Kris Trujillo is an assistant professor in Comparative Literature. He specializes in medieval Christian mysticism, Latinx literature, and queer theory.

My interest in queer historiography and queer engagements with premodernity rests in their potential to reimagine sexuality, desire, eroticism, intimacies, and the body as heterogenous and capacious concepts. The emergence of homosexuality and heterosexuality is but one of the ways that stories about sex and sexuality have been told.

For example, Christian mystical poetry often turns to the figures of the bride and the bridegroom, which derive from the Song of Songs, and commentators on that text often take the role of the bride as the lover of Christ or of the Christian God. Of course, this produces different meanings when the author of a text identifies as a man or a woman. For some scholars, the assumption of the role of the bride by a thinker like Bernard of Clairvaux, a twelfth-century Cistercian, or John of the Cross, a sixteenth-century Carmelite, might render the trope of mystical union as queer. They read these texts as “literary drag,” gender inversion, or a seemingly homosexual sex act described in figurative terms.

However, the question that concerns me and animates my first book, tentatively titled “Mystical Poetics,” is how the excessive and often self-shattering desire between the divine and the human challenges our assumptions about what sex is. Premodern theories of language and music are fundamentally tied to the body, the senses, and desire, and queer theory offers a useful vocabulary in analyzing the erotics of mystical poetry.

In general, I’m much more interested in the act of queering than the ontology of queerness. What if we imagine the production of queer theory as the cultivation of certain aesthetic and political desires and devotions? In other words, what if we analyze the practices of queer theorizing in the same way we analyze the devotional practices that organize Christian contemplation? Are there continuities between the practices of reading and writing, for example, that shape these contemplative traditions? And might these continuities across historical periods challenge the assumed secularity of queer theory?

I address these questions in another book project, tentatively titled “Queer Melancholia,” which understands the very practice of writing queer theory as an act of mourning. The book begins with the observation that Sigmund Freud’s 1917 essay “Mourning and Melancholia” became such an important text in the 1980s and 1990s to critical projects like feminist theory, queer theory, the study of race and ethnicity, and postcolonial studies.

The book then examines what it might mean to think about that body of readers as a community affectively bound to this text, to each other, and to shared grief. I suggest that to understand queer theory as the work of mourning—especially in light of the early AIDS crisis—renders it just as invested in caring for the dead as it is in imagining the flourishing of new queer futures. By framing queer theorizing as a practice, we might undo the assumed distinction between the contemplative and active life, between theory and political action, or, in Douglas Crimp’s terms, between mourning and militancy.

Leslie Buxbaum Danzig is an assistant professor of practice in the arts and the director of undergraduate studies in Theater and Performance Studies. In Autumn Quarter 2021, she taught a Humanities Signature Course in the College, Queering the American Family Drama.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a script that will likely turn into some form of musical: a queering of the American family drama. In the process, I’ve grown more attentive to the varied presences—and lack of presence—of queer families on stage. Which drew me to look for more examples, which of course then led to the question of what actually constitutes such a family. Is it something literally on stage? Or is it created/conjured through active spectatorship? Do we in a sense bring what we are looking for to our encounter with a staged production?

That process led me to want to spend more time with these questions and develop a course around them.

Each class took the form of a seminar-studio, where we moved between discussion and performance activities. We’d take a question from that week’s readings such as, how do these plays “play with” the idea of normal? Then students would choose a fairy tale and perform the story over and over again, each time queering a different element. Or they’d create family trees working with ideas of queer kinship. Or create audio pieces orchestrating conflicting experiences of a single event.

We read both queer theory and plays, and within all the plays we read, there were characters who identified as queer. But the plays also experimented with form and challenged how we think of spectatorship. We’d often start with, “This is queer because of this character,” and then say, “Let’s take that off the table. How else would we think about it?”

One way to look at a play is that there’s stasis, a kind of stability of a world or a situation. Then there’s intrusion, the thing that disrupts the stasis and sets off this domino effect of conflict until you get resolution; then you either restore the old stasis or you’re in a new stasis at the end.

It’s a very graspable way to think about plays. But it gets complicated quickly, because where the stasis is depends on where you put your frame of analysis. If you expand beyond the fictional world of the play and you think of the whole theater, then your stasis could also be the expectations your audience brings in for what the starting “normal” is.

In the last play we read, Hir by Taylor Mac, a few students explored framing. It’s a queer, disturbed world—that is the stasis. The intrusion is when the son comes home from serving in the military, and he imposes this “normal” onto the queer family home life.

As the quarter progressed, we started to use the verb “to queer” in a fairly loose way. But then it felt like it lost its tether to the stakes of more radical thinking and to power and justice and inequality. I feel like we went on a ride to let it expand—and then we had to rein it in. I’m eager now to go back and think about my script in ways I’ve done for all these other plays. Mine already has a playfulness in terms of its form, but I’m recharged to push things even further.

Photo Creds: 
Image of “Saint Bernard de Clairvaux” by Jean Morin (seventeenth century), courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1945.