Red Tremmel trailblazes in gender, sexuality studies

Hannah Mayer, Staff Reporter

Tulane University’s Department of Gender and Sexuality studies is a rather new and interdisciplinary program that allows students to “investigate gender and sexuality as social, cultural, and political phenomena.” Professor Red Vaughan Tremmel founded the Office for Gender and Sexual Diversity in 2012, in addition to serving as a senior vice professor of practice.

Professor R. Tremmel
Gabe Darley

In 2009, Tremmel began their work at Tulane serving as a visiting assistant professor in history and gender and sexuality studies. 

During their time at Tulane, Tremmel’s research looks at the history of pleasure and play for marginalized groups, including what things they do in their personal life that allow for them to feel less disenfranchised. 

“We know from decades of research that systemic inequity operates in part by creating sensations that the world is rigidly fixed and inevitably unfair,” Tremmel said.

In their research, Tremmel notes that “free” time has made an immense impact on the dynamics of pleasure and play. 

“During our ‘free’ time we are more likely to experience surprises, mingle with people we may not know, engage in improvisation, and try on different ideas as well as aspects of ourselves,” Tremmel said. “‘Free’ time has been pivitol in the inception of jazz, drag, queer politics, labor unions, and all sorts of art.”

In totality, Tremmel’s research focuses on four main areas — the change in attitudes towards and the use of ‘free’ time and pleasure throughout the industrial revolution and crisis, the rise of businesses which provide and are centered around pleasure, specifically in regards to tourism, the racialization of places designed for play and the beginnings feminine performance styles which are centered around comedy or are sexual.

Tremmel came out at the beginning of the AIDS crisis and noted the difficulties that queer people encountered at that time. This included the way in which the government and pharmaceutical companies responded to the HIV crisis — ignoring it — as it was commonly labelled to be a “gay cancer.

“I regularly walked around with the fear that I would be “queer bashed” because we all [knew] a friend or a friend of a friend who had experienced violence for simply walking down the street,” Tremmel said. “In the media there were very few representations of queer people aside from those who committed suicide or were serial killers. It wasn’t until ACT-UP’s public health campaigns on subways and buses that we started to see positive images of ourselves.”

In the higher education system, Tremmel notes that there is clear and apparent anti-queer bias. While Tremmel experienced vandalism to their Newcomb Hall office and notes a lack of inclusive restroom facilities, they believe that the lack of representation of marginalized groups as professors is the greatest bias in the higher education system. 

“The consequence of this discrimination is profound — not only for the individuals who have trained for many years to become historians, but also to the field and to the world more broadly,” Tremmel said.

Tremmel has served for seven years on an “international research collective, alongside other artists and scholars who come together to discuss and experiment with different applications of queer, feminist, and decolonial knowledge production.”

As a young scholar, Tremmel studied history and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison prior to receiving a doctorate in history from the University of Chicago. Before beginning their time at Tulane, Tremmel taught at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

When asked how they aspire to influence their students, Tremmel said that they hope to introduce them to the important conversations surrounding gender, sexuality, race and so on — especially when it comes to the views of different generations. 

“I see it as my job to give them conceptual tools and methodologies to critically approach these incredibly important topics,” Tremmel said.

“We are living at a moment of incredible change and generationally we are experiencing great divides,” Tremmel said. “I hope students will share their perspectives and insights about this moment in world history — not only in the classroom but also by becoming researchers themselves.”