for  From Drag Queens to Leathermen

Interview by Sandhya Narayanan

Your ethnography and analysis of language use centers on 6 subgroups in gay culture: drag quens, radical faeries, bears, circuit boys, barebackers, and leathermen. How did you decide to focus your ethnography on these six subgroups?

I had already done research on drag queens and circuit boys, so I set out to do research that would allow for comparisons across different subcultures. I tried to choose groups with minimal overlap with straight subcultures that were also positioned in opposition to “homonormative” gay culture. I avoided groups where marginalization within gay culture stems from displaying more (hetero)normative identities (like Gaymers, gay gang members, or gay evangelical Christians). Those groups are certainly interesting, but the questions they raise were different from the research path I had already taken. Continue reading