first encounters with queerings

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Suzanne Cusick’s essay, “On a Lesbian Relationship with Music: A Serious Effort not to Think Straight,” was first published in the 1994 volume Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology, a ground-breaking book in queer theory in musicological circles. I first encountered Cusick’s essay last semester in a proseminar (a one-semester introduction to the development of the fields musicology and ethnomusicology). This essay was lumped into Gender day. I read it at 2 am, while trying to cram in all the readings for the next day’s seminar. I couldn’t sleep afterwards. It floored me. How is it that, nearly 20 years after it was first published, I am only now finding this? I recently reread it a few times to try to unpack its impact.

I think it affected me so much partly because, for the first time, I read something that really explored the connection between the person and the scholar, in a deeply profound way. She offers the possibility early on: “I needed to understand what relationship, if any, I could suppose to exist between my being a lesbian and my being a musician, a musicologist (69).” Perhaps her statement causes us to take a step back. Before considering the co-existing identities of lesbian and musicologist, we can possibly acknowledge that other aspects to our personhood matter to our musicological identities–that the private and professional can mingle, that we are somehow physically present with the music.

I have read a lot of personal reflections. And I have read a lot of postmodern criticism. I have even read combinations. But I have never read anything quite like this essay.

The content itself is very fascinating. Cusick defines what she means by “sexuality,” that “it is a way of expressing and/or enacting relationships of intimacy through physical pleasure shared, accepted, or given (70).” How this definition intersects with “lesbian” and “musicality” has to do with what Cusick calls “the enacted structure of the power/pleasure/intimacy triad and the gender of the beloved (71).” In other words, when we think about ways we enjoy music, we pause to consider, in that moment, who has the power: who is the lover and who is the beloved? Is the music, the lover, and the listener the beloved, in the weaker position? When we are performing music, do we become the lovers? In this expanded view of sex (something other than reproductive act), the notion of music as lover, or beloved, challenges us to consider what music is, how we listen to music, and what kind of place it has in our lives.

But I think it is something beyond content that I am so fascinated with. It’s how the personal is situated in all the intersections of lesbian, musicologist, criticism, music. I’ve always been interested in these kinds of intersections–though the details are different for me: woman, mother, Christian, musicologist, emerging critic(?). So how is it that I only just now encounter queer theory? a nearly twenty year musicological void in my life? And as I explore more about how the body is expressed critically in scholarship with my work in disability studies, I think I will find these new friends very helpful.

Is feminism still alive?

Maybe this seems like an odd question in light of my post a few days ago.

Recently I was sitting in a seminar, and the topic of feminism came up. Students (women, I might add) said that it was kind of an old topic, and really, we’ve moved on, and nobody wants to be belabored anymore by whether or not to use “he” or “she” as a general personal pronoun. The general consensus among the students was that we’ve moved on and talk about it any more seemed forced.

I didn’t let the comment slide. I did call into question such blanket dismissal. First, it seemed to come from a place of privilege. Here we were a room full of graduate seminar, with the percentage of students greatly favoring women. Women are in the academy, at long last (really?). Second, the women making these comments were young and in the privileged position of selfishness–that is, they only have themselves to worry about. (I do love my colleagues, don’t get me wrong.)

I found it interesting, then, that one colleague sent out this article to our class, “Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research.”

I actually happen to kind of “know” the author of the article; I’ve been following her blog for eight or nine years. Academic research is only for people with connection to academic libraries. Databases like JSTOR have subscription fees so high that only academic libraries can afford them.

One of the academic people groups who understands this reality acutely are mothers. Mothers with PhDs (or with grad experience) who are home with kids and without access. They can’t advance their careers, because they can’t do research. They fade out of research, out of academic careers, some willingly, some wistfully, some both. As if the balance isn’t difficult enough, barriers to access exacerbate a system already difficult to maneuver.

Maybe feminism is irrelevant to a woman who can live like a man, but when the woman has start to dividing her time and make normal and good life decisions, then greater issues come into play. Maybe the advocacy position needs to be tweaked, which, to me, is kind of old news, but apparently, it’s still a relevant question if a room full of my dear colleagues thinks it’s irrelevant.