Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 1996 Issue »

    Critical, Postmodern Studies of Gay and Lesbian Lives in Academia

    Patricia M. Mcdonough and Peter Mclaren
    UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

    (pp. 368-382)

    Coming Out in College: The Struggle for a Queer Identity

    by Robert A. Rhoads.

    Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1994. 190 pp. $15.95 (paper).

    Building Communities of Difference: Higher Education in the 21st Century

    by William G. Tierney.

    Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1993. 167 pp. $16.95 (paper).

    The last several decades have witnessed a proliferation of scholarly studies grounded in (or at least strongly infatuated with) many of the new theoretical trajectories and currents of thought that have been imported rather steadily from Europe (mainly France and Germany) since the 1960s. Collected under the umbrella of "postmodern" scholarly perspectives, this research has largely challenged the universal narratives and tropes of modernist epistemology and thought including, among others, the Hegelian teleology of history's inevitable, guaranteed, and inexorable upward march towards progress and immanent rationality; the zauberung (disenchantment) of the modern world through the relentless, crudely utilitarian, and instrumental rationalization of everyday life; the Marxian belief in the causal derivation of power from the class control of production; and the deep-seated belief in a unified, autonomous ego.

    Such a challenge to the master tropes of singularity associated with the project of modernity was understandable especially in the post-Vietnam metropolitan cultures of the United States where large segments of the population were being swallowed up in the racism, sexism, and homophobia of metropolitan life. The decaying social conditions that shaped the lives of U.S. urban dwellers were producing new generations of the forlorn, the excluded, the wretched of the earth. Postmodern theory helped U.S. cultural critics speak in new ways about the cultural and political conditions that produced these lost generations. Sometimes they spoke under the sign of a shifting and shiftless relativism, sometimes through a toxic nihilism, and sometimes through new theoretical discourses that not only criticized the Eurocentrism, phallocentrism, and androcentrism of Enlightenment thinkers, but also attempted to transform the discursive and material conditions of capitalist domination, exploitation, and oppression.

    If educational research was initially slow in catching on to this anti-foundationalist assault on the modernist Enlightenment tradition (due, in part, to its misgivings about its hermetic theorizing, its esoteric language open only to initiates, its association with the aesthetically cultivated haute bourgeoisie of Paris and Frankfurt, and its pretense to avant-garde posturing), it certainly is making up for its initial lack of interest with a spate of new investigations under the sign of "postmodernism," reanimating what some critics might feel constitutes the current provincialism of education's research environment.

    While most of these new research perspectives have been evident in the fields of curriculum, sociology, multiculturalism, and critical pedagogy, it was only a matter of time before the field of higher education would face the challenge of postmodern and criticalist assaults.1 And since over the last decade, postmodernist insights have been central in rethinking the categories of gender and sexuality in the social science literature in general, it is encouraging to see books appearing that attempt to apply criticalist and postmodern perspectives to the staggeringly neglected area of gay issues in postsecondary education.2

    Two such major contributions are Coming Out in College: The Struggle for a Queer Identity by Robert A. Rhoads and Building Communities of Difference: Higher Education in the 21st Century by William G. Tierney. Rhoads studies the coming out process of gay male undergraduates as he builds a critical postmodernist conception of gay identity formation and culture. Tierney looks broadly at critical postmodern views of identity, community, and difference, focusing on gay male professors' lives as one example. Moreover, Tierney's central task is to ask how we can understand each other across our differences in such a way as to acknowledge and honor one another, rather than bring into question one another's legitimacy. These two books are encouraging in another, less theoretical sense. To understand what we mean one only has to witness the political climate reflected in Oregon's Ballot Measure 9 and Colorado's Amendment 2, or a national educational climate in which only 10 percent of postsecondary institutions have enacted protective policies for gay people.3 It is difficult to ignore the increased political gay-baiting as we approach the next Presidential election year. One needs to look no further than Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole waffling over a $1,000 contribution to his campaign made by a gay Republican group. Or, more perniciously, former Republican presidential candidate Phil Gramm's recent public alliance with Bill Horn's Christian crusade against "the homosexual agenda." Claiming he has been called by God to leave the Springs of Life Ministries in Lancaster, California, to fight against "the gay agenda in education" in Des Moines, Iowa, Horn has been heralded by both Gramm and Pat Buchanan for fighting God's fight against the destruction of the American family. The "gay agenda" in this case turns out to be a proposed curriculum change, "Proposal for Infusion of Sexual Orientation Issues in the Multicultural Nonsexist Education Plan" (Sipchen, 1995). The plan urges the Des Moines school board to pursue equality and justice for all students by recommending an avoidance of "heterosexual bias" in language. It also encourages classroom discussions of the nature of families, including same-gender parenting, and promotes student awareness of homophobic thinking and behavior. Somehow, Horn argues that the low ACT scores in Los Angeles are due to political correctness and Gay Pride Month in the L.A. schools. On the other hand, Iowa, with its less politically progressive environment, ranks nationally among the top three in ACT scores. Viewed in this light, the Rhoads and Tierney books provide a counter-toxin to the already degenerating conditions for advancing the cause of democratic schooling in relation to issues of gender and sexuality (see McLaren, 1992).

    For higher education scholars in particular, these books offer a complex, venturesome, and illuminating portrait of gay, lesbian, and bisexual faculty and student lives and struggles from the twin perspectives of "critical postmodernism" and "critical theory." More importantly, they offer complementary visions, beholden to postmodernism's probe of difference and identity, of how educators can build truly multicultural postsecondary communities. Tierney and Rhoads both suggest that by understanding and using the multiple locations or inscriptions of their diverse identities as a fabric of connectiveness, educators can create formative and powerful dialogues through and inclusive of difference. These dialogues of difference will lead to at least a provisional unity across our differences and, with time and effort, a common ground of struggle against contemporary forms of class, cultural, and societal oppression.

    In Building Communities of Difference, the central postmodernist premises used in Tierney's attack on heterosexism can be summarized as follows: identities are social constructions or cultural fictions that, as ideologies enacted by the dominant organizational culture, privilege heterosexuality and sanction homophobia; liberation involves the reconstruction of categories used to define individuals and groups; an important political function for lesbians and gays is to "decenter norms and populate the border zones of society" (p. 62); and identity is constantly under negotiation and continually redescribed and reinvented within an organizational culture that is composed of the symbolic and ideological aspects of the institution that frames identity.

    Rhoads employs a similar theoretical framework (perhaps not surprising, since Tierney and Rhoads were colleagues at the Center for Higher Education, Pennsylvania State University, when their books were written): research must be attentive to the ideological nature of the categories that are used to frame and justify the research; knowledge and language are not neutral but contested and political; difference and conflict, rather than similarity and consensus, should be employed methodologically as organizing concepts; research should be praxis-oriented; and all researchers, as authors, are intimately connected to the theoretical perspectives that they generate from particular, ideological, epistemological, and ethical standpoints.

    Before we continue our review, we would like to identify ourselves as faculty in a university that is symbolically (at least) committed to gay-affirming values through its nondiscrimination clause, and its gay, lesbian, and bisexual resource centers and classes. One of us (McLaren) is currently serving on a committee to establish a gay, lesbian, and bisexual studies minor. However, in reality, our institution silences and oppresses gay, lesbian, and bisexual peoples (and others) by refusing to enact domestic partner benefits; moreover, the institution has just eradicated all policies regarding affirmative action. One of us (McDonough) is gay and the other is straight, and we are commenting on books written by authors who are straight (Rhoads) and gay (Tierney). All of us — authors and reviewers — are White and, to a certain extent, also empowered by our position as faculty.4

    Coming Out in College explores the conceptions of gay culture and identity through observations and interviews with forty gay and bisexual male students at a large East Coast research university. Rhoads deftly describes and analyzes the struggles these students face as they come to terms with being queer, and their collective efforts to change their collegiate organizational culture and U.S. culture in general. Central to Rhoads's discussion is the constructivism/essentialism debate. Rhoads eschews a stark social constructivist and essentialist dichotomy in explaining the complexities of sexual identity. In other words, he avoids (rightly, in our view) the "either/or" distinction between essentialism (sexual identity is primarily biological), and constructivism (sexual identity is primarily a matter of socialization through culture), suggesting that sexual identity "may include inherent and socially derived qualities" (p. 145). His grounding in critical postmodernism locates his work within a clear emancipatory framework that builds "a view of sexual identity that assists students in organizing diverse academic communities in which lesbian, gay, and bisexual students no longer face discrimination and persecution" (p. 145). He notes, quoting Epstein, that sexual identities "are both inescapable and transformable" (p. 152).

    An important contribution by Rhoads is his articulation of what he calls "an ethnic model of gay identity" (p. 152). Such a model, argues Rhoads, "reflects both choice and constraint and sameness and difference" (p. 153). We find Rhoads's preliminary model useful in extricating sexual identity from the mire of biologism in which it has been entrenched. Rhoads claims that an ethnic model of gay identity "encourages the development of a community of difference by including diverse members and at the same time advancing a common sense of identity" (p. 154). Further, he claims that his model of ethnic identity is compatible with critical postmodernism for the following reason: both stress theory-building that is empowering and both challenge the linking of theory to praxis in a way that aids in the self organization of marginalized and dispossessed groups. Rhoads believes that organizing large-scale resistance needs to be done under a common sign of gay or queer ethnicity. He warns, however, that a poststructuralist critique employed in a liberatory politics of queer ethnicity only deconstructs existing categories of sexual identity. What is urgently needed is a concept of queer identity stable enough to be deployed in a praxis of struggle.

    Rhoads sheds light on the persecution, discrimination, hostility, and symbolic and material violence that gay students face daily within college environments. He shows how students are provided with a sense of support and a basis of identity through the queer students' subculture, which is in fact a contraculture, because queer students have refused to accept both the university's and society's definitions of themselves, and thus are defined by their opposition to mainstream culture. Furthermore, Rhoads informs higher education praxis by suggesting ways college climates can be made more inclusive through policies that acknowledge a diversity of sexual identities, such as protective clauses related to sexual orientation; safe spaces, resources, and trained, sensitized staff to help queer students deal with their unique identity and other issues; and research and teaching on gay, lesbian, and bisexual lives.

    Tierney's Building Communities of Difference has two fundamental goals: first, to unite critical and postmodern perspectives in an exploration of identity, difference, and community; and second, to redirect the work of collegiate institutions away from individualism and competition, and toward Tierney's concept of organizational agape, where we accept and honor each others' differences and work toward solidarity and justice within our universities. Tierney argues that U.S. higher education suffers from a form of moral dysfunction, and not solely from the fiscal or structural problems that most scholars claim. His concept of moral dysfunction is rooted in notions of structural inequality, racism, heterosexism, and economic exploitation. He refocuses our attention on reconfiguring colleges and universities as communities dedicated to educational empowerment. Tierney's blueprint for building these communities of difference is centrally informed by his chapter on gay faculty's public roles and private lives, drawn from one of his case studies of collegiate cultures. Here he demonstrates how our current organizational structures privilege some voices while silencing others. The hope and promise of Tierney's book is to encourage the construction of gay voices "in order to help all of us understand the different ways we are positioned subjects in society" (p. 65).

    Key to Tierney's suggested remaking of the colleges of the twenty-first century are two concepts: understanding and eradicating the culture and power of the norm of heterosexuality, and the ideology of silencing. Tierney's portrayal of the lives of four gay male faculty members at a large state university demonstrates how the norm of heterosexuality has resulted in an oppressive hold on the boundaries of what is acceptable and deviant, and has propelled individuals toward conformity rather than empowerment. Tierney calls on us to move from an individualist focus on identities "to a theoretical perspective which assumes that how power is situated and defined in large part determines the parameters of diversity" (p. 53).

    Numerous reports done on campus climates for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals indicate that oppression and invisibility are virtually omnipresent (D'Augelli, 1989; LaSalle & Rhoads, 1992; Tierney, 1992). The cultures of many postsecondary institutions marginalize gay, lesbian, and bisexual peoples by the dualism inherent in private and public lives. The public roles of gay students and faculty are often circumscribed by their private lives as gay men and lesbians, while the public persona of gay students and faculty also encircles and encrypts their private lives. Gay individuals are frequently forced to hide certain aspects of their private lives or to remove themselves from public events or ceremonies. Thus, those who are different are made invisible. By masking their sexual identities in order to function uncontestedly in public roles, many gays and lesbians reluctantly accede to the power of the norm. When we assume that everyone is similar, any difference disturbs the de facto norm. This assumption of similarity thereby reinforces a culture of silence for those organizational participants who are different. The culture of silencing is buttressed by institutional policies that claim to be universal statements of nondiscrimination but do not mention gay, lesbian, and bisexual people (about 90% of colleges do not recognize queers in their statements of nondiscrimination [National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1992]), as well as by institutional policies that privilege heterosexual relationships, for example, with discriminatory housing policies and denial of domestic partner benefits. Anyone who is different is made invisible within these institutional norms.

    Tierney uses criticalist literature on postmodernism and poststructuralism to better challenge the fixed and stable identities associated with modernist and romantic (and profoundly heterosexist) conceptions of the self, family, and sexuality. Romantic and modernist notions (which translate at the level of theory into forms of rational empiricism) have provided fixed constructions, or legitimating norms, of what counts as appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior. But unsettling fixed identities — a practice often associated with postmodernist social theories — is not enough. Postmodernist social theories, according to Tierney, attempt to understand difference and develop multivocality and, in doing so, interrupt conventional academic systems of interpretation by challenging the logic of rationality, authority, and the search for absolutes such as truth. While postmodernist social theory is able to challenge the cultural politics of modernist notions of rationality, norms, and identity, such a challenge is too often pitched in such a way that the social relations of oppression and exploitation are not named or contested, but merely described. In other words, the connections among racism, colonialism, and heterosexism cannot be accounted for through categories of difference or multivocality, but must be read from global historical perspectives and in the context of exploitation and injustice.

    Tierney is also drawn to the criticalist literature in order to give educators a sense of what to do with meanings and images once they have been deconstructed. According to Tierney, a postmodernism bereft of a critical theory is politically and ethically bankrupt. Critical theory, while linked to modernist discourses that emphasize political and ethical reasoning, includes as its central premise the relationship between critical reasoning and the creation of conditions within which oppressed peoples will be able to liberate themselves. In other words, critical theory links critical rationality to praxis — a mindful type of action that joins thinking to doing as a form of individual and collective struggle against oppression. Uncomfortable with critical theory's overreliance on rationalist discourse and dissatisfied with postmodernism's lack of a well-defined project of emancipation, Tierney critically appropriates from both traditions. Appreciating the fluidity of constructs and categories provided by postmodernism and critical theory's emphasis on societal constraints upon identity and agency, Tierney tries to extend both these approaches in his redefinition and extension of the concept of political action. Tierney is able to do this by elucidating what he refers to as five "axes of contention" between critical theory and postmodernist social theory, which include: boundaries/border zones; individual constraints/pluralist possibility; political/apolitical; hope/nihilism; and difference/agape. Using these axes as a framework throughout the book, Tierney attempts to analyze case study material as a means of moving criticalist insights into the public arena of policy reform and debate.

    Yet for all of Tierney's familiarity with postmodernist literature, including feminist literature, his book (as well as Rhoads's book) lacks an engaged feminist analysis or feminist political trajectories. We believe there is a need for Tierney to unpack some of the singularly patriarchal inflections in critical theory and more recent postmodernist analyses, which would result in greater self-reflection about his own role as an "outsider within" heterosexist structures of academe. In other words, we think both books could benefit from some sustained engagement with feminist theory and feminism's specificity. By specificity we refer to a critique of the social relations in which the feminine subject is reproduced, a critique that focuses on and contests the devaluation of "woman" under White supremacist patriarchy. Tierney and Rhoads both share with feminist theory a critique of the heteronormative articulation of sexuality and gender. However, attention to feminist critical inquiry could have helped the authors expand upon their understanding of how gay and lesbian subjects are differentially entangled in subject positions that are historically specific, spread across multiple modalities of difference, and entangled in the hierarchical structuring of class, sexual, racial, and gendered subject positions (Hennessy, 1993). We suggest that more self-reflexivity about the differences between the constructs of gay and lesbian identities and the differential access to privilege accorded these two groups might have helped to uncover aspects of patriarchal thinking encoded in prevailing ideas of cultural democracy. In other words, to conflate lesbian and gay issues as if they were basically the same is to deny important distinctions between lesbian and gay visions of democracy. To deny distinctions is also to foreclose on possibilities of commonality (as differentiated from sameness) and solidarity.

    For Tierney, political action must invoke hope as a unifying concept. In fact, he elaborates a "cultural politics of hope" (p. 22) in searching for a common ground of struggle, a cultural politics that invokes a radical contextualism in which situations are concretely seen in the context of their embeddedness in a larger network of community, societal, and global relations. Such a struggle negotiates differences and organizes around differences, but also continually mobilizes differences in the interests of social justice. We wish to emphasize that Tierney's conception of hope grows out of the concept of agape or selfless love. We believe this to be an important insight. Tierney's project is to create understandings across differences so that educators can acknowledge and honor one another, rather than question one another's legitimacy. Consequently, Tierney sets as a central category of his study the concept of cultural democracy, which refers to dialogue and action based on honoring cultural difference rather than essentializing difference. What Tierney does so successfully and often brilliantly is to put difference at the center of our understanding of critical postmodern organizational analysis, and to suggest that in an organization based on agape, every organizational participant will need to come to terms with how to recognize and honor difference, and critical leaders will need to enable different constituencies to set the framework for decisionmaking and to develop those decisions. Leaders need to offer an intellectual presence that ensures that community members discuss with each other their own personal experiences about the life of the community from a dialogical as well as a dialectical perspective.

    Tierney extends the discussion of critical postmodernism and organizational agape by elucidating the process of how identity is constructed among gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. By examining faculty who hide their private lives, mask their identities as queer, accede to the power of normalizing heterosexist discourses, and participate in the totalizing speech act of silence — what Sedgewick calls the "epistemology of the closet" (1990, pp. 59–60) — Tierney tackles the twin concepts of heterosexism and homophobia. As part of Tierney's rhetorical advances, he includes a broad discussion of what he means by community — a concept that he centers around the symbolic and ideological aspects of the institutions that actually "frame" identity — or what he collectively calls "organizational culture." Within organizational culture, the notion of "collective identity" becomes central, and refers to what Tierney articulates as "those equifinal processes that members employ to help determine organizational processes, goals, and meanings" (p. 68). Tierney believes that common definitions of community need to be developed from formative, process-oriented discussions rather than from summative, externally generated assessments in which institutions are compared to each other. Yet at the same time, Tierney believes that a critical community necessitates a comparative awareness of other institutional cultures. He writes: "From a critical postmodern perspective, the fabric of an educational community is the members' fealty to a discourse concerned with the life of the intellect" (p. 101). Tierney believes that this perspective affirms the inherently subjective nature of how the theorist is situated/positioned within an arena of conflicting discourses.

    We find Tierney's formulation and advocacy of "identity work" to be extremely promising. Tierney notes:

    By identity work, I am suggesting that individuals come to understand their own and others' lives through prolonged engagement with the other. Rather than assume that one's identity is fixed and determined, we are constantly in the process of redefinition and discovery. (p. 143)

    Tierney and Rhoads have given us two creative, insightful, and pathbreaking books about the experiences of gay, lesbian, and bisexual faculty and students. They are making significant strides toward breaking through the silence of gay lives in academe. Yet, although these books make a significant contribution, they share one major drawback in the lack of diversity of gay lives portrayed. Both studies focus primarily on men; there is an extremely limited racial and ethnic diversity in their research respondents; and the voices of working-class and economically disenfranchised students are missing. Moreover, the focus on students and faculty neglects the substantial proportion of postsecondary staff who are gay, lesbian, and bisexual.

    Rhoads addresses the relative lack of attention to research on gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in academe by summarizing an exhaustive twenty-three-year review of the higher education literature (1970–1993). He unearths two-hundred empirical pieces on colleges and homosexuality, the vast majority of which are article-length treatments. An overwhelming majority (77%) of this research is focused on heterosexuals' attitudes toward gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, and very little research specifically provides "insight into the problems faced by gay, lesbian, and bisexual college students" (p. 7). One criticism of Rhoads is that although he clearly and lucidly presents critical and postmodernist literature, he selectively ignores other relevant literatures — notably, earlier gay classics, research on higher education student development, research on gay lives in academe, and lesbian politics and "coming out" writings — that could have strengthened his analysis. In the queer literature, for example, while he carefully explores the more recent and widely read authors like Sedgewick, Shilts, and Signorile, he ignores many of the earlier classics like Warren's Identity and Community (1974) and Humphrey's Out of the Closets (1972).

    Rhoads claims to speak to the higher education practitioner audience, and yet he ignores completely their discourses on identity, student development, and college environments. Rhoads's analysis describes how cultural borders serve both to divide people and to enable people to connect, and that for some gay students, the sense of connection with other gay people shapes much of their college lives. However, Rhoads could make a more significant contribution to the higher education literature if he were to build his own connections and use his critical postmodernist stance to redirect the theory and research on college student development and identity (Astin, 1993; Chickering 1969, 1981).

    Student development scholars study the impact of college environments on students, while Rhoads takes a fundamentally different approach, studying how student cultures affect college environments. We feel that his conclusions would have a wider impact if he had built bridges to the existing body of student identity research and made explicit their weaknesses and the greater understanding available from criticalist approaches. Likewise, Rhoads neglects to even mention that there are student affairs practitioners actively working to change campus climates and writing about identity issues in books like Beyond Tolerance: Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals on Campus (Evans & Wall, 1991).

    Given Rhoads's critical postmodernist task of building communities of difference based on solidarity, it is damaging that he ignores the lesbian literature on coming out and the relationship between coming out and the politics of radical feminism. Golden (1987) and Ponse (1980) have spoken to issues of becoming aware of same-sex feelings, establishing relationships, and connecting with lesbian communities as a point of contrast in understanding the differences between lesbians' and gay men's experiences. Also, given that Rhoads established the critical postmodernist necessity of rejecting societal norms and reconstructing postmodernist identities, he could have investigated the lesbian literature on coming out as a political statement (Sophie, 1982, 1985–1986), especially as Faderman (1984) has articulated it.

    A second major criticism of Rhoads relates to his relatively unchallenging representation of the issues students address in "coming out" to their parents. Early in his book, Rhoads quotes McNaught on the orphaned status of gays and lesbians in our communities. Yet Rhoads fails to take seriously this real or potential consequence in his section on how students deal with "coming out" in relation to their parents and family. To his credit, he makes clear that coming out to one's family "has different meanings for students" (p. 88), and in his review of previous research, Rhoads cites D'Augelli's findings that students' most significant fears about coming out center around their parents (p. 37). Rhoads found that only 17 percent of the students in his sample had come out to both parents. Rather than explore the complexities, fears, and dangers for students inherent in coming out to parents, he simply states that for those students "who may not have close relationships with their parents, coming out does not seem so imperative" (p. 88). From our positionalities as a queer "living the life" and as critical postmodernists, we would encourage Rhoads to push further on his analysis of families and the coming out process in future research.

    First, being lesbian, gay, or bisexual represents the one status of difference (as opposed, for instance, to being a person of color) that puts an individual at odds with his or her family, which adds to an overall lack of support and isolation (Crooks & Baur, 1987). Second, Rhoads could have investigated whether students' lack of closeness to their families grew from their emergent sexual identities. Methodologically, it would have been productive to learn more about the students who were "out" to their families, as well as Rhoads's other findings, such as how empowered "totally out" students were compared to those who still hide part of their identity.

    Finally, Rhoads's critical postmodernist project could have been strengthened by further analysis of the family as a social structure that oppresses. Given the role that parents play in financing their child's postsecondary education, maintaining links to personal histories and communities of origin, and providing emotional sustenance and a safety net, Rhoads should have listened more closely to his students who said: "A parent's love should be unconditional" (p. 90). He writes of the "normalization of society" and the entire system of constraints and punishment as social control where attacks from legal authorities and acts of violence are perpetuated against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals on campuses and city streets. He even emphasizes the importance of assuming the role of our brother's keeper in terms of the politics of silencing, yet he would have added important new material to the knowledge base on gay and lesbian research if he had more critically analyzed the symbolic and material violence of families of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.

    We may be unfairly criticizing Rhoads here. It is possible that his student population is so young or so queer-identified that this issue has not come up or may not come up for them. The key point here is that there presently exists a dearth of literature examining the complex relationship among structural oppression, identity formation, and human agency from a critical postmodernist perspective, and so little research on gay, lesbian, and bisexual lives that we are left wanting more. Further, we are left wishing that Rhoads had been more self-conscious and critical about his representation of these students' "coming out" experiences to parents and families.

    Rhoads, and to a certain extent Tierney, frame their critical postmodernist arguments within an organizational culture analysis. They are careful to be clear about the contested dialogue of the critical and postmodernists debates and yet they do not make clear the salient differences between organizational culture and climate. Organizational culture is an organization's underlying values, beliefs, and meanings. Organizational culture in turn defines organizational climate, which refers to the resultant attitudes and behaviors of that organization's culture. Both culture and climate have an effect on an individual's behavior. Culture is deeply held and enduring, while climate is the current, malleable perceptions and attitudes that are the contemporary manifestations of culture.

    Why should we care about these distinctions in terms of gay, lesbian, and bisexual postsecondary education issues? We think it is important to lay bare the task ahead of us for the full empowerment of gay, lesbian, and bisexual staff, faculty, and students. Tierney's final chapter outlines what we need to do if we are to create true communities of difference. He calls for developing cultural learning and encouraging dangerous memory. Stories and experiences of oppressed people that are suppressed at the level of the public archive or official discourse can be dangerous to status quo knowledge and the dominant relations of power and privilege when such hidden transcripts become open to public access (Macedo, 1995). No longer silenced or subjugated, memories serve as markers for what had to be kept hidden — the histories of slavery, the oppression of women, gays, and lesbians, and of people of color in general — in order for the community or nation-state to homogenize its citizenry and to naturalize those discourses serving the interests of the dominant culture as "common sense." Tierney introduces the concept of "cultural learning" as a strategy to decrypt and disinter dangerous memories. Cultural learning is "the development of and engagement in dialogues of support and understanding across differences" (p. 144), while dangerous memory "involves creating conditions so that the Other is able to speak from his or her personal and intellectual experience" (p. 146). Cultural learning for Tierney suggests a pedagogical process in which administrators, students, and professors willingly step out of their own geographical and temporal spheres of identity formation and into the spheres of others. From our vantage point, it appears that cultural learning is analogous to organizational culture in that both focus on long-term fundamental change. However, we view dangerous memory as more related to organizational climate in that both are more short-term. In this regard, we need to create organizations that are safe, that affirm individual differences, and that draw individuals into dialogues about norms, silencing, and Otherness.

    We are disappointed that Tierney and Rhoads, while working from a Foucauldian framework, fail to connect the discourses of critical theory and postmodernism with the complex ideological trajectories and cultural logics of multinational capitalism. In other words, they fail to connect the fragmentation of gay and lesbian subjectivity and its multiplicity and contradictoriness to the discursive and material overdetermination of late capitalism. To denaturalize the signifiers "gay" and "lesbian" is admittedly important, but communities of difference need to be more than spaces where gay and lesbian identities are read mainly as examples of textual excess through a neo-formalist hermeneutics. In other words, we need to resist oppression not only at the level of the textual and symbolic, but also in terms of the material, social division of labor according to gender, sexuality, race, and nationality (Ebert, 1996). In addition, we need to understand how, for instance, heterosexuality is discursively regulated as commonsense through the ideologies of patriarchal capitalism and the international social division of labor. Here we must return to the idea of reading practices as critique and a call to revolutionary praxis. The analyses offered by Tierney and Rhoads need to serve as inaugural moments of critique; that is, they need to be read not just in terms of the politics of signification (as the social production of difference and representation), but in terms of the exploitative and oppressive social relations under patriarchal capitalism. The textual crisis produced over the meaning of gay and lesbian identity needs to be further de-fetishized as ideological displacements of contradictory social forces (Hennessy, 1993). This, in turn, must lead to the groundwork for a radical social transformation at the level of the social relations of capitalist production (Ebert, 1996; Morton, 1995). A final criticism of both volumes is that little attention is given over to rethinking the nature of phallic desire and male sexual morphology in relation to the construction of difference between men and women. This is not to condemn these volumes for an incipient phallocentrism as much as to suggest the notable absences of feminist theories of subjectivity and female corporeality, which could have proven useful for women's self-representations. What needs to be acknowledged as well is that racist-sexist-homophobic cultural representations are fundamental to the smooth functioning and organization of the economy within postcolonial imperialist capitalism (Bannerji, 1995; Davis, 1983; hooks, 1981).

    While we acknowledge these books as important and in many ways pioneering volumes in recent criticalist studies of schooling, we still consider as incomplete pedagogies of liberation that do not sufficiently address the notion of patriarchal autonomy. We suggest instead that critical pedagogy be informed by an ethics of liberation based on heteronomy. Here we follow philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1985) in arguing that the quest for autonomy is built on an ontology of personal transformation instead of an ethics grounded in day-to-day situations. A pedagogy grounded in an ontology of transformation too often ignores the call of the other, reduces the other to the same, and establishes an affinity between the system and the other. However, as Levinas points out, in the face-to-face relation (such as the teacher/learner encounter), the self becomes the system that confronts the other. The other resists the self that has become the system. It is the self that has become the system that must be resisted — not the other (Child, Williams, & Birch, 1995). Consequently, we need to strive not for a pedagogy built around a universal ontological concern with autonomous self-transformation, but rather around pedagogical ethics. Such an ethics is not simply a common, abstract ethics that is carried out by an autonomous "I," but rather an ethics reborn in the concrete face-to-face relation with the other in situations not of our own choosing and in circumstances we cannot avoid. We believe this notion is in keeping with the spirit of liberation that undergirds the Tierney and Rhoads volumes — books which we enthusiastically recommend to all educators interested in liberation struggles.

    As Rhoads and Tierney write in support of queer students and faculty (as they exist within educational institutions at any level), we need to begin our analyses from the point of view that basic conditions of physical and public safety have to be established along with visibility before we can even begin to tackle issues of student development and creating educational climates that are affirming. Tierney ends his book with ten propositions for transforming our colleges and universities into communities of difference. Some of his most important suggestions are the following: creating a framework for diversity, initiating structures for developing voice, implementing alternative structures for learning, developing assessment as a formative activity, and reconsidering promotion and tenure. Within our postsecondary classrooms we should and could focus on the nature and climate of classrooms, generate new forms of knowledge, lessen authority in the classroom, understand the other, and develop self-reflection in faculty. In achieving these aims and others generated by Tierney and Rhoads, we need to continue the struggle for an ideological climate more hospitable to the purpose and practice of democracy, and to struggle for praxis of liberation that is able to contest, destabilize, and overthrow the regulating networks of dependence and the processes of marginalization that result from the integration and consolidation of transnational capitalism.


    Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Bannerji, H. (1995). Thinking though: Essays on feminism, Marxism, and anti-racism. Toronto: Women's Press.

    Burbules, N., & Rice, S. (1991). Dialogue across differences: Continuing the conversation. Harvard Educational Review, 61, 393–416.

    Chickering, A. (1969). Education and identity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Chickering, A., & Associate. (1981). The modern American college: Responding to the new realities of diverse students and a changing society. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Child, M., Williams, D., & Birch. J. (1995). Autonomy or heteronomy? Levinas's challenge to modernism and postmodernism. Educational Theory, 45, 167–189.

    Crooks, R., & Baur, K. (1987). Our sexuality (3rd ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings.

    D'Augelli, A. R. (1989). Lesbian and gay men's experience of discrimination and harassment in the university community. American Journal of Community Psychology, 17, 317–321.

    Davis, A. Y. (1983). Women, race, and class. New York: Vintage.

    Ebert, T. (1996). Ludic feminism and after: Postmodernism, desire, and labor in late capitalism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Evans, N. J., & Wall, V. A. (1991). Beyond tolerance: Gays, lesbians and bisexuals on campus. Alexandria, VA: American College Personnel Association.

    Faderman, L. (1984). The "new gay" lesbians. Journal of Homosexuality, 10(3/4), 85–95.

    Giroux, H. (1992). Border crossings: Cultural workers and the politics of education. New York: Routledge.

    Golden, C. (1987). Diversity and variability in women's sexual identities. In Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Eds.), Lesbian psychologies: Explorations and challenges (pp. 19–34). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

    Hennessy, R. (1993). Materialist feminism and the politics of discourse. New York: Routledge.

    hooks, b. (1981). Ain't I a woman? Black women and feminism. Boston: South End Press.

    Humphrey, L. (1972). Out of the closets: The sociology homosexual liberation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Ignatiev, N. (1995). How the Irish became White. New York: Routledge.

    LaSalle, L. A., & Rhoads, R. (1992, April). Exploring campus intolerance: A textual analysis of comments concerning gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Researchers Association, San Francisco, CA.

    Levinas, E. (1985). Ethics and infinity (R. A. Cohen, Trans.). Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

    McLaren, P. (1992). Preface. In J. Sears (Ed.), Sexuality and the curriculum (pp. ix–xiv). New York: Teachers College Press.

    McLaren, P. (1995). Critical pedagogy and predatory culture: Oppositional politics in a postmodern age. London: Routledge.

    Macedo, D. (1995). Literacies of power: What Americans are not allowed to know. Boulder, CO: Westview.

    Morton, D. (1995). Birth of the cyberqueer. Periodical of the Modern Language Association, 110, 369–810.

    National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). (1992). Partial list of colleges and universities with non-dscrimination policies which include sexual orientation. Washington, DC: NGLTF Policy Institute.

    Ponse, B. (1980). Lesbians and their worlds. In J. Marmor (Ed.), Homosexual behavior: A modern reappraisal (pp. 157–175) New York: Basic Books.

    Roediger, D. (1994). Towards the abolition of Whiteness. London: Verso.

    Sedgwick, E. R. (1990). Epistemology of the closet. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Sipchen, B. (1995, September 4). Mission to Iowa broadens fight over moral agenda. Los Angeles Times, pp. 1, 14.

    Sophie, J. (1982). Counseling lesbians. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 60, 341–344.

    Sophie, J. (1985–1986). A critical examination of stage theories of lesbian identity development. Journal of Homosexuality, 12(2), 39–51.

    Tierney, W. G. (1992). Building academic communities of difference. Change, 24, 41–46.

    Unk, G. (Ed.). (1995). The gay teen. New York: Routledge.

    Usher, R., & Edwards, R. (1995). Postmodernism and education. London: Routledge.

    Warren, C. (1974). Identity and community in the gay world. New York: Wiley.

    Westfall, S. B. (1988). Gay and lesbian college students: Identity issues and students affairs. Journal of the Indiana University Student Personnel Association, 1–6.


    1 A sampling of this work can be found in: Robin Usher and Richard Edwards (1995); Henry Giroux (1992); Nicholas Burbules and Suzanne Rice, (1991); Peter McLaren (1995).

    2 A notable exception to this neglect is the collection of essays, primarily by educators, on the topic of gay and lesbian issues in Gerald Unk (1995).

    3 Both the Oregon and Colorado initiatives are substantially similar in their attempt to outlaw current or future legislation to protect the lives of gay and lesbian citizens. In effect, both provisions argue that local governing authorities cannot exercise the power to enact their own laws. The Oregon initiative was defeated; the Colorado measure, as of this writing, is awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

    4 Whether we are gay or straight, we believe that it is important to demystify Whiteness by naming it and working towards its abolition. The construction of gender, sexual identity, and class privilege cannot be divorced from issues of Whiteness and non-Whiteness in arguing the following points. We follow David Roediger (1994), that gay and straight individuals must reject Whiteness as a way of participating in class, anti-racist, and anti-homophobic struggles; and that Whites and People of Color need to work together to combat oppression and to abolish the privileges that reproduce Whiteness. And while many Whites wish to renounce Whiteness, it is not fully possible within a White, capitalist patriarchal society. Yet this realization should not stop us from working towards its abolition. See David Roediger (1994) and Noel Ignatiev (1995).
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    Summer 1996 Issue


    By Vitka Eisen and Irene Hall
    Youth Voices
    Stone Butch Celebration
    A Transgender-Inspired Revolution in Academia
    By Wendy Ormiston
    Negotiating Legacies
    Audre Lorde, W. E. B. DuBois, Marlon Riggs, and Me
    By Townsand Price-Spratlen
    A Gay-Themed Lesson in an Ethnic Literature Curriculum
    Tenth Graders' Responses to "Dear Anita"
    By Steven Z. Athanases
    What Difference Does It Make? The Story of a Lesbian Teacher
    By Carla Washburne Rensenbrink
    Toward a Most Thorough Understanding of the World
    Sexual Orientation and Early Childhood Education
    By Virginia Casper, Harriet K. Cuffaro, Steven Schultz, Jonathan G. Silin, and Elaine Wickens
    Race and Sexual Orientation
    The (Im)possibility of These Intersections in Educational Policy
    By Kathryn Snider
    How We Find Ourselves
    Identity Development and Two Spirit People
    By Alex Wilson
    Manly Men and Womanly Women
    Deviance, Gender Role Polarization, and the Shift in Women's School Employment, 1900-1976
    By Jackie M. Blount
    Researching Dissident Subjectivities
    Queering the Grounds of Theory and Practice
    By Kenn Gardner Honeychurch
    Cornel West on Heterosexism and Transformation
    An Interview
    HER Board

    Book Notes

    Open Lives, Safe Schools
    Edited by Donovan R. Walling

    Uncommon Heroes
    Edited by Phillip Sherman and Samuel Bernstein

    Free Your Mind
    By Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman.

    Becoming Visible
    Edited by Kevin Jennings

    Death By Denial
    By Gary Remafedi

    Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?
    By Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.

    One Teacher in Ten
    By Kevin Jennings

    The Gay Teen
    Edited by Gerald Unks

    Tilting the Tower
    Edited by Linda Garber

    School's Out
    by Dan Woog

    The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader
    Edited by Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin

    Joining the Tribe
    By Linnea Due

    How Would You Feel If Your Dad Was Gay?
    By Ann Heron and Meredith Maran; illustrated by Kris Kovick.

    Helping Gay and Lesbian Youth
    Edited by Teresa DeCrescenzo

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.