GLBT Student Support Services Office helps facilitate author Jane Ward’s visit to IU

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Jacob Boss, an IU Ph.D. student in religious studies, admits that he was predisposed not to agree with the premise of author Jane Ward’s controversial book. After reading it, however, Boss found himself not only convinced by Ward’s evidence, but inviting her to IU Bloomington’s campus to discuss her book, Not Gay.

“I was surprised to recognize how violently I reacted against men who identified a certain way and who acted a certain way, and how that violent impulse and that reaction to say, ‘No, you’re gay,’ meaning you’re holding your political solidarity away from us,” explained Boss, a member of the graduate-student organization Grad Queers. “Her work has done a lot to ameliorate that resentment in my heart, that anger and resentment. I see things in a new light now, thanks to her work, which I think all scholars hope for. It was a very affecting work for the members of Grad Queers who read it.”

Not Gay focuses on how some straight, white men have engaged in homosexual sex, yet don’t self-identify as gay. Ward, an associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of California-Riverside with a background in sociology, uses archival material to discuss sexual identity.

“She manages to pack a lot of content into a short book. The main argument the book is organized around has to do with the way sexuality, gender, and race control identity in this culture, and how dramatically that’s changed over the past 120, 130 years—just the shocking amount of change that’s gone on in who we’re allowed to be and who people see us as,” said Boss. 

“There’s a long history of trying to figure out what it means to be straight while having homosexual relationships. One of the most provocative parts of the book for me is the discussion of the Gay Right Movement, and the way in which the idea of the closet and the imperative that filled the emerging gay rights culture—that everyone’s in the closet and everyone needs to come out of the closet—and surprisingly, it interacted with conservative communities of faith that adopted that message. She has some striking examples of people who engaged in homosexual or gay behavior who are not seen as gay in their communities.”

It’s an incredibly relevant book, a gender and sexuality studies work that speaks to the very large segment of the population that identifies as white and straight, and it says things that it needs to hear.

Director of the GLBT Student Support Services Office, Doug Bauder

Through the GLBT Student Support Services Office, a program within IU’s Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA), Boss arranged for Ward to visit IU Bloomington last week. The event was co-sponsored by IU’s Gender Studies and Religious Studies departments, reflecting the broad audience that was intrigued by the historical evidence in Not Gay.

“We are so fortunate to have students like Jacob, who get excited about something, come here to ask for a little help, and allow us to steer them in the right direction and work with them,” said Doug Bauder, director of the GLBT Student Support Services Office. “We contacted the deans at multiple schools at IU and I was surprised that several of them wrote back and said, ‘This sounds fascinating.’ We don’t do this all that often, but it just seemed to me to have such a broad appeal that I took the time to contact people in each department that I knew to say, ‘I think this is something that your students might like.’”

The event, held last Thursday at the Indiana Memorial Union’s Frangipani Room, attracted a robust crowd, perhaps partly due to Ward referencing an 1970s-era IU fraternity in the book. For her part, Ward, who stayed long after the reception to talk to attendees, hoped her talk gave the onlookers in attendance, ”a more complex and nuanced understanding of heterosexuality.”

Asked why he thought Ward would be well-received at IU—no stranger to welcoming groundbreaking theories about sexuality, going back to Professor Alfred Kinsey—Boss said, “She’s really funny and really approachable, and her writing has wit and bite.

“It’s an incredibly relevant book, a gender and sexuality studies work that speaks to the very large segment of the population that identifies as white and straight, and it says things that it needs to hear,” added Boss. “This book has had a really powerful impact on me, because I was really mad at people who identified as straight and had sex with men. I saw them as closeted and while many straight white men still perpetuate toxic masculinity and insist there’s only one way to be a man, thanks to Jane’s book, I have a new perspective on why and have better understanding of the difficulty of living in such a tightly constrained space.

“My feelings have changed.”