Interview with Benny LeMaster

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Benny LeMaster

Subject

Feminist studies; Feminism; Race; Ethnography; Trans people; Pedagogy; Performance; Minorities in higher education; Sexual minorities in higher education; Hormones

Description

This is an interview with Professor Benny LeMaster. LeMaster is a Professor at Arizona State University where they teach in the The Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. In this interview, LeMaster talks about how they incorporate a feminist and queer approach into their teaching. LeMaster also talks about their unique introduction to feminism and how that introduction has shaped how they teach. LeMaster talks about a class they teach called "Queer and Feminist Arts and Cultures" and how they see queer/feminist pedagogy working well in this course. LeMaster talks about the struggle they see when it comes to using queer/feminist pedagogy in the classroom and how conferences like the Feminist and Queer Pedagogies Workshop at the College of Wooster are so important for pushing the boundaries of education. LeMaster also comments on the importance of student participation in extra-curricular work to enact change on college campuses.

Creator

Harris-Ridker, Matthew
LeMaster, Benny

Publisher

Unpublished

Date

2018-09-14

Contributor

Feminist and Queer Pedagogies Workshop, College of Wooster, funded by the Hewlett-Melon Foundation

Rights

Presented With Permission From Benny LeMaster

In Copyright

Format

Mp3

Language

eng

Type

Moving Image

Identifier

Benny_LeMaster_Interview.mp4

Coverage

Long Beach; Illinois; Arizona; Wooster

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Harris-Ridker, Matthew

Interviewee

LeMaster, Benny

Location

College of Wooster Digital Studio

Transcription

Benny LeMaster Interview

Edited by Matthew Harris-Ridker and Benny LeMaster For Clarity

[00:00:00] MHR: All right. I am Matthew Harris-Ridker, I am a Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies major class of 2019. It is September 14th, 2018 and I'm here with Benny LeMaster. Thank you for coming!

[00:00:15] BL: Absolutely!

[00:00:16] MHR: You're from Arizona State University.

[00:00:19] BL: I am!

[00:00:20] MHR: Awesome! Well, my first question is what is your primary area of study, and how you incorporate a queer or feminist approach in your teaching?

[00:00:26] BL: Sure. I guess I should go back. I just started at Arizona State. I came from California State University Long Beach where I taught primarily in Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies there. That's a whole, sort of, core area of interest. I was an undergraduate major Women's, Gender & Sexuality studies way back when. And so feminism and queerness, but more precisely, intersections of feminism and transness, trans feminism, is a very, sort of, core part of my work. So I start with Cal-State long beach because... as a result of that experience, teaching as much as I was, pedagogy become... became much more of a central, sort of, focus of how I think through these questions. So where I am now, at Arizona State in terms of my professional areas are Critical Cultural Studies and then also Performance Studies. Sort of within those areas, the ways that we perform all manner of privilege and disadvantage in different contexts is generally, I think, how I can reduce it down.

[00:01:31] MHR: Very nice! So, who were some of your biggest influences in feminist and queer pedagogy? This can be like teachers you had, books experiences you've had with people in the field.

[00:01:42] BL: Sure! I would say my first... like the most profound... The person that had most profound impact was Dr. Angela Bowen, who recently just passed away a few months ago. And Angela Bowen was this amazing black radical lesbian feminist and I stumbled into her class because... It was before it was a WGSS major, I stumbled into that class because it was a capstone.

[00:02:08] MHR: Ok.

[00:02:09] BL: And I needed to take a class in diversity. But at the time I wasn't really mindful of criticality, diversity or whatnot. And I had read a poem, we read a lot of poems in her class. I wasn't much into poetry at the time, but it was a poem by Gisele Fong called "Corrosion." And this poem... She unpacks the, sort of, internalized racism as an Asian person. And it was jarring for me as a mixed race Asian-White person that I had never encountered another person willing to admit that they were ridiculing their own family of color. And for me as someone who is often read as white in many different contexts, I'm often couched by white privilege. And so it's easier for me to just keep pushing that away and acting as if it's not impacting me. Angela Bowen was a mentor who when I would come to her saying, "I'm really processing some deep feelings," she didn't cottle me. She pressed me and pushed me to learn more about it and to understand that this is work and labor I have to undergo, that I have to do some internal, sort of, toxins and poisons. And it sort of just sent me on a different trajectory. So much so that, what I was originally going to be which was just a truck driver like from the rest of the people of my family, I chose academia instead. A whole different trajectory. In fact, declaring WGSS as my major as well. So she has a profound impact on me. Second reason why she is important to me is I came to feminism through women of color feminism. And I didn't read or encounter white feminist readings/writings until well into my advanced academic training because of Angela Bowen. And so as a result I have a very unique, sort of, entry point into what feminism means. Especially as it, sort of, interacts with my body. Another key person/figure that's real important to me is Elyse Pineau, Dr.Elyse Pineau. She was at Southern Illinois University where I got my doctorate. And she taught me performative approaches to pedagogy. So Performance Pedagogy is, like, one of her Fortes. And in this regard it's really seeing pedagogy as a fully embodied enterprise that is never distinguishing body from mind, but always both at the same time. And not being afraid to get students on their feet whether that's metaphorical or literally, to do activities, moving the body, performing theories. Don't talk performativity, show us performativity. Don't talk oppression, show us oppression. Put it together in some sort of staged way so that we can then unpack the choices you've made to help us, sort of, make sense of that thing. So in that regard Elyse Pineau really helped me understand the textual component of what we are doing. But then there's also the fully embodied emotional component of what we are doing. And the reality is things like privilege and disadvantage can really hurt or enable us to, sort of, be what we want to be if we have access to privilege. So she really helped me to understand that when we encounter the body we can really understand that those emotions really fuel teaching in a very different sort of way.

[00:05:09] MHR: Yeah! That sounds like a really interesting way to be introduced to all these topics!

[00:05:12] BL: Yeah! I'm very fortunate...

[00:05:14] MHR: Yeah!

[00:05:14] BL: ... to encounter these particular people on my path.

[00:05:16] MHR: Yeah, that's awesome.

[00:05:20] BL: Yeah!

[00:05:20] MHR: When was a time you saw queer or feminist pedagogy have a positive influence, or work well, in the classroom?

[00:05:29] BL: My goodness! Um...

[00:05:31] MHR: It's a big question.

[00:05:32] BL: Sure. I would say probably the most profound impact was... It was in a course that I taught regularly for a number of years, I'm bringing it to ASU now, called "Queer and Feminist Arts and Cultures." And the way that I design this course... It's mostly students who have never encountered performance. The "P" word terrifies them. There may be one theater person who's like, "yay!" The rest are going, "I don't... ugh! But I'm here because I have to take this class." And so what I would do is we move through these three sections, or these three moves. The first was, what does it mean to think of criticism from a queer and feminist perspective, and how can we sort of critique everyday performance of culture? And in that sort of space, a lot of the heavy work is taking place with students in that we are really unpacking the nuances of a structure like cis-heterosexism. How does cis-heterosexism function in the very minut sort of ways? Or how does it order the basic ways that we move through the world, and how can we, sort of, use that as an analytical framework to make sense of everything taking place around us. The second step/stop that we make in the class is then sort of surveying a number of art practices and applying that first framework onto these art practices. So thus we are looking at a painting, talking about the painter, we're listening to music, reading music while we are also unpacking it through this, like, cis-heterosexism or a variety of lenses that we look at. And then the third stop is they each craft their own performative auto-ethnography, is the term that we use/that I use in my work, and then they perform that. It's an original piece of art that they create whether it's on-stage, or they can paint, or make music. I don't care what performance means to you, just make it work. And why was that profound and important to me in the classroom? In terms of a pedagogy that sort of trajectory and work, I saw in students a profound sort of shift in how they understood themselves as being far more empowered and capable of creating something that is of worth. But that also opens them up to criticisms, so that they're open and inviting that criticism. So in that regard they understand that a critique on something like "queerness" doesn't have to be a personal attack. It can be an intellectual pursuit that's really invigorating and tasty, frankly. Like you really want to engage in that sort of work. And the other side of it was a lot of those students left the class... Most of us were just crying by the end of those classes and a lot of that was releasing a lot of internalized toxic shit, basically, and learning how to release it so that we can just be more vulnerable with one another. And I find that to be the most rewarding queer and feminist pedagogical pursuit when we can, sort of, love self and other and hold both in tension so that we're not sort of, you know, narcissistically holding only ourselves, but also understanding that the way I move through the world has impacts on you, on everyone around me. So I found that really productive in that way. Students created something and they had to learn to sit with other peoples' performances and stories, too. And honor those.

[00:08:40] MHR: That sounds like a really cool class! Yeah, I think I'd be one of those students who like... Is like, "I don't want to do performance," but, no, I think that would... Sounds really meaningful and...

[00:08:52] BL: Yeah!

[00:08:52] MHR: ... and stick, probably really sticks with the students and with you.

[00:08:53] BL: A number of them have gone on to create performances...

[00:08:58] MHR: Oh wow!

[00:08:58] BL: ... in communitites still! Some of them do performance work more professionally. And I think its created a whole career for them. Which is beautiful because that's the work that I'm doing! I'm teaching it and I do it from this perspective, but it's lovely to, sort of, offer an alternative. In the same way that Angela Bowman offered me this alternative path. They're sort of seeing these new spaces through this approach.

[00:09:18] MHR: That's awesome. So my next question is what kind of challenges do you think Professors face when bringing either feminist or queer pedagogy into the classrooms. Do you think it's a problem with implementing the techniques, the classroom dynamic, or even, like, hiring. Or how you're reviewed?

[00:09:39] BL: Sure. That's a complex question because it's a structural question. Meaning part of the difficulty is we don't have enough faculty who embody minoritized positions to sort of create a vast network of support. And so in this regard it is to say that for me, as a trans identified person, that means often my colleagues will send their trans students to me because they don't want to bear the brunt. They go, "oh, go talk to that person." But it also means that I don't have many spaces and turn to myself for additional, sort of, support. *inaudible* So there is a structural problem there and that's a real issue across all intersecting identities. But when it comes down to, like, personal experience and struggles, I would say that the biggest struggle is the rampid individualism that currently hoarders most of the U.S., sort of, political landscape. Which is to say in order to teach something like cis-heterosexism or white supremacy we have to frame it in the context of larger, sort of, cultural patterned behaviors so that it's never about "you, the individual" or any individual. It's about both of us. And very unconscious ways sustaining this structure in its, sort of, larger way. I think that that's the biggest challenge is getting through people's egos. People who feel guilty, people who feel really sad, or feel like they're being attacked. That's the brunt of I think the difficulty here. And I find that in my work particularly through queer color criticism, or queer and trans of color criticism, it's understanding that the answer to that problem is often in relationality, and teaching not relationships but this, sort of, political alliance we can create so that you and I are relationally bound. It's not about a formal institutional designation, teacher-student. It's about what you're going through. I'm still committed to you and present with you. That, sort of, relational ethic sort of helps to understand that you might feel guilty but let's pull it away from you and talk about this bigger issue over here. Doesn't mean that it's not important for you. It is to say that we're all dancing together. And some of us it's harder to do the dance if you keep holding it up to make it about you.

[00:11:57] MHR: Yeah, yeah. I think that's a very relevant statement! Yeah. So, my next question is what motivated you to participate in this workshop we're having at Wooster right now, and, I know it's still the morning, but what do you hope to get out of it?

[00:12:15] BL: Sure. I think first and foremost, as a first generation college student who became an academic, pedagogy matters very much to me. Without the support and the people I came in contact with. They kept nurturing and pushing so that I can meet this *inaudible.* And originally as an undergraduate, I find pedagogy to be vital and that sort of frame. The second, teaching is not about the mind. It's about the mind and body. And queer and feminist pedagogy is about trying to combine these and working with other people and *inaudible* around the US and/or the world means having access to strategies that I'm often isolated by myself, and hearing how other people are doing that is really important. Otherwise we are stuck with what we see at either academic conferences, that happen once sometimes twice a year based on whatever it is that you're doing, or it's reading it in published form. And often the published form is difficult to, sort of, discern the, sort of, specifics. Let alone being able to really directly interact with the person who's doing that activity to say, like, "well where's the pushback," and "where did you struggle with this," and "how did you get over... Or did you not find a way through that problem?" So having access to a workshop with other people committed to pedagogy, not just teaching on a forum and then standardizing what the education looks like, but really trying to think about education from a philosophical perspective and what we can change and do with it is very exciting for me. So this, sort of, opportunity is right up my alley.

[00:13:47] MHR: Yeah!

[00:13:47] BL: And then, also, helps me to understand that I'm not alone in some ways.

[00:13:55] MHR: Yeah! I think these, like, conferences that Wooster's having is really cool to just bring them together...

[00:13:58] BL: Yeah!

[00:13:58] MHR: ... all these people who are within that same Discipline, but also just have so many different ideas and thoughts so...

[00:14:04] BL: Absolutely! Yeah, yeah!

[00:14:05] MHR: ... thank you for coming!

[00:14:05] BL: Absolutely!

[00:14:05] MHR: So before we finish, is there anything that you want to talk about more, or haven't brought up, or want to elaborate on?

[00:14:13] BL: I would... so in terms of, like, this being archived here, I think that it would be important for me to voice some of the extracurricular work that I've done. And the reason for that is hoping to always encourage others to do similar work. So where I was teaching recently at Cal-State University Long Beach, there were two other out trans faculty members. I would've been the third. The other two had tenure track, sort of, secured positions. I was not. I was an adjunct and temporary. So I didn't have the institutional support in the same way. But those other two were already, sort of, spread pretty thin with where they were doing their work. And what I found where I was located was a community of trans students who didn't have access to someone who could focus on them in any sort of concerted way. And what I crafted what are... I call them "TEG" which is the Trans Empowerment Groups. It's not really a support group. It's empowerment in that we don't necessarily rehearse trauma and end the conversation there. We rehearse trauma and use that as a starting point for political action. So in that regard through TEG it sort of created this community of trans identified people, very broadly defined. And my, sort of, larger work... my training, my pedagogy meant that in this space it was a, sort of, free open forum discussion. I particularly paid attention to moments where I was hearing the internalization of, like, cissexism in the body and using that as a point to intervene to say, "let's reframe what I'm hearing right now. How can we reconceptualize this sort of experience." And the, sort of, long term effect of that has been institutional change starting from students. Like CSU Long Beach now will be, I think, the first in CSU system to have access to hormones with student fees, for instance, which is a huge win for the students. It also means that we've had more access to more bathrooms on campus that are gender neutral. It also means increasing... like they just hired a full-time tenure track Assistant Professor in Trans Studies. Like a full professor now dedicated to this work in the WGSS program as well. And a lot of that begins with the students in this, sort of, empowerment model. Let's say you're missing something but let's not stop there. What would remedy that and what is possible based on what we have access to here?

[00:16:46] MHR: Yeah!

[00:16:46] BL: So, I found it really useful.

[00:16:48] MHR: Yeah!

[00:16:48] BL: And it's all based on this... this pedagogy.

[00:16:51] MHR: That's awesome!

[00:16:51] BL: Yeah!

[00:16:52] MHR: I think that's really cool! Shows the power of, like, students can do things too. It's not just all in the administration...

[00:17:00] BL: Yeah!

[00:17:01] MHR: ... and professors.

[00:17:01] BL: Yeah, well, and that's the thing is that I think that any feminist and queer tradition, any radical sort of political tradition, we have to understand that people always have the power. So if students need space students have to demand the space. As a faculty member it falls on administrative ears in some regard. Which is to say, "OK well great! We all need a space!" When students take over and figure it out for themselves, that's what change happens. I have been asking for hormones at my campus... I was I also was an undergrad there, that's where I met Angela Bowen way back when. And I'd been asking for access to hormones since then, which was the early 2000s. And it took this whole time, finally being a faculty member, knowing this, finally, to understand more students need to press this. And we were able to make it happen. Which is, you know, a bummer that it took, you know, 15 years or so to finally be able to recognize what people like myself, and others before me had been fighting for for such a long time. But it was really having a voice at the time. I was alone. Now there are more people.

[00:18:02] MHR: Now there's community of people, that's awesome!

[00:18:04] BL: Yeah!

[00:18:04] MHR: Sounds like very awesome work!

[00:18:09] BL: Yay!

[00:18:10] MHR: Well, those are all the questions I have.

[00:18:11] BL: Great!

[00:18:11] MHR: Thank you so much for coming to this workshop and being a part of this interview!

[00:18:15] BL: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Yay!

Original Format

Moving Image

Duration

00:18:15

Files

Citation

Harris-Ridker, Matthew and LeMaster, Benny, “Interview with Benny LeMaster,” WGSS at Wooster: Past, Present, and Future , accessed July 22, 2024, https://woosterdigital.org/wgssatwoo/items/show/78.