what is Queer theory?
Queer theory has its roots in feminism in the 1970s and 80s. Judith butler coined heteronormativity in Gender Trouble, to describe how people perform as straight/gay. and masculine/feminine. In The Straight Mind, Monique Wittig describes how women are categorised by heterosexual men as a universal category. However, Queer Theory didn’t become an independent movement until the 1990s.
Queer theory doesn’t simply examine sexuality. Instead, it examines how people differ from gender norms, and one of these ways is sexuality. In other words, if someone doesn’t think or act like a straight heterosexual male or female, they’re queer. Historically, “queer” meant anyone who was odd. The LGBT community uses the term “queer” to show pride and defiance for being an individual, not an archetype of the straight, gender normative word – including gays, lesbians, intersexed people, transgender, asexual, demisexual, gender benders and bisexuals. However, queer theory can be useful to critique “Straight” people too – like single mothers taking on fatherly roles, metrosexual men and “action hero” women. Gay and straight are used side-by-side and each defines the other: it’s impossible to define straightness without queerness, or masculinity without femininity. People who conform to the norms of their sexual identity and gender are deemed heteronormative.
Some key terms:
These are terms used in Queer Theory, the LGBT and AVEN community. Just like Feminist theory works with the Second and Third Wave Feminist movements, Queer Theory works with different movements too.
(Please note: these are general definitions meant as guidelines, not universal categories to define sexual, romantic and gendered identities. Whilst I understand these categories are up for debate and might miss important points, this is meant to be an introduction to LGBT terms).
A term used by Judith Butler, this describes the power structures of the heterosexual matrix. If you imagine the matrix in The Matrix, Judith’s version might be the blue pill and the red pill of sexuality; if you take the red pill, you won’t view the world under a biased, coloured lens dominated by straight people (historically, white, straight, upper class men). What Butler specifically meant was that gender and sexual identity are constructed by the ways that they are perceived, ideas of queerness and straightness have changed over time, so new categories are added. Is it wrong to categorise oneself, and risk fitting into a box? (“Bisexual”, “homosexual”, “heterosexual”). Or will it provide identity security?
Pansexuality is the attraction to all genders – including (but not limited to) transgender, agender, intersex, gender fluid and genderqueer. Not the same as bisexuality or polysexuality, since bisexuality assumes that there are only two genders, and polysexuality might not be all genders.
The absence of a sexuality, so that sexual attraction is rarely, if ever, felt. Asexuals can feel either platonic or romantic love, but crushes, sexual activity, lust or intimate activity, such as kissing, might not be felt or liked by asexuals. A common stereotype for charters rumoured to be asexual is that they are either childish or borderline psychopathic. These traits are not related to asexuality in any way, and are just coincidental. This doesn’t necessarily mean asexuals are repulsed by or hate close intimacy, but they might not have a desire to seek out sexual and/or romantic feelings.
Often used by the asexual community, it describes who someone is attracted to romantically: homoromantic (same sex), biromantic (both) panromantic (all) heteroromantic (opposite sex) and aromantic (none). For many, sexual and romantic attachments are usually aligned; so homosexuals are usually homoromantic. However, some bisexuals are only sexually attracted to the opposite sex, but might feel both romantic and sexual towards the same sex (or vice versa). Not all asexuals are aromantic, and who they feel romantically attracted to can be separate to sexual attraction for them (if they feel sexual attraction).
Demisexuals are on the border between asexuality and sexuality. In order to feel any sexual attraction, they must have a close bond (e.g. friendship, partner, etc.). Demisexual describes how somebody feels sexual attraction, not to whom. This is because Demisexuals don’t view romantic and sexual attraction as being the same or aligned, so in theory gender and sexual orientation don’t matter. Demisexuality is sometimes criticised for upholding perfect ideals, since some people assume that Demisexuals slut shame, don’t have sex before marriage and only sleep with their one true love (all of which are false assumptations since choice is out of the picture). The reason why demisexuality could be frowned upon upon is because on the surface it reflects “fairytale love”: uncorrupted by “sinful” lust, loving the person over looks and falling for someone gradually, all of which are deemed ideal by the Church, romantic comedies and philosophical preachers as “pure love” – thus making sexualised love look juvenile, false or sinful by comparison (neither assumptions are true). Whilst demisexuality might sound familiar and even “normal”, for some it might mean not fancying celebrities, having few if any crushes, not having hookups and a disregard for physical appearance.
Primary sexual attraction:
Sexual or romantic attraction based on outwards factors; things like looks, smell, scent, accent, clothes, touch or even voice. It’s the fuel for love at first sight, basically. It can die quickly if there’s no secondary attraction. Asexual and demisexuals are unlikely to form attraction based upon appearances. They could, however, have aesthetic or sensual attraction. So they might enjoy your fragrance or think you’re beautiful like a painting, but they won’t try to kiss or fall in love with you based on these things.
Primary sexual desire:
Basically, you have sex because you enjoy it, want to have kids or whatever. If you get some sort of personal joy out of it, the desire is primary. Asexuals may or may not have this desire; it would depend on their libido and whether they like sex.
Secondary sexual attraction:
Sexual or romantic attraction based on personality, spending time with the person, and so on. This would develop over time, instead of being instantaneous. This mostly applies to demisexuals, since they require an emotional bond first.
Butch and femme:
Used by the LGBT community to describe gender identities: butch lesbian/bisexual and femme lesbians/bisexual women are commonplace. A similar analogy could be used for masculine and effeminate gay men (though these terms are usually derogatory). Butch and femme is a spectrum, with neutral in the middle, and other shades leaning more towards butch or femme in between. Technically, butch and femme could be applied to gay men and straight women, but the terms are usually reserved for lesbians.
Often described as “a straight man with the archetypal qualities of a gay man”. Metrosexual men usually are interested in fashion, bromances, their appearance and expressing their emotions. The term is sometimes compared with the New Man, because both types of men defy traditional masculinity. The New Man is usually interested in fatherhood, stay-at-home dads and equal gender roles in couples. Fight Club examines the role of the New Man by exploring the narrator’s absence of a father figure, who has been feminised by women. Metrosexual men justify their their actions to prove that their masculinity is not threatened by gender norms. Schmitt from New Girl might be described as metrosexual, because of his bromance with Nick, his close friendship with Jess and his groomed appearance.
This is having both masculine and feminine qualities, as opposed to being gender neutral. It is occasionally referred to intersexed people, for having both masculine and feminine parts. It is unlikely that somebody will be completely 50/50 with their gender, but mostly in the middle. Not to be confused with cross dressing, gender bending, drag, transgender or agender.
Queer theory and fiction:
Queer theory makes a case for interpreting characters’ sexual and gender identities, particularly if they are unclear or raise questions. The sexual and gender identity of the author may or may not give indicators as to whether the text has themes of queerness in it. Part II will examine specific characters and make a case for them displaying qualities of a gendered or sexual identity. We’re going to use the representations of gendered and sexual identities in fiction go to raise questions about the construction of gender and sexuality.