Fall 2017


Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-118

Moodle site: Course


Frederick T. Griffiths (Section 01)


The dangerous characters who “pass” among us, shift categories, or transition have long left their mark on storytelling, scripture, and law. The lines of racial purity, gender conformity, and sexual normality are enforced by parables of powerful figures who cross boundaries to assume new identities, for good or ill. Seen variously as outlaws or pioneers, they disrupt the social order or, alternatively, renew it. Some do both. Tales of women warriors, race-émigrés, two-spirit people, and closeted geniuses celebrate human potential, if often tragically. What is “liberation” for some amounts to “crimes against nature” for others.  

We consider a range of novels, plays, films, and self-narratives that address the intersectionality of racial, gendered, and LGBTI identities in Western culture.  We focus on three turning points: Athens in the fifth century BCE; the 1920s, including the Harlem Renaissance; and the recent growth of multicultural queer and trans culture. Literary works include Sophocles, Oedipus the King; Euripides, The Bacchae; Plato, Symposium; Nella Larsen, Passing; James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man; Virginia Woolf, Orlando; Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask; Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman; David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly, and Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain.” Of self-narratives, we read Alison Bechdel, Fun Home, and selections from Jonathan Ames (ed.), Sexual Metamorphosis. Films include Leontine Sagan, Mädchen in Uniform; Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning; Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don’t Cry; and Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

This seminar aims to develop skills of critical reading and analytical writing by active participation in class discussion, as informed by questions and comments submitted before class, and by consultation with the instructor in the writing of five essays of increasing complexity. To develop oral argumentation, discussion is regularly supplemented by group reports and debates.    

 Fall semester. Professor Griffiths.

If Overenrolled: Dean handles this.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing


2020-21: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Fall 2018