Dyanna Bateman (she/her)
Strange. Peculiar. Abnormal. Homosexual. Self-identity. What is queer?
Queer originated in the 1900s as a term used to refer to people that had same-sex relationships (this is using an outdated and simplistic view of sex). However, in the 1980s, “queer” began to undergo a lingustic reclamation. This slur was taken back by the LGBTQ+ community and redefined as a post-AIDS umbrella term for sexual and gender minority identities. This identity was seen as a refusal of normativity and an unapologetic celebration of diversity and fluidity in a time that it was sometimes truly a miracle for LGBTQ+ people to still be alive.
This reclamation of queer idenitity gave way to the demise of Gay and Lesbian Studies and the creation of Queer Theory. This epistemological shift created an academic field related to sexualities that was intentionally interdisciplinary and inclusive.
Gay and lesbian studies was built off of early constructionism work that focused on creating the homosexual self. This creation was co-inhabited by stigma towards this emerging homosexual community, meaning the field was largely focused on ideas of homophobia, which was particularly easy to identify at the time.
Queer theory recreated this academic discipline to be more focused on the creation of sexual selves (rather than homosexual selves) and the culture of sexuality (rather than stigma around sexuality). Queer theory allowed for an examination of sexual identities and related social hierarchies of normative versus abnormal sexualities. This updated field shifted the focus away from homophobia and specific instances of anti-LGBTQ+ interactions. Instead, it studied heteronormativity and social organization that allows for privilege based on sexual identity. It examines this heteronormativity on individual, cultural, and structural levels.
Queer theory explores the system of binaries that is engrained in Western society with ideas like the centrality of marginality, which allows for minority identities to be the main focus. By defining central and “normal” concepts (heterosexual and cisgender identities), one is therefore able to define marginal and “deviant” identities (LGBTQ+ identities). This post-modern decentering of identity stresses identity as reliant on context, open to fluidity, and indeterminate depending on current space and time. Queer theory has defined regulatory guidelines of sexuality and identified heterosexuality as a fundamental social and organizational principle that informs multiple aspects of everyday life.
Most importantly, queer theory recognizes the discursive power given to heterosexuality. Heterosexuality is a normalization that is given power which is influenced by social discussion. This power creates self-policing that influences all identities, not just marginal identities. Queer theory is an exploration of normality, an explanation of heteronormativity, and a celebration of the self.
Sources: “Social Construction of Sexuality” by Steven Seidman and “SOC 345: Sociology of Sexualities” lectures by PJ McGann at the University of Michigan