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Queer Theories

I'm a recovering Women's and Gender Studies major. Although, I learned a lot from this work, and there are ways that feminist academia is a great preparation for a career technical writing, I've mostly been happier in the world since I left good olde "WGST." The problem with being queer, and doing academic work that touches on the queer experience, is that perpetually theorizing your own experience in the world is really hard, does not naturally lead to enjoyment and pleasure in ones experience. Even if this is good and meaningful work.

At the same time, I think one the basic foundations of queer/feminist practice is a certain kind of constant introspection and evaluation of personal experience vis a vis theories about gender, sexuality, race, and identity.1 This page is a collection of thoughts and aphorisms on the queer experience. They're connected and eventually this collection of thoughts may find their way into some other form (multiple wiki pages, an actual article, etc.) but let's not think about that right now. Feel free/encouraged to ?comment and add at will.

Queer is rooted in an awareness of gender. This is historically rooted: queer happened when we realized that if gender was multiple/flexible/contextual, then orientation was necessarily not as simple as we'd previously allowed it to be. Queer recognizes the relationship between gender and sexuality and the instability that exists in this dynamic. Thus, it is probably incorrect to say, "I'm a genderqueer," or "I'm an orientationqueer," though this kind of distinction is made frequently.

It's not uncommon to use queer to refer to other kinds of non-normative practices (e.g. relationships, power dynamics, family structure,) but in these cases we still return to gender. If you can't (or don't) connect a practice to gender experience, it may not be queer. It may still be progressive, radical, and important, but there may be harm in extending the meaning of queer this far.

Queer is necessarily embodied. Queer exists because there's friction between the experience of gender, and the experience of possessing a sexed-body (and as a result, being attracted to people who have genders and have sexed-bodies.) Without this friction, there is limited substrate for the formation of queer identity and politics.

Queer is very inclusive but there may be limits to this inclusively.

Queer is contextually derived, which is to say it's rooted in a particular understanding of gender, sex, and sexual practices. I doubt that we will "end gender" or move "beyond gender" any meaningful way during my lifetime--and I'm quite young, all things considered. The queer moment might pass, and we'll want, even need, to begin to think about gender, sex, and sexuality, in a different way. This is likely inevitable, but is also a glorious thing, as it is evidence that people and societies change and continue to develop. The alternative is undeniably worse.

The previous comments, argue for a slightly more narrow reading of queer identity and politics. Years, even months ago, I might have made the inverse argument: give queer to as many people as possible in recognition of diversity, and because splitting the "queer enough" hairs isn't a useful exercise. Shifts like this are very much a part of the kind of identities that Queer is trying to recognize. Queer changes, and must change in response to shifts in individuals and social moments/movements.

Queer is not an erasure of gender, and I think there remain a number situations where it's important to adopt a strategically binary view of gender and sexuality so that we don't accept troubled conventions in the euphoria of the queer moment. Double standards and male privilege remain issues to be discussed and dealt with.

  1. Potential citation: "Experience" by Joan Scott. Frequently anthologized. ↩