queer theory

What if we actually started to notice the ways in which race and sexuality have become hopelessly entangled with notions of the normal and the perverse, so that we could see the ways in which the white family hides its secrets behind thick layers of presumed normativity, while black families in particular but also Latino and Muslim families are regularly cast as excessive or intolerant, traditional and behind the times?
—  J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism (8)
The bad reading [of Gender Trouble] goes something like this: I can get up in the morning, look in my closet, and decide which gender I want to be today. I can take out a piece of clothing and change my gender: stylize it, and then that evening I can change it again and be something radically other, so that what you get is something like the commodification of gender, and the understanding of taking on a gender as a kind of consumerism … When my whole point was that the very formation of subjects, the very formation of persons, presupposes gender in a certain way—that gender is not to be chosen and that “performativity” is not radical choice and it’s not voluntarism … Performativity has to do with repetition, very often with the repetition of oppressive and painful gender norms to force them to resignify. This is not freedom, but a question of how to work the trap that one is inevitably in.
—  Judith Butler

anonymous asked:

does shakespeare have LGTB characters?

Well…yes and no. Which I know is a cheat but there it is.

There are definitely characters in Shakespeare’s plays who we can identify as LGBT to varying extents, and there is of course an enormous amount of queer theory to back up these identifications. However, it’s a bit of a misnomer since during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, these particular terminologies did not exist. Which is not to say that homosexuality did not exist or that it was impossible to be transgendered in that period–both of these have been around pretty much as long as humanity has been around. But they didn’t have the same names, nor were they necessarily placed in their own categories.

If you’re curious to know more about queer readings of Shakespearean plays, I’m going to tag @shredsandpatches in this post since that was partly the topic of her doctoral thesis and she’s got an enormous amount of material on it. However, here’s a shortlist of plays that I would say include significant homoerotic and/or non-binary gender themes (and, anyone who reads this and notices anything missing, please feel free to add on).

- Twelfth Night (Viola dresses as a man and Olivia falls for her; also hints that Orsino is attracted to her while she’s pretending to be a man)

- As You Like It (Rosalind dresses as a man and engages in all sorts of fun gender-bending roleplay with Orlando before eventually marrying him)

- Coriolanus (Aufidius and Martius are gay; well, Martius is more likely bi since he’s also married and has a kid)

- The Merchant of Venice (Antonio loves Bassanio who at least claims to love Portia who has an awesomely sweet relationship with Nerissa…needless to say, things get complicated. Trigger warnings for anti-Semitism.)

- Antony & Cleopatra (All sorts of interesting gender stuff going on here, usually paired with interesting race/culture stuff, plus Cleopatra is a BAMF)

- Richard II (Richard is bi but that is the least of his problems)

- Romeo & Juliet (Mercutio is often coded as queer in productions and there’s a fair bit in the text to back this up)

- Othello (critics have argued that part of Iago’s tangled feelings for Othello include unacknowledged sexual attraction; it’s not the reading I personally follow but it’s popular enough to be worth noting)

- Julius Caesar (I know there’s a pretty substantial fan following for Brutus/Cassius, but it’s honestly been long enough since I read the play that I can’t speak to it in much detail)

What if we gendered people according to their behavior? What if gender shifted over the course of a lifetime – what if someone began life as a boy but became a boygirl and then a boy/man? What if some males are ladies, some ladies are butch, some butches are women, some women are gay, some gays are feminine, some femmes are straight, and some straight people don’t know what the hell is going on?
—  J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism (8)

so apparently “misgendering is violence” until it’s calling dysphoric lesbians trans men against their will

“misgendering is violence” until it’s telling butch and gnc women that they’re non binary and coercively referring to them with neutral pronouns 

“misgendering is violence” until it’s telling men that they’re really trans women because they’re not violent or aggressive 

“misgendering is violence” until it’s telling little boys that they’re really girls because they want to wear a skirt 

“misgendering is violence” until it’s advocating for putting twelve year old girls on dangerous and permanently damaging puberty blockers because they want to play sports 

“misgendering is violence” until it’s forcing people into a political agenda that requires physical and emotional trauma because they don’t conform to conservative gender roles 

if a young person who is new to the queer community comes toy you and says something along the lines of “i think i’m [this identity] but [this person important to me] thinks it’s just a phase”

never say “it’s not a phase!!!!! you were just born that way!! never change!!! you’re perfect just how you are!!!!”

years ago, when i began to id as queer, this was the ‘popular’ and ‘politically correct’ thing to say. people used to respond to me like that when I would come out to them, and it only made me feel more pressure to pick a very specific identity and stick with it forever. that isn’t how anything works.

  • your identity is not invalid because it is a phase; phases are just as valid as identities you keep forever
  • you do not have to feel as though you were born with an identity; that identity is valid no matter how early or late in life you began to use it
  • it’s okay to change; your identity is valid if you never change it or you change it every day
  • you’re perfect just how you are, as well as just how you used to be and how you will be in the future
Queering the Dead and Female Erasure

I’m going to do more research on this in the months to come (as usual) but one of the most disturbing and heartbreaking impacts of queer theory is “queering the dead.” 

“The queer community needs to sustain the restrictive, claustrophobic, and alienating structure of gender; without it, the queer as a concept would make no sense. And their drive to claim any and all who violate the dictates of womanhood as “men” or manhood as “women” is central to this mission. A woman casting off femininity and ritualized submission while still being a woman is a threat to the male supremacist idea of what females can be; a woman casting off femininity and ritualized submission so as to become a man leaves the “woman = submissive resource” structure intact. They want romantic individuals bucking the system’s stifling constraints, but never actually threatening the existence of the system itself. In other words, they need outlaws, not rebels.”

So, women who were strong, brave, outgoing, doctors, soldiers or warriors or fighters, leaders, inventors, politicians, and anything else that demonstrates the female ability and capacity to be more than a mother, nurturer, romantic interest, or sex object, are being rewritten as men. In other words, under the influence of queer historical revisionism: if any woman is not stereotypically a woman then she must not actually have been a woman. 

It’s happening to Joan of Arc.

I first encountered queer historical revisionism/ female erasure on this website many months back where a post with thousands of notes (with all supportive comments except for about one) claims as a fact that a woman who passed as a man to become a medical doctor was really wanting to be a man. 

In these queer revisionisms, there is no consideration for the fact that throughout human history, women on the basis of them being female have been denied access to politics, positions of power and leadership, education, combat roles, and more and that these women relied on being male-passing in order to have experiences that were only accessible to men on the basis of them being male.

In queering the dead, specifically female-born-women, Feminist analysis of institutionalized and systematic male privilege is completely tossed out the window (more like buried) in favor of a type of queering of historical figures that is in some cases not only anachronistic but a heinous type of female erasure that completely removes women’s historical contributions.

The reason this is so painful for me personally is because it was the histories of women warriors, female rulers and leaders, female inventors, female philosophers, female doctors, and more, that inspired me, gave me strength (and still give me strength), and brought me to Feminism.

I read The Encyclopedia of Amazons which is an “alphabetical reference work on women from ancient mythology, religion, literature, American Indian folklore, and history whose lives were spent in combat.” The book has over 1,000 entries.

I read Hell Hath No Fury: True Stories of Women at War from Antiquity to Iraq. Since these women were warriors – something stereotypically “manly”, clearly a “male-thing” – queer theory could easily rewrite them as men, especially if they spent a period of their life passing as male in order to do what they had to do.

I was so young then and I wonder about the young teenaged girls now who want to learn about women’s history but already can’t find much, not only because it isn’t taught (in detail especially) in their schools but also because queer theory is capable of destroying any remnant of female contribution barely available to them now.

Queer activists can write women out of history by replacing female pronouns with male pronouns, “masculinizing” the names of female historical figures or using their male-passing names as indicative of their supposed desired biological sex or gendered sense of self despite there being little to no evidence that they had sex dysphoria and would permanently transition if they could.

In the case of queering the dead: women wanting access to certain opportunities and experiences denied them due to patriarchy privileging male people over them IS these women actually WANTING to be male! The obvious fallacy here is that identifying with is not the same as identifying as. You can want to be a warrior, something that’s a part of the male role, and not want to actually be male.

Leave women’s history alone.

[Q]ueer people do not follow the same logics of subcultural involvement as their heterosexual counterparts: they do not ‘outgrow’ certain forms of cultural activity (like clubbing, punk, and so on) the way heterosexuals are presumed to do. Rather, queer spaces tend to be multigenerational and do not subscribe to the notion of one generation always giving way to the next.
—  J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism (2)

the claim “gender is a social construct” will never not be amusing because these people actually believe that someone sat down and “created” the concept of gender “identity” which actually means nothing (because everyone has their own “personal definition” and it’s all based on feelings) and is thus impossible to invent

what’s even funnier is that they deny that gender has anything to do with biological sex, even though they wouldn’t have labels like “boy” “man” “woman” “girl” etc without sex

In queer culture, gender is analysed only as a problematic binary, not as a hierarchy. Queer culture rightly considers it oppressive that women are socially constructed into a rigid feminine role and men into a masculine one, but what is missing is an analysis of who constructed both masculinity and femininity/gender roles, whose purpose and benefit they serve and the hierarchical way that gender operates, with masculinity as dominant and femininity as subordinate. The fact that these essential ingredients are missing from base-level analysis means that the strategies that queer theorists argue should be deployed to fix the problematic construction of gender are not only flawed, but colonise, and harm women, and perpetuate male supremacy.
What if you begin life as a queer mix of desires and impulses and then are trained to be heterosexual but might relapse into queerness once the training wears off? What if the very different sexual training that boys and girls receive makes them less and less compatible? What if girls stopped wearing pink, boys started wearing skirts, women stopped competing with other women, and men stopped grabbing their crotches in public?
—  J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism (8)

last weekend @sad-cow-disease​ and i built a twitter bot that automatically generates queer theory, as some kind of attempt at coming to terms with our (mis)education in the humanities. it was a lot of fun and i’m already frightened by how much better Queer Theory Bot is at writing theory than i am. feel free to play around with the code if you’re into that sort of thing!

wickedrache asked:

hi there. while maybe your answer will be "actually get off my blog"... can you give me a sense of your take on why queer theory is antifeminist?

Queer theory goes back to post-modernism, Foucault and Judith Butler (known mostly for authoring Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity and Bodies That Matter). The idea of “queering” things and “being queer” refers to anything perceived as “subversive.” This encompasses a wide range of “stigmatized” practices and sexual behaviors, from pedophilia ( x ) to BDSM to inherently harmless sexual orientations. This lumping of them all together is not my doing. Queer theory’s argument that anything “negatively” socially stigmatized has a “subversive” quality when individually embraced extends indiscriminately. The various reasons for stigma, such as whether it’s due to wanting to protect children from predators, wanting to avoid normalizing violence, or in contrast, is about instilling homophobia, is not generally investigated.

Besides that, queer theory literature is heavy on jargon but the gist of ideas conveyed is the following:

Gender as a subjective performance:

In this view, gender is a chosen, voluntary form of self-expression (based on what constitutes a man or a woman, or to stay true to how queer theory is actually practiced: the many other “genders”). In queer theory, gender is not something that is socialized into you (in the form of femininity for females and masculinity for males based on relative cultural standards) but rather is something you already feel internally then conscientiously identify with and choose to express or “perform.”

In queer theory, gender is also something that is entirely defined according to each and every individual. There is no consistent, fixed, definitive, meaning to gender. Gender, in queer theory, has nothing to do with biology (it is not a sex-based category) and also has nothing to do with larger social structures that consistently and fixedly privileges one group over another. Rather, gender in queer theory, is entirely self-defined and is related to internal feeling.

This impacts the way language is used.

The view that the meanings of words, like man and woman, are in constant subjective flux and are entirely self-determined or self-defined makes categories like gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans not useful. Men can label themselves lesbians, people can label themselves trans without even having sex dysphoria. Since gender in queer theory is not a sex-based category and biology is not relevant to categorizing men and women, a lesbian saying that lesbianism is defined as a woman exclusively attracted to another woman (as biologically female) is criticized as narrow minded and bigoted. A trans person stating you need sex dysphoria or to have experienced sex dysphoria to be trans is called “truscum” (a pejorative).

There have been many Feminist criticisms of queer theory and “queer culture”  on the idea that gender is about a subjective, selected, choice based on internal feeling that is then performed:

“The idea that gender is natural is conservative, and the idea that gender is voluntarily chosen is insulting. Tell a victim of corrective rape that gender is voluntary. Tell any survivor of rape, the overwhelming majority of which are female, that being a woman is a fun set of clothing and behavior choices that she could reject identification with if she chose. Tell a preteen girl whose body is beginning to develop that the constant sexual assault at school, the constant leering and harassment from grown men, and the constant cultural messages telling her to starve herself, they’re all just part of her freely chosen identity as a woman.”   — Rachel Ivey

“If gender was performance, then there would be a way to perform that didn’t result in rape for women. But men rape housewives. Men rape butch lesbians. Men rape quiet women in dresses and lipstick. Men rape snarling punks in leather jackets and safety pins. Men rape every type of woman. There is no way for a woman to be that doesn’t risk rape. There is no way to perform that lets women escape the confines of gender because gender is not performance; it’s the designator of who can rape – us, the people called men – and who can be raped – them, the people called women. Performance has nothing to do with it."   — Queer Theory: The New Men’s Rights Movement                                   

Also, there’s Feminist criticisms of queer theory on the political challenges that arise out of being unable to consistently define what a woman (or man) is (especially without using circular reasoning: “a woman is a woman is a woman.” or “a woman identifies as a woman” with no consistent basis for what she’s identifying with):

“What did these [postmodern] ideas contribute to feminism and the understanding of violence? The idea that there is no such thing as ‘woman’. That it is essentialising and unacceptable to speak of women’s experience or women’s oppression because women are all utterly different individuals. Moreover oppression does not exist because power just floats around with no direction just constantly recreating itself out of the interaction of well meaning people in communication. There is no such thing as ‘truth’ which conveniently allows for a moral relativism in which it is very unfashionable to protest against any behaviour or condition of oppression.”   —  Queer theory and violence against women (2004)

Lesbians have criticized “queer” in its use as an umbrella term for anyone with same sex attraction (gays, lesbians, bisexuals) and also for the idea that gender in the form of performance, identity, or feeling, rather than reality makes it difficult to have an organized criticism of sexism:

“I’m ambivalent about the term queer. I think it’s useful in certain ways - it has the cringe factor, it’s confrontational. And there is something about the experience of being an outsider that’s embedded in the word. When you throw it back in people’s faces, it can produce a certain sense of empowerment. It also has limitations. In some ways, it reminds me of the word gay. I worked really hard to get lesbian into usage, and so did a lot of other people who came before me. Lumping us together erases the differences, the inequalities between us [bolded added]. At certain times it can be useful; at others it can really be throwing a rug over our diversities. … I feel like I see the word queer used a lot to erase my identity as a lesbian [bolded added]. … That ‘fuck you’ queer identity is more easily accessible for men than for lesbians, because of sexism and just the overwhelming reality of sexual violence. Lesbians can’t stop being women and dealing with that reality (emphasis added) (1992, 29).” - Holly Hughes

“Queer” has been criticized as not only rendering socially invisible lesbianism but also preluding to the rendering invisible of racial awareness/visibility within the LGBA, T. “Queer culture’s” “queerness” is seen as culturally homogenizing in its grouping together of gay culture(s), lesbian culture(s), the bisexual communities, asexual communities, and trans communities, across all racial and ethnic experiences.

“Lesbians and gay men have every reason to be suspicious of ‘queerness’ and its promise of an instant identity” (Kader and Piontek 1992, 9). The universalizing move of “queerness” also has the potential to make a similar argument about race, thus evacuating the specificities of racialized identities in favor of a queer universalism that claims multiracial status without ever seriously developing a race-based critique of heteronormativity.” - Suzanna Danuta Walters

"…[Q]ueer can “de-race” the homosexual of color in much the same way “old-time” gay studies often has, effectively erasing the specificity of “raced” gay existence under a queer rubric in which whiteness is not problematized.” -

Suzanna Danuta Walters

“Queer culture” also permits heterosexual people to be active in “queer spaces” since the standards of “subversiveness” includes practicing BDSM, playing around with gender as a trend or costume (this is NOT a reference to transsexual people or sex dysphoric people), or heterosexual people feeling entitled to use homophobic slurs and labels because they’re allies. Gayness and “subversion” for Queer Straights is tokenized and fashionable and gives them access to LGBA, T, spaces.

“Any of these Queer Straights would probably be horrified to think their behavior might translate as a tease. They mean to practice what theorists call ‘gender performativity’ - the act of defining your sexuality through manner and style. Postmodernism’s logic of surfaces has turned the closet inside out, making the projection of a queer attitude enough to claim a place in homosexual culture. Yet Queer Straights don’t practice the fundamental acts of intimacy that ground homosexual identity. They are neither bisexual [n]or experimenting. They’re not ambiguously defined companions of gay men, as were the fag-hags of yore. Queer Straights don’t just hang around; what they do is pass. … .” - Ann Powers

"The deconstruction of identity politics (the recognition that identity categories can be regulatory regimes) may have some merit, but it can also, in the world of academia as well in other social spaces, become the vehicle for co-optation: the radical queer theorist as married heterosexual. It becomes a convenient way to avoid those questions of privilege.

What are the implications involved in claiming “queerness” when one is not gay or lesbian? And, would we tolerate this passing (indeed, it is even being celebrated!) in another context, say the context of race or ethnicity? If it is clearly co-optive and colonizing for the white person to claim blackness if she or he “feels” black (or even feels aligned politically with the struggles against racism), then why is it so strangely legitimate for a heterosexual to claim queerness because she or he feels a disaffection from traditional definitions of heterosexuality? The white academic says she is working on antiracism and on issues of race and ethnicity; the straight (most often white) academic says she (or he, more often) is queer. There is a huge jump being made from studying/ teaching gay and lesbian work to pronouncing oneself queer.” - Suzanna Danuta Walters

"…[T]here is a disturbing trend in which queer theory has become disassociated from gay identity.
Indeed, this disassociation is often celebrated as the necessary adjunct to the disassociation of gender and sexuality. One of the interesting aspects of this phenomenon of queer theory in the academy is that you do not have to be gay to do it, in fact it is much better if you are not.” - Suzanna Danuta Walters

Queer theory’s argument that gender is about performance, style, self-expression, and individualism, through experimenting or exploring “identity” has been criticized as depoliticizing and misdirecting activists from being able to pinpoint and explain male privilege:

"Clearly, cross-dressing, passing, and assorted tropes of postmodern delight are sexier, more fun, more inventive than previous discourses of identity and politics. Indeed, … the performance motif the perfect trope for our funky times, producing a sense of enticing activity amid the depressing ruins of late capitalism. It obviously speaks to the pastiche-like world of images and signs that have come to signify what it means to live in the postmodern ( … ), yet this hand can, and has, been overplayed. In particular, this trope becomes vacuous when it is decontextualized, bandied about as the new hope for a confused world. Theories of gender as play and performance need to be intimately and systematically connected with the power of gender (really, the power of male power) to constrain, control, violate, and configure. Too often, mere lip service is given to the specific historical, social, and political configurations that make certain conditions possible and others constrained, as Hennessy here notes in her critique of Butler (and others) for the lack of attention to the material context of “gender performance”: “What does it mean to say that what can be seen as parodic and what gender parody makes visible depends on a context in which subversive confusions can be fostered? What exactly is meant by ‘context’ here?” (Hennessy 1994, 40). Without substantive engagement with complex sociopolitical realities, those performance tropes appear as entertaining but ultimately depoliticized academic exercises.” - Suzanna Danuta Walters

This individualizing and depoliticizing of gender is not compatible with Feminism if Feminism can here be defined as a movement to liberate women from patriarchal oppression by ending male power. “Queer” as an all-encompassing, generic, subjective, relative, label does not make understanding women’s condition easier, it blurs it:

"Unlike the terms gay and lesbian, queer is not gender specific, and this of course has been one of its selling points, … Feminism has taught us that the idea of gender neutrality is not only fictitious but a move of gender domination.”

And that “gender domination” is male domination, since in an androcentric, phallocentric, patriarchal, society MALE IS THE HUMAN DEFAULT.

“Queer (as opposed to gay or lesbian) lets you off the identity hook the way that gender studies has vis-à-vis women’s studies, while cashing in on the trendiness of postmodernism.”          

"Many are wary of [queer theory’s] … easy dismissal of feminism, as if “gender” was now a done deal and we needed to move on to a new discourse of sexuality: “It would be premature to dismiss the insights of feminism - of a gender-based perspective - in favor of a queer discourse which sets up universal, that is, male, subjects as its implicit referent.”

From Here to Queer: Radical Feminism, Postmodernism and the Lesbian Menace (…), by Suzanna Danuta Walters

Source: Signs, Vol. 21, No. 4, Feminist Theory and Practice (Summer, 1996), pp. 830 - 869

Published by: The University of Chicago Press

Also read: “Gender Performativity” is Victim Blaming

I will now leave you with a little story by Suzanna Walters:

“…[T]he new popularity of “queer” (theory and, less so, politics) is that it often (and once again) erases lesbian specificity and the enormous difference that gender makes, evacuates the importance of feminism, and rewrites the history of lesbian feminism and feminism generally.

The story, alluded to above, goes something like this: once upon a time there was this group of really boring ugly women who never had sex, walked a lot in the woods, read bad poetry about goddesses, wore flannel shirts, and hated men (even their gay brothers). They called themselves lesbians. Then, thankfully, along came these guys named Foucault, Derrida, and Lacan dressed in girls’ clothes riding some very large white horses. They told these silly women that they were politically correct, rigid, frigid, sex-hating prudes who just did not GET IT - it was all a game anyway, all about words and images, all about mimicry and imitation, all a cacophony of signs leading back to nowhere. To have a politics around gender was silly, they were told, because gender was just a performance anyway, a costume one put on and, in drag performance, wore backward. And everyone knew boys were better at dress up.

So, queerness is theorized as somehow beyond gender, a vision of a sort of transcendent polymorphous perversity deconstructing as it slips from one desiring/desired object to the other. But this forgets the very real and felt experience of gender that women, particularly, live with quite explicitly. Indeed, one could argue that this is really the dividing line around different notions of queer; to what extent do theorists argue queer as a term beyond (or through) gender? “Where de Lauretis retains the categories ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ and some notion of gender division as parts of her discussion of what ‘queerness’ is (or might be), Judith Butler and Sue-Ellen Case have argued that queerness is something that is ultimately beyond gender-it is an attitude, a way of responding, that begins in a place not concerned with, or limited by, notions of a binary opposition of male and female or the homo versus hetero paradigm usually articulated as an extension of this gender binarism” (Doty 1993, xv). But, again, this seems to assume that feminists (or gays and lesbians) have somehow created these binarisms.

Unlike the terms gay and lesbian, queer is not gender specific, and this of course has been one of its selling points …”


I have never been able to understand people with consistent lives – people who, for example, grow up in a liberal Catholic household and stay that way; or who in junior high school are already laying down a record on which to run for president one day. Imagine having no discarded personalities, no vestigial selves, no visible ruptures with yourself, no gulf of self-forgetfulness, nothing that requires explanation, no alien version of yourself that requires humor and accommodation. What kind of life is that?
—  Michael Warner, “Tongues Untied” in Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children (216)
Basic Contemporary Theory Intro Course

Step 1: The Foundations (these are skippable because they are Very Hard but they’re the foundation on which everything else is built)

Step 2: Marxists (I don’t have a lot of these, thankfully for us all)

Step 3: Feminists

Step 4: Queer Theory

Step 5: Post-Colonial/Race

Step 6: Post Humanism (ie the crazy shit)

Step 7: Misc (not technically theory, but interesting re: theory)

Please feel free to reblog and add whatever you think is necessary!