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About this book

Queer Theory is one of the most contested and intellectually complex movements in contemporary sexual politics. Where did it come from, and what does it do? Is queer theory only for queers? If you have ever wanted to be a leather daddy, been puzzled by performativity, tried to measure bisexuality, or wondered whether Diana, Princess of Wales could be a gay icon, Queer Theory is required reading.

This vibrant anthology of groundbreaking work by influential scholars, activists, performers, and visual artists is essential for anyone with an interest in sexuality studies or gender activism. The fifteen articles - including two specially commissioned contributions, as well as an engaging introduction - map, contextualise, and challenge queer theory's project both within and beyond the academy. Helpful critical summaries that link the selections, and suggestions for further reading, make this volume perfect for anyone approaching queer theory for the first time.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

What makes a theory queer? What does it mean to describe oneself as queer? Is ‘queer’ an adjective, a noun or a verb? Is ‘queer’ something that you do or something that you are? Perhaps you become queer by doing certain things — for instance, by being seen to be reading this book. Maybe you are hiding its cover behind Cosmopolitan or Men’s Health. Alternatively, if you are queer, are the things that you do queer enough? Are you in the closet, or are you out and proud; are you on the scene, or furtively surfing the internet for same-sex pornography? There is little contemporary distinction between a practising heterosexual and a heterosexual in theory, but the corresponding difference is critical for queers. What does this tell us about the contested character of ‘queer’ as simultaneously an exultant identity claim and a derogatory label, a topic of intense academic debate and a politically correct fuss? In the late 1990s, two seemingly unrelated events brought the term ‘queer’ into common parlance, but also into dispute. One was the prime time presentation of the British mini-series Queer as Folk, later screened and remade internationally.1 The second was a nail bomb.
Iain Morland, Annabelle Willox

2. From Here to Queer: Radical Feminism, Postmodernism, and the Lesbian Menace

‘Queer’ is, in true postmodern fashion, a rather amorphous term and still emergent enough as to be vague and ill defined. Perhaps it makes sense to open, then, with my laundry list of the queer contemporary, a list admittedly more aware of the female manifestations of this ‘queerness’ and in no particular order:
Suzanna Danuta Walters

3. Gay Men, Lesbians, and Sex: Doing It Together

I have sex with faggots. And I’m a lesbian. You think you’re confused? How did this happen to a woman who maintained a spotless record as a militant lesbian separatist for eight years, a woman who had sex with only three men (once apiece) before coming out, a woman who gets called a dyke on the street at least once a week, a woman who has slept (and not stayed to sleep) with hundreds of other women?
Patrick Califia

4. 1,112 and Counting

If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.
Larry Kramer

5. The Leather Daddy and the Femme

I was looking pretty boyish that evening. Maybe that’s why he looked twice at the stoplight when my car pulled up next to his motorcycle. Usually guys like that are moving, you just see a gleaming blur of black and silver. But here at the light was a real done-up daddy, sitting stock-still, except for his head, which turned in response to my eyes fixed on him and found what he saw noticeable enough to make him turn again. When boy-energy gets into me I look like an effete young Cambridge faggot looking to go bad: round spectacles framing inquisitive eyes and a shock of hair falling down over one. Not classically Daddy’s Boy, something a little different. Maybe tonight this daddy was looking for a new kind of ride.
Carol Queen

6. The Return to Biology

‘Dear Ann Landers,’ wrote ‘A Concerned Father in Ukiah, California’,
My teenage son came home the other day with a story that floored me. One of his high school teachers is teaching the students that there are five sexes in the human race — male, female, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual. …
I told my son that the teacher is wrong, that there are only TWO sexes, male and female, and the other categories are sexual practices.
Ann, I’m disturbed by this misinformation. … What do the experts say about this? Do they claim there are five sexes nowadays? Things are changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up.
Rising to the occasion, Ann Landers hastened to set the record straight: ‘There are only two sexes — male and female. Recent studies indicate that homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality are not the result of something that has gone wrong with the sex organs, but rather a biochemical-genetic alteration that no one has been able to explain.’1
Marjorie Garber

7. Intersex Activism, Feminism and Psychology

In the 1950s John Money and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University developed protocols for the treatment of infants born with genitalia that deviate from social norms for acceptable male and female bodies.1 In 1990 psychologist Suzanne Kessler commented that Money’s theory of intersexuality was ‘so strongly endorsed that it has taken on the character of gospel’ among medical professionals.2 Since that time intersexed persons have begun to protest the violent and stigmatizing effects of those medical protocols on their lives. On 10 June 1999, I interviewed Cheryl Chase, the founder of the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), the largest organization of intersexed persons in the world, at her home in northern California. We discussed the surgeries that Cheryl was subjected to as an infant, her discovery that she was intersexed, the formation of ISNA, and the relationships between intersex activism, feminism, and lesbian and gay politics. I transcribed our two-hour conversation and what follows is an edited version that Cheryl has read and commented on. [Interviewer]
Peter Hegarty, Cheryl Chase

8. Axiomatic

Anyone working in gay and lesbian studies, in a culture where same-sex desire is still structured by its distinctive public/private status, at once marginal and central, as the open secret, discovers that the line between straining at truths that prove to be imbecilically self-evident, on the one hand, and on the other hand tossing off commonplaces that turn out to retain their power to galvanize and divide, is weirdly unpredictable. In dealing with an open-secret structure, it’s only by being shameless about risking the obvious that we happen into the vicinity of the transformative. In this Introduction I shall have methodically to sweep into one little heap some of the otherwise unarticulated assumptions and conclusions from a long-term project of antihomophobic analysis. These nails, these scraps of wiring: will they bore or will they shock?
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

9. A Brief, Slanted History of ‘Homosexual’ Activity

Is a ‘queer’ history even possible? Without a doubt, queers of various sorts have existed throughout history: individuals who have challenged openly or simply lived abrasively toward notions of the sexual and social norm. And as the coming pages will explore, it is clear that there has always been some form of sexual activity between men and between women, though how that activity manifested itself and the ways in which it was socially castigated or tolerated have varied greatly.
Donald E. Hall

10. Gender Fucking or Fucking Gender?

In the politics of gender, sex and the body, the existence of the body is for us all a statement of gender from the moment of birth. No matter how hard you try to talk about somebody else, you are always going to be talking about yourself. This work is, in the words of Stuart Hall, a ‘moment of self-clarification’ (Hall, 1992:293). As well as a chronicle of cultural change it is an intervention in it, and we would do well to remember that this has both overt and implicit political aims.
Stephen Whittle

11. GenderFusion

Now I’m going to tell you about my man. My man, Luigi Cabron de la Concha, is the person I want to tell you about.
Del LaGrace Volcano, Indra Windh

12. Contagious Word: Paranoia and ‘Homosexuality’ in the Military

In the recent military regulations on homosexual conduct, homosexual self-definition is explicitly construed as contagious and offensive conduct. The words, ‘I am a homosexual’, do not merely describe; they are figured as performing what they describe, not only in the sense that they constitute the speaker as a homosexual, but that they constitute the speech as homosexual conduct. In what follows, I hope to show that the regulation describes as performative the self-ascription of homosexuality, doing precisely that which it says. In describing the power of such acts of utterance, the regulations produce such utterances for us, exercising a performativity that remains the tacit and enabling condition for the delineation of ‘I am a homosexual’ as a performative utterance. Only within that regulatory discourse is the performative power of homosexual self-ascription performatively produced. In this sense, the regulations conjure the spectre of a performative homosexual utterance — an utterance that does the deed — that it seeks to censor, engaging in a circularity of fabrication and censorship that will be specified as paranoid.
Judith Butler

13. I’d Rather Be the Princess than the Queen! Mourning Diana as a Gay Icon

Before Diana’s death, I prided myself in being rather smug about anything particularly royal. I found the Windsors an incredibly dull lot striving to maintain a sense of substantive purpose in the world by hopelessly clinging to outdated trappings of monarchy — ritualized ceremonies, the Queen’s Christmas broadcast, stuffy public appearances, ostentatious palaces, shallow pretensions of happy family life. Frivolous Charles trying desperately to be taken seriously, dowdy Elizabeth, cranky Philip, Fergie’s careless flaunting of royal wealth, and Diana without a single O-Level — except for Prince Edward, long rumoured to be gay, the Windsors had little appeal for me.
William J. Spurlin

14. Identity Judgements, Queer Politics

Political identities have received bad press for quite some time. Sexual identities constitute no exception to this trend. Nearly ten years ago Judith Butler expressed her ambivalent relation to identity categories by calling them ‘necessary errors’, whilst at the same time holding that ‘there remains a political imperative to use [them]’.1 In more recent times, Alan Sinfield has suggested that we might be entering a period which he labels ‘post-gay’. This period is characterized by the realization that metropolitan post-Stonewall gay and, perhaps, lesbian identities ‘are historical phenomena and may now be hindering us more than they help us’.2 Sinfield gives voice, then, to the hope that in this new period ‘it will not seem so necessary to define, and hence to limit, our sexualities’. For reasons not dissimilar to those advanced by Butler, however, Sinfield cannot bring himself to reject identities altogether. Instead, he enjoins us ‘to entertain more diverse and permeable identities’.3
Mark Norris Lance, Alessandra Tanesini

15. Afterword

It is already customary, in Afterwords on queer theory, to note that its demise was pronounced very early in its existence and then somehow postponed. As early as the mid-1990s, some of its original exponents expressed doubts about the theory’s continuing political edge in the face of its rapid canonization. Replying to these, Annamarie Jagose asks, ‘Does queer become defunct the moment it is an intelligible and widely disseminated term?’1 Not surprisingly, in her own Introduction to the theory, this proves a rhetorical question. For Jagose, queer is not what has gone before but what is yet to come, a perpetual dialogue between sexual identity and its critique, ‘looking forward without anticipating the future’. If there can be no last word on this ‘permanent becoming’, it nevertheless seems useful to take the opportunity of yet another Afterword to look not forward but back — to the history of queer theory and its political development. Although its future may be, in Jagose’s determined indeterminacy, ‘unimaginable’, queer’s past is eminently available to investigation and analysis.
Mandy Merck
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