Gender & Sexuality Studies (GSS) major Dylan Goodman '16 is the 2016 Sally G. McMillen Prize winner for his honors thesis, "Rainbow Nations & Orientalist Closets: Queer Representation of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine."
Goodman analyzed literary texts about Israeli/Palestinian LGBTQ lovers, conducted research and interviews of LGBTQ individuals in Israel, and wrote a one-man performance piece based on those interviews, which will premiere today in Davidson's 900 Room of the Alvarez College Union at 9 p.m.
By exploring how LGBTQ people are viewed and treated in Israel, Goodman said, he was able also to delve into the "reductive, simplistic narratives" of what Israel is, a place that is inherently tied to the United States, and inherently viewed as a positive force in the Middle East.
"I wanted to push back against this simplistic dichotomy and find out what is not being said," he noted.
Goodman began with the academic analysis of two films, Out in the Dark and The Bubble, similar stories of love affairs between a gay Israeli and a gay Palestinian, "tragic Romeo and Juliet style romance," Goodman said.
Then, with funding through Davidson's Dean Rusk International Studies Program, he traveled to Israel to interview more than 10 subjects in depth about LGBTQ life and issues.
The trip was personally revelatory, too, he said, for him as a diasporic Jew from Raleigh, North Carolina.
"As an American Jew in Israel, I was walking into a community that was ‘made for me,' even though it was not my community, language or culture. I've not lived with the reality of being a majority," he said.
His own sexual identity put him simultaneously in the minority, too, but he approached that status as an advantage to his interview work.
"My own queerness was a point of access and trust," he said.
From these twin vantage points of his own identity, Goodman said he saw clearly that what happens on higher, more political levels does not always match the reality of individual lives on the ground.
He drew on that tension to craft his performance, which is based on fully inhabiting characters inspired by his Israeli interviewees.
On campus, Goodman was an early leader in establishing open, gender-neutral residence hall spaces, including bathrooms. And such specific issues are in some ways mere emblems of larger ones, and work yet to be done.
"I think we're living in a historical moment, post-marriage-equality, where it seems like the issues are dealt with, and that's not true at all [for many marginalized populations]," he said. "Marriage is just an access point for people who already had the resources to get married.
"I guess I don't want to see gay people blend in as much as I want more straight people to feel a little more gay."
Goodman, who holds a Belk Scholarship, said Davidson and the Gender and Sexuality Studies program have provided fertile ground and strong support for his education in the broadest sense.
"Davidson struck me as a place where community and education were one and the same. By coming here, I was going to become not only a more intelligent person, but a more civic-minded person," he said.