Jagose, A. 1996. Queer Theory: An Introduction.

Jagose, Annamarie. 1996. Queer Theory: An Introduction. New York: New York University Press.


Queer as pejorative previously, re-appropriated – “culturally marginal sexual self-identifications” or theoretical model developed out of gay and lesbian studies.  Perceived inverse relationship with normative academicism, queer as inherently against normativity. Queering of gay and lesbian studies as a strong debate – dematerializing gender, or inherently unfeminist, reactionary? Resisting stability through heterosexuality- mismatch between sex, gender, desire. Queer not as reactionary, radical – but presented here as value-less.  (kx^ is this possible?) Future of queerness cannot be determined or trajectorized.

Theorising Same-Sex Desire

  • What is homosexuality, exactly? Sexual attraction to one’s own sex, historically, but ambiguous in categorization – desire, practice, identity? Homosexual acts as culturally situated, is this sexuality shared? Creates debates of essentialism and constructionism in defining gender, sex, sexuality
  • The invention of homosexuality – social role versus malady? Foucault (1981) notes homosexuality as a modern invention, despite pre-label sex acts, no category. Homosexuality as a community, as a culture with norms. Industrialization and urbanization’s impact on creating identity. Male homosexuality as particularly condemned, female homosexuality less regulated. Gender essentialism as strongly involved in the regulation and sanctioning of homosociality.  “Homosexuality has existed throughout history, in all types of society, among all social classes and peoples, and it has survived qualified approval, indifference, and the most vicious persecution.  But what have varied enormously are the ways in which various societies have regarded homosexuality, the meanings they have attached to it, and how those who were engaged in homosexual activity viewed themselves” (15-16).
  • Homosexuality and heterosexuality: notion of unexamined heterosexuality, homosexuality often thought to be a less-evolved form of heterosexuality or an inauthentic means of structuring participation in social institutions. Heterosexuality, too, as a construction.

The Homophile Movement

Education programs and political reforms to increase tolerance, decriminalization acts.  Origins in Europe in late 1800’s. Movement and identity co-emergence. “Laws of nature, not laws of man”- naturalization of homosexual acts, appeal to personless offense – “not hurting anyone,” emphasizing contributions of famous homosexuals. Emergence of homosexuals as “third sex”- Karl Urlich (circa 1870). Attributions of psychological abnormality, by in-movement members – but to “remedy” or to “suffer?” (sexual inversion) Focus on masculinism, gay male experience; erasure of lesbian identity as homosexual, or pertinent. Feminization of lesbians, in order to gain better employment; rejection of “working class butch” … all politics of respectability.

Gay Liberation

Stonewall Era – emergence of political activism, shift away from assimilationism. Gay pride, casting difference. Militant culture and political tactics, similar to other social movements of the day. Impacts of sexual revolution, feminist movements. Emergence of intersectionality and multifacetedness of oppression. However, non-monolithic.  “Coming Out” as self-assertion, a political movement, and adoption of identity. Homosexuality as a way to disempower patriarchy, emergence of bisexuality (Kinsey studies), noting construction of sexual orientation categories.

Lesbian Feminism

Marginalization in both gay liberation and women’s movements; gay and lesbian experience as far different, in history, in context. Co-option of Friedan’s “Lavender Menace” denunciation of lesbians within feminism à radicalesbians. Recognition of lesbian as a slur of “powerful” femininity.  “Compulsory Heterosexuality” – Adrienne Rich (1978/1980) – lesbianism as a political tool against patriarchal domination. Questioning of male homosexuality as fully embedded within the patriarchy, or as a powerful tool against it. Impacts on queerness/theory: “its attention to the specificity of gender, its framing of sexuality as institutional rather than personal, and its critique of compulsory heterosexuality” (61).

Limits of Identity

Mid-1970s – introduction of sexual orientation.  Move from liberationist (abandoning dichotomies and labels) to an  ethnic model (identity, culture, norms, legitimization). Introduction of S&M, race-baced subjects, drag, porn, butch/fem, bisexuality, polyamory – questions binarism of hetero vs. homo. Challenging of sexuality as a primary or even relevant identity for individuals. Complications between sexual desire, sex acts, romantic relationships, and categories of identity – (see also Califia 1983).  Issues of intergenerational sex, and age-limits to eroticism.


  • Homosexual, lesbian or gay, queer: debates on labels – history, medicalization, oppressions and reclamation – “a continuity and a break with previous gay liberationist and lesbian feminist models” (79). “Queer is a product of specific cultural and theoretical pressures which increasingly structured debates (both within and outside the academy) about questions of lesbian and gay identity”(80) – no agreement on exact definition – a questioning of progress, liberation, norms, system, structure, rationality – rejection of identity politics associated with assimilating into gay and lesbian movements –
  • The post-structuralist context of queer : identities as contingent, limited by exisiting categories of political representation, integration of Marxism, psychoanalysis (particularly that of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan – “establish subjectivity as something which must be learned, rather than as something which is always already there.  Subjectivity is not an essential property of the self, but something which originates outside of it.  Identity, then, is an effect of identification with and against others: being ongoing, and always incomplete, it is a process rather than a property” (83). Foucault (discourse as mode of resistance – where there is power, there is resistance), Freud, Lacan, Saussure as post-structuralists.

Performativity and identity: Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble as key text in queer theory – how gender acts as a construct that regulates and privileges heterosexuality; how deconstructing normative models of gay and lesbianism creates a legitimization of queer subject-positions.  To Butler, feminism works against women, as it becomes a regulatory fiction of classifying a falsely defined solidarity and uniformity – reproduces inquality of sex, gender, desire that create heteroprivilege – thus, “any commitment to gender identity works ultimately against the legitimation of homosexual subjects”(88). “Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being”  (see Butler 1990) – gender as ongoing, a discursive practice. “Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that ‘performance’ is not a singular ‘act’ or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production, but not, I will insist, determining it fully in advance” (see Butler 1993a, 95) – however, critiqued because of its ignorance to power relations and hierarchies. … What are the politics of identity politics?

  • HIV/AIDS discourses: queer as a re-politicization and radicalization of movement, may be associated with increased homophobia of AIDS epidemic – medicalization, safe sex education inclusivity, coalition of marginalized sexual identities, increased focus to discourse surrounding current events, politics, contentions of power in epidemiology and knowledge-creation. AIDS as a post-structural metaphor for the death of the subject, rethinking of subjectivity as multiplex, instead of male, white, middle-class. Post-structuralist, feminist, post-colonialism.
  • Queer identity: Queer as an object without essence, without reference. Ambiguous, relational. Queer as auto-descriptive, rather than empiricized observations, characteristic. “Queer may exclude lesbians and gay men whose identification with community and identity marks a relatively recent legitimacy, but include all those whose sexual identifications are not considered normal or sanctioned” (102). Both anti-assimilationist and anti-separatist – unpacking gay and lesbian monothicism.

Contestations of Queer

Destabilization of identity as inherently homophobic? (see Wolfe and Penelope 1993) How to create a vernacular understanding of grouping, definition? How to create strong political impact? Reappropriation does not necessarily signify the end of homophobia – the naturalization of queer as a term creates the exact opposite consequence of its intent; insulated by academic practice or anti-identity identity groups, inclusion versus exclusion – who can “belong?”  Straight queers, perverts, etc – anti-lesbian, inherently masculist? Is sexuality and gender as it relates to feminism narrowly focused?

Afterword: will queer fade or homogenize?  What is the future between queerness and feminism’s juxtaposition and integration? Critique of identity, adoption of identity?


Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York:

Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. New York: Routledge.

Califia, Pat. 1983. “Gay Men, Lesbians, and Sex: Doing It Together.” Advocate7: pp. 24-27.

Foucault, Michel. 1981. The history of Sexuality, Volume One: An Introduction. [1978]. Trans. Robert Hurley. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (France, 1976).


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