Book. To propose an accessible introduction to queer theory in less than 200 pages, abundantly illustrated moreover, the bet was ambitious. Reckless even, when one thinks of the reputation of aridity, not totally unjustified, which sticks to the skin of this concept. By adopting a didactic tone tinged with humor, Meg-John Barker, activist and academic, and Jules Scheele, illustrator, deliver a rhythmic story, both thematic and chronological, which succeeds in this tour de force.
They begin by tracing the journey of the term “queer,” from the homophobic slur used against Oscar Wilde in 1894 to critical theory and marker of identity or politics a century later. A reversal of stigma common in minority struggles, as in France where gay and lesbian activists reclaim the insulting “queer” and “dyke”.
It is in this way, say the authors, that “queer” has become, in the English-speaking world and then in France, a “umbrella term” covering people on the margins of a society marked by heterosexuality and gender binarity. Almost a more political synonym of the acronym LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, intersex, asexual).
Heterosexuality as “standard”
But queer theory goes further than this militant or identity use – or even now marketing. The book traces its genealogy: several decades of thought and feminist and anti-racist struggles that have led to the identification of gender as a social construction. In a direct line, the poststructuralists, Lacan, Derrida and above all Foucault, with his History of sexualitythe first volume of which was published in 1976.
At the very beginning of the 1990s, two founding texts appeared: “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities”, by the Italian Teresa de Lauretis in Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies And Gender Disorder (Routledge, 1990), by the American Judith Butler. For the two philosophers, summarize Meg-John Barker and Jules Scheele, the place of heterosexuality as “normal and natural standard of sexuality, used to categorize people”, nothing is immutable. On the contrary, “gender and sexual identities are constructed by ways of thinking and being” specific to a given place and time; they are “performed” – gender is “something we do, more than something we are”.
From there, queer analysis focuses on “examine power relations related to sexuality and gender”, mobilizing many concepts that the authors explain with pedagogy (surveillance, power, body, performativity, normativity, etc.). They also list, in mirror image, the main criticisms leveled at her and how she has more or less digested them: underestimating the weight of the racial question; remain centered on Western realities; disarm feminist struggles that rely on the binary categories “man” and “woman” to claim rights; wallowing in intellectualization, remaining inaccessible and politically ineffective.
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