Despite mentioning it previously, we have to analyze the extensive work of queer theory. However, it’s important to note that queer theory covers a vast amount of concept and ideas, so this post will focus on providing a brief overview and historical background of this rich area of study.
Queer Theory became really defined in the 1990s as a mixture of feminism, post-structuralism, gay-lesbian movements, AIDS/HIV activism, and different practices. In hopes of representation of non-sexual practice in discourses, queer theories impacted government groups who were provoked due to a lack of action of AIDS and HIV action. The AIDS and HIV crisis uniquely affect the LBTGQ+ community and yet received little attention from the government.
Thus, queer theory attempts to criticize heteronormativity and the logics of behind it. According to Lauren Berlant, heteronormativity is the “structures of understanding an orientation that make heterosexuality seem not only coherent – that is organized as a sexuality – but also privileged.” This happens through aspects such as marriage, tax forms, employment documentation, and even adoption rights. It operates a form of power or control that applies to pressure that causes individuals to self-modulate their behavior to social norms. This is termed the “Charm Circle of Sexuality”, or the hierarchical imposition of value on sexual acts that determines which behaviors are allowable and which become deviant.
In Gay/Lesbian studies, there is a focus on the divide of natural and unnatural. Sexuality is both fragmented and dynamic, never in totally in one place at one moment. Therefore, queer theory presents itself as a means to deconstruct norms and understand how they come to exist based on this natural/unnatural divide. You may be wondering: what is queerness or what does it meant to be queer? According to Michael Warner, “Queerness is the reject of minoritizing logic of toleration or a simple political interest in representation in favor of resistance to regimes of normalization.” For Warner, queer theory is not simply a critique of heterosexuality, but a critique of social and economic structures that maintain compulsory heteronormativity. Or according to Lee Edelman, “Queerness can never define an identity, it can only ever disturb one.” You can see that there are a lot of different interpretations of queerness is and what it means, which is why there is so much rich diversity in the queer studies practice.
The violence of heteronormativity can be seen in a variety of manners from the murder of Matthew Shepard to the Pulse Night Club Shooting. In 1987, ACT UP (AIDs Coalition to Unleash Power) was founded. They performed grassroots activism, civil disobedience, and advocacy, representing a move towards public advocacy as a means to advocate queer rights. This demonstrates the truly impactful nature of queer theory that goes beyond the academic sphere.
To learn more about queer theory, be sure to listen to Episode 11 of the Philosophy Phorum Podcast as we interview Dr. Shelley Park, a queer theorist from the University of Central Florida, on their work concerning the Pulse Night Club Shooting.