Twelve for ’12 (continued)

Ty Blakeney studied the politics of queer literature and taught English and math to middle-schoolers.
Photo by Matt D'Annunzio

Tyler Blakeney French

Hometown: Smyrna, Georgia

Advisers: Bill Ray [French 1972–] and Hugh Hochman [French 1999–]

Thesis: Toward a Critical Queer Literature

What it’s about: I explored different ways of thinking about queer literature and how these models functioned politically. I then proposed my own model.

What it’s really about: How queer people read books, and how the act of reading can be political.

When I got to Reed I was: A coffee shop kid interested in literature. Few classes were offered here in queer theory, but because my professors were accommodating and open-minded, it was easy for me to study my area of interest through existing classes, independent study, and thesis work.

Influential book: Eve Sedgwick’s book Touching Feeling talks about how we construct our identities and live day to day, especially as a gay person. It’s important to have a critical engagement with how you identify.

Favorite spot: The third floor of Vollum where the French department is.

Cool stuff I did: I got to live in France for a year through Reed’s study abroad program and do an independent study with Luc Monnin [French 2004–] on queer 19th-century literature. I really enjoyed doing educational service work through SEEDS, reading with first graders, and helping teach English and math to middle school students.

How Reed changed me: Reed improved my critical thinking skills. In conference I realized that the way you communicate your thoughts is almost as important as the thoughts themselves, especially if you want people to actually listen to you.

Scholarships, awards, financial aid: I received an Opportunity Grant to present a paper at a conference in Istanbul, a grant to do research for Ann Delehanty [French 2000–], and a Ruby Grant to study 17th-century imaginative travel fiction in French with Ann this summer.

What’s next: I plan to teach English in France next year and eventually get a PhD in French literature.

Thesis expanded: 

Queer people read books in two dominant ways, by identifying with the text and author or seeing the book as something that totally destabilizes identity. In addition to studying queer authors, I read case studies of hypnotists trying to “heal” gay people in the late 19th century. Hypnosis actually contributed to modern gay identity because the same doctors doing the hypnosis were writing seminal texts classifying gay people as a species. Through the lens of hypnosis some parts of male gay identity were solidified, including the idea of effeminacy. Originally supposed to cure hysterical women, hypnosis worked best on people with weaker constitutions. There was a jump from hysterical women to gay men. The basic conception was that a woman’s soul was trapped in a man’s body. In the 1890s we started getting some more sympathetic accounts arguing that it was a natural identity and gay people couldn’t actually change it.

VIDEO: Tyler Blakeney

When I Snap My Fingers, You Will Remember Nothing. Tyler Blakeney ’12 explored how hypnosis was used as a cure for homosexuality in the 19th century.