Syllabus from 2014

*Please note that this is the syllabus from last year’s class!

I will update the syllabus for Spring 2015 in January 2015!*

GWS 300: Special Topics

Trans and Genderqueer Literature

TC Tolbert, MFA

Mondays, 5:30-8pm, Phys-Atmos Sci room 224

General Information

Office:                        UITS pod L2

Office Hours:            Mondays and Wednesdays 9-10:30am

Telephone:                626-8084


Course Web Site:

Course Description[1]

This course evolved in the way that most loves evolve – out of a complex and mostly serendipitous confluence of curiosity, desire, admiration, delight, confusion, and need. I am a trans and genderqueer poet and for many years I’ve been devouring (some might even say hoarding) creative work by trans and genderqueer people. But in looking at that passion, my first challenge was always with the word “creative.” What work isn’t creative if by “creative” we mean sourced, at least partially, by the imagination? Gender theory is some of the most imaginative (and linguistically decadent) writing I can think of and one could easily argue that scientific and legal writing both require huge leaps of imaginative thinking. This is not to mention the creativity required of activist texts – particularly those doing work around social justice and the prison industrial complex. Then there is the question between non-fiction and creative non-fiction. The lines between autobiography and memoir – somehow this all starts to sound like policing gender identity to me…

Yet, although these texts may be creative in a variety of ways, and as much as I love engaging with ideas, I realized I was missing (we were missing – those interested in trans and genderqueer embodiment and/or experience – those interested in literature) the sensual “things made with letters” –  the richness of attention to (a witness to the mastery of) narrative, arc, sound, image, metaphor, character, plot, description, rupture, symbolism, etc. in the context of trans and genderqueer speakers, characters, and voices. Essentially, I realized I was starving for creative written and visual work by and about trans and genderqueer people that stepped outside of documentary, explanatory, and/or theoretical modes. And so I proposed this class because there have been no other classes like it here at UA. And you signed up for it. And if you are here and decide to stay, it seems likely that you are starving for this work, too.

Here we will explore work that is, as Roger Scruton says, “presented through the senses, to the mind.” We won’t spend much (if any) time rehashing the tired limits of trans and genderqueer people’s expression as defined by mass media (i.e. freaks, victims, jokes, or teachers). We will wonder about Kant’s “purposiveness without purpose” as enjoyed by trans and genderqueer folks. We will watch as trans and genderqueer folks experience this freedom. In other words, we will look for beauty. We will analyze these works of literature through several theoretical lenses but this is not a course in theory. Oh, but then again we will be curious about how trans and genderqueer authors work inside of (and experiment with, push against, rupture, expand) what we consider literary form.

Logistically speaking, you can expect to do a lot of reading and discussing. Plan on about 100 pages a week for the first half of the semester. Although the reading load lightens up in the second half, the work load does not. Then you will be writing more and engaging with films and visual texts. (See daily schedule below for specifics.) In other words, this will be a really fun class but it will also be a lot of work. Please be prepared for both!

This class begins with questions and it will likely end with questions. It’s a conversation and a practice of paying attention. It is an attempt to enjoy, indeed to delight in (which does not preclude a critical analysis of), creative works by trans and genderqueer authors and artists that qualify as literature. But what qualifies? I suppose that is our first question. And it’s a big one. So, let’s go.

The following are guiding questions we will return to again and again throughout the semester.

  • What is trans and/or genderqueer about this literature?
  • Why/how is this trans and/or genderqueer work considered literature?
  • Who is framing the discourse on trans and genderqueer bodies and identities and how are those narratives solidified?
  • What are trans and/or genderqueer narratives? What are trans and/or genderqueer counter-narratives? In what ways do trans and genderqueer narratives and counter narratives repeat lesbian or gay assimilationist tropes and in what ways do they resist them? What do these narratives and/or counter-narratives allow and what do they prevent?
  • Which metaphors do these narratives and counter-narratives employ and to what end?
  • How do trans and genderqueer writers and artists utilize discursive and non-discursive strategies? How do trans and genderqueer writers and artists work with exposition, narrative, argument, and description? How do trans and genderqueer writers and artists employ confession, disclosure, landscape, character development, syntax, lyricism, and dialogue?
  • What is the trans and genderqueer author/artist’s relationship with form?
  • What is the relationship between trans and genderqueer narrative and social justice? Self-help? Education? Voyeurism? Entertainment? Politics? Health? Power? Privilege?
  • Is this work beautiful? Why/why not? What is beauty? What is the body? What is form?

Course Objectives and Expected Learning Outcomes

The overall goal of this course is for you to gain a nuanced understanding of the discourses surrounding, available to, and utilized by trans and genderqueer authors and artists. For the purposes of this class, we will specifically focus on literature (poetry and prose), art, and film from the last 30 years created by those who self-identify as trans and/or genderqueer.

Throughout and as a result of this course, it is expected that each student will:

  • engage with the work of some of the major trans and genderqueer literary and artistic figures in our current U.S. context
  • become inspired by, and able to advocate for, trans and genderqueer literature, film, and art
  • think critically about trans and genderqueer literature, art, and film in the last 30 years in the current U.S. context of cis literature, art, and film
  • develop a nuanced and complex understanding of trans and genderqueer identities and be able to articulate that understanding clearly and respectfully
  • develop a nuanced and complex understanding of one’s personal gendered identities and the ways those identities are shaped through discursive and non-discursive strategies with particular attention to narrative strategies
  • think critically about gender identity, gender expression, race, class, and sexuality and their multifaceted relationships to safety, cultural capital, and access to resources and the means of production and publication
  • analyze discursive and non-discursive strategies used by trans and genderqueer authors and artists and understand those strategies in the larger contexts of legibility and safety
  • become aware of the inadequacies of this course and become inspired to further engage with trans and genderqueer literature, art, and film

My Teaching Philosophy: To Learn

Upon looking up the word “teach” in the Online Etymological Dictionary, one will find this: “Old English tæcan had more usually a sense of “show, declare, warn, persuade” (cf. German zeigen “to show,” from the same root); while the Old English word for “to teach, instruct, guide” was more commonly læran, source of modern learn.” While some classrooms are spaces in which you will strictly be persuaded or shown how or what to think about a given subject, this class will employ the fullest range of teaching strategies I can imagine. I will bring my knowledge and passion for trans and genderqueer literature. I will show you some things and I will direct your attention to others but mostly I will ask you questions. I will want to hear from your areas of expertise and your experiences. There will be guest speakers. You will lead some discussions and there will be a healthy dose of small group work. We will find that I am not in control of this classroom anymore than you are. We will get it right sometimes and, honestly, we will probably sometimes get it wrong. This might scare some students and it may even scare some teachers (and yes, sometimes it does scare me!). But I embrace this dialogic pedagogy and I look forward to teaching and learning alongside you. In other words, for me, to teach is to be willing (indeed, to be excited by the opportunity) to be curious, to be surprised, to be challenged, and to learn.

Required texts (every student must have access to each of these required books – they are available for purchase at Antigone Books on 4th Ave)

  • Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein
  • Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler
  • The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard edited by Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod
  • Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson

Suggested texts (students are NOT required to purchase suggested or supplemental texts. We will use selections from these texts throughout the semester and I will provide those on d2l. However, I encourage you to get a copy of each of these collections for further reading and enjoyment!)

  • Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex edited by Eric A Stanley and Nat Smith
  • GENDERqUEER: voices from beyond the sexual binary edited by Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins
  • Gender Outlaws, The Next Generation edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman
  • Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity edited by Mattilda a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore
  • Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Heath Justice, and Deborah Miranda
  • Transgender History by Susan Stryker

Supplemental/Theoretical texts (students are NOT required to purchase suggested or supplemental texts. We will use selections from these texts throughout the semester and I will provide those on d2l. However, I encourage you to get a copy of each of these collections for further reading and enjoyment!):

  • Disidentifications: Queers Of Color And The Performance Of Politics by Jose Muñoz
  • The Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
  • Gender Trouble and Excitable Speech by Judith Butler
  • Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives by Marilyn Farwell
  • Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
  • The Queer Art of Failure by Jack Halberstam

I will provide links and/or digital copies of selections from suggested texts and supplemental texts. However, each student must have hirs own copy of each required text. Required texts are available at Antigone Books on 4th Ave.

Assignments and grading

  • Small group facilitation – 2x per semester – worth 100 points each (total 200 points)
  • Short reading responses (1 pg, single spaced) – 2x per semester – 25 pts each (total 50 pts)
  • Midterm essay (4-6 pages) – due Monday, March 24 – worth 200 pts
  • Final exam essay – in class, Monday, May 5 – worth 200 pts

Explanation of Assignments

  • Small group facilitation (2). For this assignment, you will lead your small group in a 30-45 minute discussion of the homework material. You should bring handouts for everyone in your group with a list of at least 10 questions you would like them to engage with (be sure to turn a copy in to me, as well). You must also bring a short summary of an outside text and an explanation of why you feel it is relevant to the reading/class. You will then summarize your group’s discussion and your outside text for the rest of the class. You will do this twice during the semester. This assignment may not be made up if you miss class.
  • Short reading response (2). For this assignment, you will compose a 1 page (single spaced) response to one of the readings for class. This response should put the text and one of the guiding questions (see Course description) into conversation. I do not expect you to definitively answer one of the questions, but I do expect that you will critically think through the text and its relationship to one of these questions. You will do this twice during the semester but you may not use the same readings for your small group facilitation. In other words, the small group facilitations and short reading responses are to be completed on separate texts. The first is due March 10; the second is due by May 5.
  • Midterm essay. 4-6 page research essay. I will give you a detailed assignment sheet on February 24. The midterm is due on March 24.
  • Final exam essay. An in-class written essay synthesizing materials throughout the semester.

Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism

All University of Arizona (UA) students are responsible for upholding the Code of Academic Integrity, available through the office of the Dean of Students and online at

You must do your own writing for all the assignments in this class and have a full understanding of all terms and concepts you have used. If your instructor questions whether the work you have submitted is your own, he or she may test you on its content.

Submitting an item of academic work that has previously been submitted without fair citation of the original work or authorization by the faculty member supervising the work is prohibited by the Code of Academic Integrity.

Class Conduct

All UA students are responsible for upholding the Student Code of Conduct, which can be read online at

From the Code of Conduct of Student Behavior, this includes the following:

“Interfering with or disrupting university or university-sponsored activities, including but not limited to classroom-related activities, studying, teaching, research, intellectual or creative endeavor, administration, service or the provision of communication, computing or emergency services.”

This means no electronic devices in an ON position in class without your instructor’s permission.

Class Etiquette

Cell phone and other electronic devices may not be used in class, unless your instructor allows you to take notes with such equipment. Disruptive and/or disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated.


Attendance is mandatory. We only have 14 class periods this semester. You are expected to be here for each one of them – arriving on time and staying throughout the period. Any class work missed as a result of tardiness or absence earns a zero unless prior approval is given by me.

Late work

I do not accept late assignments.

Students with Disabilities – Accessibility and Accommodations

It is the UA’s goal that learning experiences be as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on disability, please let me know immediately so that we can discuss options. You are also welcome to contact Disability Resources (520-621-3268) to establish reasonable accommodations. Please be aware that the accessible table and chairs in this room should remain available for students who find that standard classroom seating is not usable.

Weekly Schedule 

Student Responsibilities and Reminders

  • This weekly schedule is subject to change at my discretion. Should the schedule change, I will notify you in class at least one week in advance. I will also post any changes to d2l.
  • You should bring all materials required for homework to class the following week.
  • Remember computers can crash and flash drives can be easily lost. Back up your files! An easy (and free) backup option is to email each assignment to yourself as an attachment.

D2L Page

To access the class D2L page, go to I will use the class D2L page to distribute syllabus, detailed essay assignments, handouts, and readings for you to print and read. It is your responsibility to make sure you can access the D2L page. If you are having problems accessing D2L or finding documents on the page, let me know. Please check D2L regularly for updates and announcements.

In class, Mondays 5:30-8pm                               Homework for the following Monday

Jan 20 – no class – Martin Luther King Jr holiday 
Jan 27Intros, go over syllabus, hopes for the class

What do we mean by literature?

Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of the Single Story”

What is the “single story” of trans people and who creates that story? In class activity – complete My Gendered Workbook handout and compose your personal gendered biography.


Intro panel of stories. Abby, Ms. Jai, Michael, Ryka (via Skype), Alexandria, and Jonie.

Read and annotate the following:

  • Ch 1 and 2 in Literary Theory
  • “Saving” in The Collection
  • “To Do List for Morning” in The Collection
  • “All Mixed Up with No Place to Go” from Nobody Passes (on d2l)
  • “Coyote Takes a Trip” from Sovereign Erotics (on d2l)


Note: this is about 100 pages of reading


Feb 3Pushing against the boundaries of gender and literature – properties, functions, hopes, and practices of and for. Read and annotate the following from The Collection

  • “I Met a Girl Named Bat Who Met Jeffrey Palmer”
  • “To the New World”
  • “A Roman Incident”
  • “Ramona’s Demons”
Feb 10Narrative and the role of narrative in our culture. Which are “acceptable” trans narratives? Intersecting identities – race, class, religion, and region. Narratives and counter narratives as shaped by historical and cultural contexts. Read Ch 6 in Literary TheoryWatch selected episodes of Orange is the New Black

Read “Behind These Mascaraed Eyes” from Nobody Passes (on d2l)

Read “Fugitive Flesh” and “My Story” from Captive Genders (on d2l)

Read “(Auto)biography of Mad” from Sovereign Erotics (on d2l)

Feb 17Representations in media, reality, the Prison Industrial Complex, assimilation, and making it safe. Janet Mock. Laverne Cox. Carmen Carrera. RuPaul. Chaz Bono. Read Chapters 1-10 in Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us.Read Ch 7 in Literary Theory


Note: this is about 130 pages.

Feb 24Performativity, language, and gender. Julia Serrano’s “Performance Piece” from Gender Outlaws and Susan Stryker’s performance/speech “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamonix:
Performing Transgender Rage”


Read Chapters 11-16 in Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us.Read Ch 8 in Literary Theory


Note: this is about 130 pages.


*Extra credit opportunity – Healthy Masculinity Panel on Tuesday, Feb 25.*

March 3Performatives. What is genre? Hybridity in literature. Utilizing white space, voice, lyric, stage directions, and the page. Read Ch 5 in Literary TheoryRead selections TBA from Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics.


March 10Poetry and poetics. Sound, sense, and the line.


Panel discussion with trans and genderqueer poets.

Read selections TBA from Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics

Compose midterm essay.


* Extra credit opportunity – CA Conrad poetry reading on Thursday, March 13 at 7pm

March 17No class – Spring Break!


Spring Break!
March 24

Mid-term essay due.

Visual poetry. Image and metaphor. Performance.


Selections TBA from Troubling the Line and performances/videos by D’Lo and Jai Arun Ravine.
March 31The gaze, images, and passing. Visual art as literature.


Selected work by Loren Cameron, Cathy Opie, Tobaron Waxman, Rae Strozzo, and Del la grace Volcano. 
April 7Dance, installation, new media Selected work by Micha Cardenas, Amos Mac, Sean Dorsey, Dylan Scholinski, and Simon Croft. 
April 14Panel discussion with visual artists. Watch Beautiful Boxer and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything.Read essay by Riki Wilchins on d2l.


April 21Film and narrative. Film as literature. Representations of non-binary gendered identities in film and literature. Clips from The Aggressives. Watch By Hook or By Crook and Stud Life.Read “Now That You’re a White Man” by Max Wolf Valerio on d2l.
April 28Beginnings and endings. What is trans literature? Selections from Thomas Page McBee’s “Self Made Man” posted on d2l.Selections TBA from The Collection.
May 5 – last day of classFinal exam essay.






[1] With special thanks to Dr. Aimee Mapes, Dr. Monica Casper, Dr. Susan Stryker, Dr. Adela C. Licona, Dr. Jessica L. Shumake, Dr. Ames Hawkins, Dr. Trish Salah, Dr. Bill Simmons, Rocket Blackston, and John Pluecker. These teachers, writers, and thinkers have infinitely improved this syllabus and this course.


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