Monday, November 14, 2005

Article Note: On GLBT Scholarship

Citation for the Article:

Gross, Larry. " The Past and the Future of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies." Journal of Communication 55.3 (September 2005): 508-528.

I read the article in print.

The article outlines and discusses the emergence and status of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered (GLBT) Studies within the scope of Communication Studies. The article begins with a historical overview of the GLBT movement, outlining how it emerged politically and how it adopted political organizing based on ethnic/minority identity. Gross goes on to show how the GLBT movement went on to have an impact in academia.

In academia, Gross writes that "lesbian and gay caucuses began to emerge within many academic disciplines, with particularly strong presence in languages and literature, sociology, psychology, and history" (511). Gross goes on to explain that much of the impact in academia came from outside academia through various history projects and international conferences. Also, publishing venues became available in the form of presses and journals, such as the Journal of Homosexuality that was established in 1974. The article then goes on to tell how academic organizations in Communication Studies established specific GLBT groups and caucuses.

From there, the article discusses the debates and battles over defining an identity. Two major camps are defined. First, the essentialists believe that "homosexuals are a category of humanity existing in all cultures and throughout history. Writing in this tradition tends to celebrate the tracing of a continuous, if often hidden, thread that unites contemporary lesbian women and gay men with their counterparts across time and space" (514). Second, the constructionists believe in a sociological constructionist view. They argue that "homosexuality is not a transhistorical phenomenon that takes on differing form and coloration under varying local conditions" (514). Gross points out that there are different degrees or shades of the constructivist argument. From there, challenges, questions, and new ideas emerged such as the use of the term "queer", the Queer Nation, queer theory, lesbian feminism, race and class issues. Then came bisexuality where "women and men who are attracted to members of both sexes claimed an independently valid identity" (516) and the transgendered, "united by their rejection of the gendered expectations imposed on them by society based on their physical, especially genital, characteristics at birth" (516).

Next, the article looks at how society represents the GLBT community, especially in the media. Activists fought to counter the invisibility that society placed on them. This fight became crucial with the advent of the AIDS epidemic. Also, organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) emerged. This leads to today where GLBT people are more present in the culture, though in restricted ways. For instance, it must be noted that "in recent times the most prominent topics for journalistic attention to gay people, leaving aside the AIDS epidemic, have been the exclusion of gay people from service in the military, from the institution of civil marriage, and from the Boy Scouts" (519). The article also notes the increased presence of the GLBT in television, exemplified in shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word. For scholars, this raises questions: celebrating the increased visibility or questioning the how of that visibility and its motives. Also, "the question of who should be able to depict what, for which audiences, and in what contexts of production and reception is one that GLBT scholars are confroting with more frequency, precisely as these images proliferate" (520-521).

The article concludes by providing a discussion of some of the questions anc challenges scholars will be facing in the future. For instance, looking at the coming out process for young people. Another question seems to be the role of the Internet. The article demonstrates there is still much work to be done. For an excellent overview of this field of study, this article is recommended. It includes a good bibliography that can provide a list for further reading.

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