Saturday, April 26, 2008

Queer Theory

I feel a special affinity for queer theory whenever we study it in classes. I think it's partially because my first year of college I would go down to the basement of the library to the HQ section (homos and queers) and devour books about LGBT issues that often used a queer lens to view the world. So now reading queer theory always brings back memories of browsing through the stacks, sitting down in the aisle propping my feet up against one shelf and leaning back against another and completely losing track of time.

There are several aspects of queer theory that I really enjoy. For one thing, queer theory has an emphasis on context, and admitting the context that theory and experience grows from. So admitting class, history, cultural influences, personal experience etc. all shape your viewpoint. Part of this is a recognition of multiplicity, that there are many different and valid ways of being and seeing the world. I admire this, I think it allows people to stand where they are but to be able to understand how the world would look differently if they stood in a different position.

In addition, queer theory grew out of a combination of academics and activism. While queer theory can sometimes be complicated and described in complicated language, the basic concepts aren't that difficult to grasp, and many of the ideas of queer theory are already lived on within certain social groups.

Another aspect of queer theory I appreciate is the fact that queer can be a noun, an adjective and verb. Queer as a noun and an adjective are kind of self explanatory. Queer as a verb on the other hand, is one of my favorite usages. To queer, to unfix from prior definition, to shatter preconceptions and rebuild new meanings, to challenge binaries, to challenge who creates knowledge.

One aspect of queer theory that I've struggled with is the notion of identity, labeling and queer theory. I think my current conclusion, after a lot of thought, is that queer theory and labeling aren't necessarily contradictions. Labels can be useful, and I think the point isn't to do away with fixed identity and labels. I think the idea is to challenge identity and labels, and to realize that that's all they are, labels. To admit their use, to use them and then discard them when they are no longer necessary. Of course that's easier said than done.

One downside of queer theory is that it is centered in a western context, and it doesn't really translate to non-western contexts as well. In addition, it was developed mainly by white people. Again, while queer theory does emphasize being grounded in context, it's important to remember the contexts that allowed queer theory to develop.

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