University professors aren’t all pomp and circumstance. They, too, experience joy and revel in their accomplishments. And that’s exactly what Dr. Aaron Shaheen, UC Foundation Associate Professor of English, did by literally “jumping for joy” when receiving the news his article would be published in PMLA, the prestigious academic journal of the Modern Language Association.
“The day I received word of the article’s acceptance, I left a faculty meeting early to pick up my son from daycare. Before leaving my office, I checked my email and found the message from the editorial board. My colleagues were still in the faculty meeting, so they didn’t hear the shout for joy, nor did they see me jump around like a maniac through Holt Hall’s second floor. But my wife gave me a big kiss when I got home,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen’s article, “Strolling through the Slums of the Past: Ralph Werther’s Love Affair with Victorian Womanhood in Autobiography of an Androgyne,” connects Werther’s 1918 memoir of strolling in urban centers with issues of transgendered identity and the nineteenth-century notion of womanhood.
“Werther considered himself a woman trapped in a man’s body, and he used his strolls in the slums of New York City at the turn of the century as a way to embrace his feminine identity. These strolls, though usually involving erotic encounters, helped Werther to conceptualize himself simultaneously as a child and as an adult woman,” he said.
Through his research, Shaheen also made the connection between the Victorian and modern concepts of sexuality. According to Shaheen, modern sexuality is still influenced by the strict notions of the Victorian era.
“The Victorian notion of sexuality was largely governed by the idea that sex and gender roughly lined up—that men and women behaved the way they did because they were biologically destined for such activities. When aberrancies popped up, as they inevitably did, professional discourse of the time often relegated them to the realm of pathology. In his self-depiction of a woman trapped in a man’s body, Werther clearly shows how sex and gender traits don’t easily line up,” Shaheen said.
“In today’s world, we have in some key respects gotten away from Victorian-era assumptions about gender polarity; but for all our efforts to deconstruct what male and female or masculine and feminine mean, we still use those very terms to enact those deconstructions. So clearly it means something in our time to be man or a woman, even if it’s not the same thing it meant a hundred years ago or earlier. The terms might draw on different attributes over time, but they don’t seem to disappear,” he continued.