In new podcast series, the Alice Paul Center asks: ‘What’s left of queer theory?’

The team at the Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality, and Women offers snapshots of queer theory discussions as an entry point to deeper discussions of the field.

Gender Symbols

The Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality & Women’s new podcast series, “What’s Left of Queer Theory Now?” focuses not only on what’s left of queer theory—that is, what remains—but what’s left: what could be more progressive than what’s already being studied in the field. 

“Queer theory remains a little less well-known and accessible than other types of theory, and it can’t be boiled down to a bullet-point definition,” says Kathleen Brown, director of the Alice Paul Center (APC). “I think this [series] raises the question of whether liberal mainstreaming has taken some of the leftist edge off of queer theory. Is it still edgy, in the age of marriage equality?”

The question, meant to explore how much queer theory still challenges mainstream assumptions about the lives of non-conforming people, derives from the appearance of a queer theory speaker the Center invited as part of a collaboration with the Department of English. When David Eng, graduate chair of the English Department and APC Executive Board member, suggested queer theory might warrant a longer series of discussions, the APC developed the speakers and podcast series, tying them together by engaging in abbreviated conversations with the speakers in podcast form. 

The result, since the speaker series launched in October, has been seven talks under the “What’s left?” theme, beginning with Jasbir Puar, a queer theorist from Rutgers University who discussed homonationalism in the Trump era, followed by Leo Bersani, a gender and sexuality scholar who discussed the “selfless being”; and E. Patrick Johnson, who shared excerpts from his creative nonfiction research about Southern black women who love women. 

Notably, APC Diversity Visiting Scholar Janet Jakobsen shared the stage with her partner Christina Crosby and commented on Crosby’s latest book, “A Body Undone.” While Crosby read from the poignant book about her devastating spinal cord injury and the impact of her subsequent disability on her relationship with Jakobsen, Jakobsen spoke about loving and being a caretaker. Together, they provided an example of a relationship in which queer studies and disability studies intersect. 

One of the final two speakers, C. Riley Snorton, explained his study of transness in the 19th century in the context of slave narratives, and Jack Halberstam talked about gender variability.

The podcast launched in February as a chat with E. Patrick Johnson, and has produced four episodes, each approximately 15 to 20 minutes in length. They’re lightly edited and, typically, are hosted by Brown. Each clip, thus far, has posed the titular question to guests, “What is left of queer theory now?”—and each guest offers a unique perspective based on their area of study. 

Often, the discussions are interdisciplinary. 

“I think all of the speakers who were part of the APC series spoke to that interdisciplinary idea. And that wasn’t a purposeful, ‘Oh, we need to find somebody who’s doing queer theory related to disability studies.’ We were looking at the people who were doing the most interesting, cutting-edge work, and that’s who came,” says Anne Esacove, associate director of the Alice Paul Center. “And the people doing the forward-thinking work in queer theory, are doing that kind of work. It’s exciting and organic. That’s where the field is. That’s where people are coming from.”

The podcast, though planned before the series surfaced, emerged as a way to give people interested in queer theory an easy entry point. Videos of each speaker are also uploaded on the center’s website for those listeners interested in accessing the full events. 

“The questions in the podcast were an attempt to ground [guest speakers] and rein them in a little bit, and get them to go back to some basic knowledge or summarize the big takeaways from the work,” Brown says of using the podcast as a sort of gateway. “So, in that way, the podcast serves a different purpose than the talks.”

“The idea of the podcast is definitely to get more people to realize they can get access to this exciting field,” adds Esacove. 

The Alice Paul Center released its final podcast for the spring, featuring activist-historian Jen Manion, earlier this month. The series is ongoing and will resume in the fall, exploring subjects like the false dichotomy of having to choose between safe spaces and free speech. The 2018-19 series kicks off on Oct. 10 with a conversation between Anita Hill and intersectionality theorist and legal scholar Kimberly Crenshaw.

The podcast series can be heard on the Alice Paul Center website