As a queer girl from a small high school, I was predictably excited to come to the University of Texas. I thought that I would finally find the queer community I never had in high school.
However, I found it incredibly difficult to find an entry to this community. I made a handful of queer friends and could see through Twitter that others had found LGBTQ+ groups, but I still felt incredibly separated and distant.
Then, junior year, I took my first queer studies class, Queer Art and Activism, with lecturer Curran Nault. It was clear on the first day, with the classroom full of cuffed jeans and hair that covered the spectrum of the rainbow, that the class was majority LGBTQ+.
I had never been in a class like this one.
In my other classes, even at such a liberal university, I have felt uncomfortable disclosing my queerness. As an American studies student, the topic of the LGBTQ+ community would occasionally arise. And when it did, I would feel intense anxiety, worried that my classmates would be carelessly, or worse aggressively, homophobic or transphobic.
But in that class, there was an unspoken level of care that made even the most difficult topics manageable. It was a space we could be ourselves, discuss our history and founding mothers like Marsha P. Johnson and be openly and academically queer. I believe queer studies classes are vital spaces of community and growth for queer students.
Not only did I learn more about queer history, activism and art than I could have imagined, I grew as a young queer woman. I felt welcomed and accepted by my classmates, felt empowered to tell stories about ex-girlfriends, gay bars and other queer hijinks, saw myself in the figures we studied and hung onto every word of the openly queer professor.
Nault was instrumental in the creation of the community in our class. He is kind and caring, and made all of us feel heard and seen. Nault is also incredibly enmeshed in Austin’s queer culture. He heads multiple events, including OUTsider fest, a queer art and music festival that he gave us all free tickets to as a field trip.
We also visited the Blanton as a class, and some of us even met him at a queer event to celebrate the end of the semester. To merge these experiences with our academics, Nault’s syllabus essays analyzing the events and spaces, and in the case of the Blanton, we wrote about how to queer the museum.
Being with my queer classmates on these trips gave me the community I had been searching for, and Nault provided the framework for us to not only learn from each other, but enjoy the process as well.
Reading, writing and learning about queer activists and artists who fought for queer liberation made me feel like part of the community and empowered to follow in their footsteps.
All students can benefit from queer classes, but for LGBTQ+ students they can be vital sources of community and hope. Our history is a long and fascinating story of hardship, exclusion, violence, and at the core of it all, the unique love that is queer camaraderie.
Professor Nault’s class changed my perspective on so much, but most importantly he made me proud to be part of this history.
We need to provide more explicitly queer classes at UT, along with more resources and opportunities for queer professors and students to create welcoming spaces.
Queer classes expand the scope of academia for our university, providing a new perspective for all students. The academic advancement will be as valuable as the emotional and societal benefits.
Wernsman is an American Studies senior.