In the wake of The White House’s arbitrary announcement regarding explicitly defining gender as dependent on the genitalia one was born with, I find it more poignant than ever to take the time to appreciate queer history. Attempting to define an entire demographic out of existence, out of healthcare, out of politics, out of media and out of society, is a direct affront to a rich history of trans people. Many have also speculated that with Brett Kavanaugh now on the Supreme Court, the US may possibly follow in Bermuda’s footsteps and reverse the decision to instate marriage equality. It’s no secret that American politics has been a mess recently, especially this week, but this hot-button issue that many conservatives in America have attempted to silence is something that academia can and should set foot into. If we strive to give queer people and the queer rights movement more visibility today and ensure its future, at a time when a large number of folks are still adamant to prove that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks don’t exist, aren’t real, or make up such an insignificantly small part of the human population, it’s important to cement queer history in the education of the people.
Queer history, I should first like to point out, is an important part of queer studies more broadly, but the history is what I am asserting must be further incorporated into academia. There is amazing work being done already at many institutions around the world into both queer studies and areas which relate intersectionally to queer studies, such as women’s and gender studies. Our own university runs gender-in-history modules, and there are academics doing research on queer experiences in aspects of contemporary culture like drama and techno music. Queer history, however, is a specific subject which weaves into many aspects of history and how our societies have shaped themselves. One thing in particular I remind myself of, for example, is that black trans women incited what our generation appreciates as the beginning of the queer rights movement. Just as we strive to understand the history of marginalised people of colour to better understand race relations in today’s world, the same should be done for queer history. The two, after all, are not mutually exclusive.
History makes contemporary experience more tangible. Centuries of drama, politics, art, national identity, and sociology have been influenced by queer people and the laws that have oppressed them. An entire module on queer history could, and should, earn its keep by giving queer people a story. If one person is enlightened as a result, and sees something about the world differently, with a better idea of why the queer community are where we are today, the course will have done its job.
This, of course, delves into the discussion surrounding how history is taught. If it is to be taught in an intersectional way, seeing connections and a cause-and-effect-like “flow” to history, it can be taught both as a self-contained module but also woven into and included alongside other taught aspects of history, sociology, linguistics and sciences. It’s so important to appreciate that queer people have influenced and been present everywhere in society for many, many years. It’s important to assert, as well, that queer history should not be limited to only academic, university spaces. Beginning the teaching of queer history at a younger age, in primary school, even, would reinforce the given that queer people exist in every sector of society. Queer studies is often considered a niche topic. It shouldn’t be. Education in itself is freedom, and history is a story of a series of freedoms – it’s time more and more educators started telling the stories of queer people who aren’t here to see the freedoms we have, thanks in many part to queer folks far more marginalised than myself.