Queer Theories/Gender Theories (Lee and Lois Tyson notes)

last revised 4/21/09


Lesbian/Feminist Gay Queer
What is it to be Lesbian?  What does the word mean?  How do we become visible?  How do we obtain rights? By presenting a monolithing front?

The transgression of Norms (or the flipping of hierarchies)...?

  • Femininity? Often 2nd wave feminists and lesbian feminists tended to try to downplay the sexuality of the female body (because of objectification issues); some of the 3rd wave feminists (like Susie Sexpert) tried to put a focus back on sexuality; obviously gender studies issues come into play here
  • The body as a political weapon (the womb is round and non-hierarchical, non-linear--ties to French Feminism like that of Irigaray)
  • Butch/Femme identity (the classic 60's; hard and soft butches; "butch in the streets, top in the sheets"
  • Separatism (and the "problem" of transexuals).
  • Aligned with 2nd Wave feminism, but also critical of it (it ignores lesbians)
  • Rich's idea about the "lesbian continuum"

Adrienne Rich's essay on "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence"

  • "The bias of compulsory heterosexuality, through which lesbian experience is perceived on a scale ranging from deviant to abhorrent, or simply rendered invisible..."
  • "I mean the term lesbian continuum to include a range--through each woman's life and throughout history--of woman-identified experience; not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman.  If we expand it to embrace many more forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support; if we can also hear in it such associations as marriage resistance..."

Of course Donna Haraway critiques this desire for a common language in her Cyborg Manifesto which has more Queer theory elements (Norton 615)

What is it to be Gay? Tyson tells us that for gay theorists (or community members), men having sex with or sexual desire for other men is the main accepted definition.

The transgression of Norms (or the flipping of hierarchies) is often part of some of these gay nodes of inquiry

  • Masculinity and all the gender studies issues come into play here as well
  • Homosocial vs. Homosexual
  • Drag queens (and other queens; gym queens and the idea that dressing up the body with muscles is ) vs. transvestites, vs. transexuals, vs. camp (excess, like Salt Lake's Cybersluts)
  • Reclaiming homophobic epitaphs (like with T-Shirts)
  • Hyper Promiscuity (as a part of many coming out novels)
  • AIDS activism (Act-Up)?
  • How gay are you?  The shock of the1948 Kinsey Report on male sexuality... (the Kinsey Report on female sexuality was far more alarming to that backlash 50's culture; but also the violence of insisting on authenticity in the queer community)
  • Colbert and the Coming Storm (of gay marriage)
Post-structuralist/Antifoundational in nature, deconstructs heterosexist ideology that there is only one choice, or that there is a simplistic binary of gender and sexuality...

Just like Henry Louis Gates (and bell hooks) says we should "denaturalizes race" (because something natural is often supportive of harmful, foundationalist binaries), Denise Riley (1988), and others "problematize feminism's insistence on 'women' as a unified, stable and coherent category" (Queer Theory 77)

Eve Sedgwick would say sexual desire is infinite (not unlike infinite webs of signifiers); queer theory creates more of an opening up of "object choice."

Sedgwick and Judith Butler (QT 122) say using "gender oriented analytic models" helps support the "primacy of relations between genders" (QT 121) which is a direct critique of 2nd wave feminism (if you buy into the hierarchy at all, you are still colluding with it)...gender (and sexuality) as performative (and the idea of identity as performance is politically powerful, according to Butler)

Bulter: "...for whom is outness an historically available and affordable option?...who is represented by which use of the term, and who is excluded?"

The deconstruction of gender/sexuality binairies...

"violence of identity politics...queer is less an identity than a critique of identity" QT p. 131

Butler (from QT p. 84): ..."gender is refigured as a cultural fiction, a performative effect of reiterative acts "'Gender is a repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearnce of substance, of a natural sort of being...'" Gender resistence in parodic (or excessive) performance of gender/sexuality...

I would also say there was an opening up of "subject choice" as well, or identity.  Biddy Martin (QT 123) is "worried about the occasions when antifoundationalism celebrations of queenress rely on their own projections of fixity...in relation to which queer sexualitites become figural, performative, playful, and fun."

Donna Haraway's Cyborgs--Post Gender (605)?  Are they queer?  Playful, Ironic Blasphemers (604) question origins, cross boundaries:

  • humans and animals
  • animals and machines
  • physical and non-physical (Heisenberg's Uncertainties)

Haraway: p. 609 "what is it that can't be coded as natural?"
5. Haraway: the cyborg violates all comfortable zones, contains all contradictions, violates all things thought to be separate or foundationalist, yet is still part of that *grid of control* (608)

"A cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints…Monstrous, illegitimate...Holding together disparate things in order to disarm (literally and figuratively) the state…"

... Otherwise death lies in the phallologocentric (perhaps what Cixous was referring to, there is death already inherent in the binary because it posits itself against nothing)...

Some also use the word "Queer" to encompass everyone sexually queer or outside mainstream (often 1950's style) heterosexuality.  Some would use this word to encompass anyone outside norms of all kinds.

These theories will often look at texts for their collusion with, or critique of (or deconstruction of) heterosexual and patriarchal privilege (thus this is linked to feminist gender studies as well).  Lesbian (and 2nd wave feminism) and Gay theoires are often trying to define the lesbian/woman experience within and against patriarchies.  Queer theories (and 3rd wave feminists)

The idea that there is one lesbian or gay experience (like the notion that there is one black experience or Asian experience) is of course problematic, but so is the idea that there are only 2 or 3 kinds of sexuality or sexual desire.  Some theorists like to posit continuums of experience/desire (like Rich's "Lesbian Continuum" idea).

[picture of Kinsey scale]
0- Exclusively heterosexual with no homosexual
1- Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2- Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3- Equally heterosexual and homosexual
4- Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5- Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6- Exclusively homosexual

(Kinsey 1948), p. 638

The Anita Bryant School of Binaries