Queer Theory


Who?               Various

When?             1960’s – ongoing



Following on from the ideas discussed on the pages about ‘Discourse’ and ‘Deconstructionism’ we can see our societies and, as a result of this, our texts tend to be controlled by a Discourse of ideology that sees homosexuality or bisexuality as in some sense inferior to ‘natural’ heterosexuality. Queer theory attempts to undermine this ‘Binary Opposition’ and establish some equality between the various sexualities.


Queer theorists and writers have attempted to do a number of things in literature:


Firstly, they attempt to reclaim some of the negative terms that were often used to imply that homosexuals were in some way inferior. Queer is a clear example of this; a word which had connotations of the strange, the unusual and the threatening but which is beginning to be used more neutrally to mean, simply, homosexual. Camp, drag, gay, bent are all further examples of this.


Secondly, queer theorists have pointed out how our ideas of what a ‘real’ man should be are artificial and constructed. We all know that ‘real’ men should be rough and tough and not show emotions, etc … There is, however, no reasons why these are characteristics of ‘straight’ men as opposed to ‘gay’ men or even men as opposed to women. Similarly women are often defined by their relationship to men, which is something that is clearly irrelevant to gay women.


Thirdly, queer theorists have cast doubt upon writers who have employed stereotypical pictures of men and masculinity. By being so obviously ‘straight’ are they simply trying to hide inner uncertainties?


Fourthly, queer theorists attempt to provide queer (in the sense of unusual) readings of texts. Readings which challenge the assumptions and established oppositions and hierarchies in a text. For example, Adrienne Rich’s lesbian reading of Jane Eyre changes the story from a classical romance between man and woman to one where Jane is nurtured and educated by a series of loving, female, mother figures.


There is much more to Queer Theory than this. However, the key points are that it follows closely from the idea of reading against the grain and challenging the assumptions that a text makes and that it points out how artificial our ideas of what makes a person a ‘real’ man or a ‘real’ woman are.