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Sexuality and Society Week 13 Queer Theory. QUEER derived from the Latin TORQUERE – ‘to twist’ Queer as odd, strange, out of place Queer as insult, i.e.

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Presentation on theme: "Sexuality and Society Week 13 Queer Theory. QUEER derived from the Latin TORQUERE – ‘to twist’ Queer as odd, strange, out of place Queer as insult, i.e."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sexuality and Society Week 13 Queer Theory

2 QUEER derived from the Latin TORQUERE – ‘to twist’ Queer as odd, strange, out of place Queer as insult, i.e. queer as a term of abuse taken up as a positive identification. Popularisation of Queer – Queer as Folk; Queer Eye for the Straight Guy etc.

3 Outline 1.Outline what QT is and some of its origins and key arguments. 2.Highlight what, according to the proponents of QT, is so radical and important about it and why we should take it seriously if we are going to take sexuality seriously from a sociological perspective. 3.Offer some critiques of QT

4 Historical origins Emergence of Queer through ‘in your face’ grassroots activism around gender and sexuality – ACT UP (Aids coalition to Unleash Power) New York 987 QUEER NATION 1990 – “In calling ourselves Queer we take back a name that has been used as a weapon against us, and turn it into a symbol of our power and our pride”. Critical response to lesbian feminism which seemed to submerge sexuality into feminism, for instance Rich’s lesbian-feminism. Its relation to feminist theory therefore complex, as seen in title of recent book Coming Out of Feminism?

5 Queer theory Shares characteristics of post-structural thinking – not a new –‘ism’, but interested in breaking things down (de-constructing). This makes it easier to say what it is against than what it says. Disrupts alleged stability between ‘biological sex’, gender and sexual desire. Challenges heterosexuality. Heterosexuality unstable and insecure and depends on carefully constructed individual performances and also the constant denial and exclusion of homosexuality as an equal possibility for sexual desire and identification.

6 Different from lesbian, gay and bisexual studies that seek to make the mainstream more accepting of marginal lesbian and gay lifestyles – but in doing so reproduce binary distinction between heterosexuality as the ‘normal’ and homosexuality as the ‘other’. QT queers the mainstream – showing it to not be ‘normal’ at all.

7 Different from feminist approaches which tend to reproduce the binaries between ‘men and ‘women’. QT aims to break down these differences and show that the categories of ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are artificial and not rigid binaries.

8 Gender is a fiction. We are not ‘really’ ‘women’ and ‘men’ – we just perform it. Judith Butler – ‘It’s girl!’ – gender needs to be named and performed. Sex and gender not natural but we must work hard to make them real. Butler - we are gendered as either man or woman in the interests of the ‘heterosexual matrix’ – which ‘designates that grid of cultural intelligibility through which bodies, gender and desires are naturalised’. There is nothing natural about heterosexuality and so in order for us to accept it and conform to it our genders must be forcibly assigned and rigorously policed to keep us correctly gendered. Gender is ‘performative;, in the sense that performing it brings it into being. Can use other performative speech acts as examples.

9 But we do not all keep correctly gendered. One in every 2,000 infants INTERSEX and gender forcibly assigned (see UK Intersex association ) Multiple examples of ‘queer’ subjects showing the ‘failure’ of the gender binary. Drag is a ‘copy of a copy’

10 Butler influenced by Foucault too: social construction of ‘the homosexual’, and its maintenance/naturalisation by the gay movement. Identities are ‘regulatory fictions’, so challenge political movements based around identities (e.g. the gay movement, feminism) since they only entrench these identities and naturalise them, rather than exposing their artificiality.

11 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick The Epistemology of the Closet Studies the centre of English literature. Oppositions and binaries limit understanding.

12 What can we learn from queer theory?  Exposes the sexual power that is embodied in social life (particularly enforced through boundaries and binary divisions). Helps us see forces of gender and heterosexuality organizing other parts of our life that are not obviously sexual  Important to study the centre and not just the margins. The focus in not just on, for example, lesbian and gay people but on all people’s gendered and sexual performances.  We need to think seriously and critically about gender and not just take it for granted – this can be hard as we are all invested in the gender order and cannot escape it even if we choose to be critical of it.  Identities are not fixed but constructed, fluid and transitive.  Political action has potential to be transformative by doing things that expose the vulnerability of apparently powerful institutions like heterosexuality.  Rather than just focusing on civil rights strategies, queer tactics involve carnival, transgression and play.

13 Criticisms  Theoretical work can be abstract - accused of being elitist.  Erasure of gender? What about gender inequalities?  By using Queer as a gender neutral term it is possible that lesbians’ experiences will be ignored or subsumed under gay men’s.  Neglects the material conditions of people’s lives.  Takes social constructionism too far?

14 Conclusions Not a fixed position or standpoint. Because the job of queer theory is to deconstruct and critique, that includes a deconstruction and critique of QT itself.

15 J. Weeks on Sedgwick (and implicitly queer theory more generally): In sociology and history we ‘…attempt to produce order and pattern out of the chaos of events. In contrast queer theory tries to show conflict and disorder under the appearance of consistency and uniformity’ (Weeks, Making Sexual History, p 68) ‘Instead of assuming that collective identities simply reflect differences among persons, we need…to look closely at the process whereby movements remake identities’ (E. Stein, cited by Jagose (1996: p 71))

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