Queer Is Many Things
By Abbey Willis at Jul 08, 2010
Queer is many things. It's a critique of identity-- critiquing/questioning the boxes and categories we are given to cage ourselves with. Example, we can be gay, straight, or bi. These are the choices we have. But they don't describe reality and they do more to contain us than to liberate us. (Although, I have to note that people do find empowerment and community within these identities and I don't mean to downplay that.) It's a critique of the construction of sexuality-- formed by the ideas we have to conceive of it. If who you fuck is what you are (i.e., "gay") -- then that's a sexual identity. Or we can do sexuality differently-- it's not who we are but what we do-- our acts. I may engage in homosexual acts, but what does it mean to say "I am gay"? And how does that identity restrain me? (Also, many argue that asserting an identity like “gay” or “bi” actually uphold the binary of "hetero/homo" and, as with all binaries, one will be privileged over the other. Therefore it can be argued--and I agree with this--that upholding a gay identity can actually work against liberation by reinforcing heternormativity and asserting, rather than destabilizing, the hetero-homo binary.) If you’re interested in that, read Jagose's Queer Theory: An Introduction (I love this book but it's dense and heavily theoretical and some people hate theory). Also, the notion of the "homosexual" was actually invented in the mid 1800s. Gay people didn't exist before that. I'm not saying women didn't fuck women and dudes didn't fuck dudes, but they were engaging in *acts* and didn't label themselves something because of it-- they didn't *identify* by what they did erotically.
Queer builds off of feminism and poststructuralism. Instead of only focusing on gender-specific sexualities (who you fuck) it focuses on all non-normative sexualities, some that don't depend on the gender of the person you’re fucking (i.e., non-monogamy, bdsm, sex work, etc.).
Queer means "strange". And when we queer sexuality, we critique the boxes that are formed around our understanding of sexuality, we critique the permanence (if you're gay, you'll always and constantly desire gay love b/c that's *who you are* not what you do) of sexual identities. Queer is more fluid-- sometimes you may desire this and sometimes you may desire that—it makes more sense to label your desires rather than who you are because of them. What you do is easily changed but who you are is always a crisis-- that's just too much pressure.
Queer critiques the idea of "normal". If we label something normal (or an act/way of being "normative") what is happening is that we are setting a status-quo, calling it "normal" and by way of this we are creating an "ab-normal" and if anyone happens to fall into the "ab-normal" category (which we have invented) then they are going to get shit on. It works very similar to the ways most privileges work. Normal, sexually, would be heterosexual couples that have monogamous permanent relationships and don’t have kinky sex and don’t sell or buy eroticism. Abnormal is everything else. So queer aims to smash the idea and the very desire for there to be a "normal". We don't need status-quos and normative expectations-- they cage us, whether we fit into their boxes or not.
Also, what queer does with sexuality, it can do with other things. We can queer many things. What that means is finding the boxes and cages of something and getting rid of them. For instance, with politics, as you are aware, people often think they have the Correct Line or are constantly searching for it. They want one political ideology to find it with, too. In reality, we can pull from all sorts of different theories and use them when they're useful-- the world is complex and it requires a complex understanding. The nitty gritty is not something we always have to clean up-- in that mess is where we can find some understanding.
Anyway, I think a lot of this may seem pretty abstract, but in real life queer organizing is important b/c people are killed, caged and tortured by the state and by each other because they don't fit into the boxes we're given, for instance transgender and genderqueer folks don't even have simple social viability within the way sexuality and gender has been constructed-- hell, they don't even exist-- we erase them, make them strange. Of course, if we didn't have the boxes we do around sexual identity, then this would not be the case. Queer organizing aims to dismantle the ways we conceive of and reproduce sexual identity and gender and all that jazz.
WE WANT A QUEERER FUTURE AND WE WILL MAKE ONE!