“We Interrupt this Program”: The Multidimensional Histories of Queer and Trans Politics

“We Interrupt this Program”: The Multidimensional Histories of Queer and Trans Politics

Professor Roderick Ferguson

In 1991, the arts organizations Visual AIDS and The Kitchen collaborated with video artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas to produce the live television broadcast “We Interrupt this Program.” Part educational presentation, part performance piece, the show was aired in millions of homes across the nation. The program, in The Kitchen’s words, “sought to feature voices that had often been marginalized within many discussions of AIDS, in particular people of color and women.”

This course builds upon and is inspired by this aspect of Atlas’s visionary presentation, an aspect that used the show to produce a critically multicultural platform that could activate cultural histories and critical traditions from various communities. In effect, the course uses this aspect as a metonym for the racial, gender, sexual, and class heterogeneity of queer art and organizing.  Additionally, the course extends the show’s theory of art and politics as conjoined social practices. For the show, this was necessarily the case in a moment in which neither government nor industry could be relied on to resolve the devastations of HIV/AIDS, the ravages of poverty, or the consequences of heteropatriarchy, transphobia, and racism. Indeed, the show demonstrated how those issues had to sit within the same critical and artistic space precisely because of the fact that they overlapped in the social world. The show also tried to use art and politics as practices that could together bring new social orders into being. The show’s undergraduate namesake marshals this orientation to argue that an interdisciplinary and intersectional engagement with sexual politics is the only appropriate way to meet the multidimensional crises of our contemporary moment.  

While starting with “We Interrupt this Program,” the course moves back and forth in time, investigating various social struggles waged by LGBTQ folks. It conducts its investigation by looking at a variety of primary materials that illustrate the heterogeneous makeup of queer and trans politics. The course also draws on more recent texts and visual works that arose from the earlier contexts that the primary texts helped to illuminate and shape. The course uses a lecture format that integrates discussion during class time. 


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