Killing 'jokes'

February 4, 2010

It is hardly surprising that the University of Nottingham's complaints procedures have absolved one professor of offending a gay colleague in an email containing a flaccid joke about "faggots" ("Inquiry cleared astronomer over RAE 'faggot' posting", 28 January). This kind of behaviour is sanctioned every day in our supposedly intelligent sector.

I have spent my whole career - no less today than in previous decades - enduring jokes about "sodomy" and "pederasty" that heterosexual male colleagues think are adult and sophisticated. The offence they cause is always, I guess, "unintentional", regardless of their effect on me or on others who overhear them. To object is to identify oneself as being not only humourless but also "not a team player" in professional and institutional terms.

Incidentally, on the opposite page ("Scholar's 'queer' curiosity tract"), Times Higher Education responds with astonishment to the fact that someone has written a book about "queer Dickens". In fact, people have been viewing Dickens through this prism for many years. I recall Angus Wilson lecturing on male-male desire in a Dickens story when I was an undergraduate in 1973.

Gregory Woods, Professor of gay and lesbian studies, Nottingham Trent University.

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