In this installment of Author showcase we talk with Ula Lukszo Klein. Ula Lukszo Klein is an Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, TX. Her research interests include eighteenth-century literature, feminism and gender studies, and film and popular culture.
Q What inspired you to focus your career and writings on women’s and gender studies
My doctoral program gave me the opportunity to pursue a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies and to teach in that program, and I found the classes really spoke to me on many levels. I’d always considered myself a feminist and an advocate for LGBTQ rights, but having the opportunity to study these topics from an academic point of view showed me that I could make a career out of these interests, too.
Q Did you learn anything while researching Sapphic Crossings: Cross-Dressing Women in Eighteenth-Century British Literature, that could help us contextualize some the issues society is dealing with at the moment in regard to gender?
Absolutely. My goal in my research had always been to see how gender and bodies were understood in the past as a way of understanding our issues today from a new point of view. The fact that sapphic relationships were known about in the eighteenth century and even written about (or celebrated) should make us all pause when politicians and pundits today argue that homosexuality is “not natural” or it’s something “new” or “made up.” Beyond that, however, specifically researching the representations of women who dressed and/or lived partly as men showed how the attitude towards individuals who crossed gender lines has always been ambivalent. Specifically, female husbands, or women who lived as men and married and had sex with other women, were most particularly singled out as transgressive or dangerous, while “romantic friends” who were perceived to be asexual were afforded more social acceptability. Today we still have problems accepting female sexuality as real and valuable, while homosexuality is castigated as not “family friendly” for its supposed emphasis on sex. Clearly those concerns and taboos have a much longer history than many realize.
Q What has been the most surprising thing you have learned about the role of gender in the past?
I think what surprised me the most was simply the fact that gender fluidity and sexual nonconformity were so often written about in mainstream publications of the eighteenth century.
Q Besides being an author you have been a professor for 13 years, do you have a philosophy when it comes to the best ways to educate students?
I believe it is important to remember as an instructor to be open to learning from your students as well. Treating students as equals and fully-fledged human beings, being willing to learn from them, and engaging them in conversation and project-based learning have always been important components of being an educator for me.
Q Do you think participating in roller derby gave you any insights into your studies that you might not have gotten from just reading books?
Doing roller derby brought me into contact with groups of people and particularly women, femme persons, and persons assigned female at birth who inhabited their bodies and genders in various ways. The roller derby community is generally very open and accepting of LGBTQ identities in addition to promoting body acceptance. I enjoyed being part of that community and seeing how people embraced their bodies and desires in real life, as opposed to just in books and archives.
Q I know your new book Sapphic Crossings: Cross-Dressing Women in Eighteenth-Century British Literature just came out, but do you have any thoughts on your next project?
I have a lot of ideas so far, but I’m not sure where exactly I’ll land next. I’ve been toying with some ideas relating to tourism and queerness; lesbian celebrity in the eighteenth century; as well as queer readings of Jane Austen, but I’m not sure yet which direction I’ll go.
Q} if people want more info about you or your projects where should they go?
Final four questions –we ask everybody
Q) When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
Hiding in my basement
Q ) What is your favorite Fandom?
Wynnona Earp and Our Flag Means Death
Q) What piece of art, be it in the form of music, a book, a film or picture, do you think people must experience before they die?
The Todd Haynes film Carol is absolutely stunning.
Q) Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?
I have walked on hot coals.