Q: As a new joint faculty member of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, what are some the reasons you have chosen this department at U of T?
A: I was really excited to take this job in particular because I get to be a part of two departments—Political Science and Sexual Diversity Studies. This offers me a vibrant interdisciplinary environment to explore questions of sexuality and how that intersects with race, class, gender, nationality, and ability. I believe that so much intellectual growth occurs in interdisciplinary settings as one is exposed to new ideas and methodologies that one may otherwise not encounter in their field of study. And since queer studies has deep connections to the humanities, bringing in a political science perspective is very important in addressing emerging queer issues.
Q: Are there any pedagogical approaches that you are influenced by and use in your research and teaching?
A: Before arriving here, I worked for three years in Women and Gender Studies. I think the backbone of Women and Gender Studies is intersectionality, which is exactly the theoretical lens I bring to my class Sex and the State. Intersectionality allows me to think about how sex creates the state, how the state regulates gender and sexuality and how they are already tied together. Taking an intersectional pedagogical approach ensures that my political science classes are not looking at gender in isolation but always in conjunction with vectors of difference and oppression. Also Sexuality Studies and Women and Gender Studies tend to emphasize community engagement, and while I just arrived here and have not been able to develop community ties yet, it is definitely something I’m looking to incorporate into my pedagogy. I am interested in how students can appreciate the communities in which the University of Toronto is embedded, how we can engage in activities together and how can they be integrated into the syllabus in a way that really encourages students to work with their communities as they understand them. In the classroom I know it is important to bring attention to hierarchies in the classroom and being attentive to those structures, not only power dynamics between myself and my students but also inside the classroom as well.
Q: What are some of your intellectual interests or theoretical frameworks that have greatly influenced the way you have approached your research?
A: I am interested in bringing together literature on transnational sexuality studies and the literature on social movements and the state. Those literatures don’t necessarily talk to each other. In the past 10 years or so there has been significantly more research directed towards LGBTQ movements outside the Euro-America but there is still a lot more work to be done, so our theoretical frame still tends to be very Euro-American centric.
Q: In the journal of Lesbian Studies your article entitled “Homophobia hurts”: Mourning as Resistance to Violence in South Africa, how did you specifically come to see mourning as a form of activism?
A: When I was working with Free Gender, an organisation based in Khayelitsha (a township outside of Cape Town), one of their frequent activities was attending or organising memorial services for either members of the group or community that have lost their lives. This often came as a result directly from homophobic violence or being extremely economically vulnerable to the point where one loses their life. It was the experience of witnessing mourning as a priority of the group that led me to think about why this is happening beyond personal feelings of attachments to the person who passed but also what this mean politically, that a social movement organization is prioritizing the act of mourning. This is something that has been recognized by social movement scholars in the past regarding social movements in the US context in the wake of the HIV epidemic. Particularly how the organisation ACT UP used mourning to move members from sadness into anger directed towards achieving political objectives.
Q: What are some strategies that you use in your ethnographic research when interacting with your fieldwork and various interlocutors?
A: It is always important to recognize one’s positionality and the ways that the identities that one brings to the table influences the work we do. As a white, middle class, cis gender woman that positions me as an outsider to the groups I worked with in Cape Town and Buenos Aires. So it’s about what can I bring with my set of identities and set of skills as an outsider to this group that will help them do the work that they want to do. Essentially, how can I make myself useful? This means doing the work of building solidarity with activists. This was a yearlong process in each case of working with the organisation and getting to know what they do and speaking to members.
Also it should be noted that I don’t make connections between the activists work and the national and transnational context, they do. Activists are doing really astute analyses of their local, national and transnational environments. They are always embedding their work in these broader contexts and then it’s up to me to listen and understand what these particular activists are doing.
Q: Where is your research trajectory leaning towards nowadays? Could you speak to any particular curiosities you are facing right now?
A: I am still interested in thinking about LGBT social movements in transnational and comparative context. Specifically, I am interested in the influence of the diffusion of same-sex policies in Latin America. Because, globally speaking, the adoption of same-sex marriage laws is so new a lot of scholars look at why a country adopts same-sex marriage. Less work has been done on the consequences of adopting these policies. This is a question that I am interested in addressing in a Latin American context.