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Queer Theory

Origins Of Queer Theory, Aids And Queer Theory, Limits Of Identity, Michel Foucault, Gayle Rubin

Since the early 1990s, the term queer has been strategically taken up to signify a wide-ranging and unmethodical resistance to normative models of sex, gender, and sexuality. Although this use of queer marks a process of resignification as new meanings and values are associated with what was once a term of homophobic abuse, there is always an important sense in which queer maintains, even in changed illocutionary circumstances, its original charge of shame. Despite such a short history, the accelerated rise of queer as a critical term demonstrates the significant impact it has had on understandings of the cultural formations of gendered and sexual identities and practices, both in activist and academic circles.

The term queer is necessarily indeterminate, taking on different—and sometimes contradictory—meanings in different articulations. Sometimes queer is synonymous with lesbian and gay, for which it becomes a convenient shorthand. At other times, it refers to a generational or even fashion-led distinction between old-style lesbians and gays and new-style sexual outlaws. Yet again, it can signify a coalition of nonnormative sexual identities—most often conceptually rather than materially realized—which might include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. In other deployments, queer denotes not an identity as such but the taking of a critical distance from the identity-based categories of modern sexuality—in particular a distance from the identity politics central to traditional understandings of the lesbian and gay communities: "instead of theorizing queer in terms of its opposition to identity politics, it is more accurate to represent it as ceaselessly interrogating both the preconditions of identity and its effects" (Jagose, pp. 131–132). This last sense is taken up by queer studies, which uses the term to draw attention to various incoherencies in the supposedly stable and causal relations between sex, gender, and sexual desire.

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