Why Queer History Is Important
As an undergraduate, my major was history. One of the most important things I learned from my study of history is that history is not only relevant to the present, but extremely also value-laden and described in a different way by almost every narrator. Part of the ongoing struggle for social justice in the present is the fight to define the past.
Part of this fight is simply including topics like sexuality, gender, queerness, race, disability, imperialism, etc. etc. in our teaching of history. When history curricula fail to include these elements, students are never given an opportunity to question the values passed down by their parents, and you get the clincher, what I call the way it’s always been argument.
I got a taste of that argument on the train yesterday, when a man next to me was talking on his cell phone about his gay son. He expressed feelings of disgust to the woman on the other end of the line, but what he kept coming back to was the “men having sex with men isn’t natural” argument. The specifics were a mix of bad history, bad theology, and bad biology–men in relationships is a recent perversion, the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is wrong, and we are the only species where males have sex with other males.
This is a case where mere exposure to alternative facts could make a difference in a child’s life.
I’m not saying that people aren’t stubborn, or that they won’t argue back. I know that for every sex-positive or queer-positive curriculum, there’s a conservative argument that espouses the opposite with facts to back it up. But some things are kind of hard to disprove. Biology isn’t my field, but I bet I could find you a couple of male animals of some species that like to get it on. Just like I can provide countless examples of queerness throughout history.
The man on the train may never change, and his son may never know what it’s like to have a father who loves him for who he is. But we can educate ourselves about our history and share it with others, and we can support the introduction of wider history curricula in our schools, and those of us who are interested in history can ask some direct questions in our research about who’s writing the articles, and who’s being left out.