Queer Theory

Published 16 Feb 2017

The concept of sexuality, what is socially accepted, what is ‘natural’, what is prescribed by religion, what is deemed deviant has been a form of social analysis, controversy, political debate and a measure of human progress. For what was considered the least talked about issue in society, sexuality was in many ways what defined the individual, their society, culture and the legal and moral laws that presided within it. The controllers of power were white, middle class, heterosexual men. If one of the white, middle to upper class men were found to be practicing homosexuality they were deemed to be under the influence of Satan himself. Homosexuality was in many ways to the hegemonic masculinity an abdication of the throne, stepping down from the privileged class and taking the form of the lower forms of life; women and the lesser races.

There are many ways in approaching homosexuality as a subject. Throughout the ages, the discussion of homosexuality has evolved in many ways- from tracking its history, to knowing it as a subject, as a phenomenon or as a pathological cycle. Today, the subject of homosexuality have reached a perspective that is radical and sharp in the analysis of its very nature; thus, helping the homosexual population in achieving their rightful place in the society.

Delimiting homosexuality, this paper will focus in discussing the gay male gender identity, the sociological aspects that shapes ones identity, and the patriarchal construct of the present society that creates oppression and an invisible margin that pushes away the members of the third sex.

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The gay male gender identity as constructed by society through the perpetration of prejudice and the creation of stigmas and stereotypes proved to be hindered in their pursuit of being understood by the society. Also, in this paper’s perspective, the illusion of liberalization didn’t create a forward push for the members of the third sex to genuinely achieve their goals in the society, because what it created in the aspect of race, ethnicity, and sexuality is merely tolerance that furthermore shadowed the reach for knowledge of better acknowledgement and acceptance the homosexuals.

Evidently, gays have pursued acceptance and equality through various forms of movements; yet, more times than none, they have not emerged victorious. Many societal institutions have prohibited homosexual groups any form of basic equality by passing laws and heavily relying on religious documents to convey that the homosexual lifestyle is morally wrong. For example, the denial of gay marriages across further facilitates systems of inequality. Heterosexual marriage grants exclusive rights, such as joint bank accounts and hospital visitation, whereas due to the denial of gay marriages, homosexuals are not granted the opportunity to obtain these resources that are associated with marriage. It is similar to the Marxist perspective in that the dominant group (heterosexuals) exploits the subordinate group (homosexuals) for a feeling of superiority.

These techniques have impacted the superstructure of Australian culture by duplicitously weaving these fallacious aspects into the social mindset. Scholars examine many theories as to why this hegemonic belief exists. Their main claim is that these beliefs have been socially constructed. A prime example in the construction of difference among homosexual men is found in chapter 12 of Michael Kimmler’s article in Tracy Ore’s book. In the article he addresses the aspect of masculinity and how it has become extensively constructed in society. “We are afraid of other men” (Ore 127) is a direct quote from this chapter. This can be interpreted to mean that masculine men suppress the less masculine, the minorities, so they could feel superior. A common notion is that homosexual men are feminine. Because of this thought, they are constantly made to feel inferior because of the feminine stereotype that integrates into their status; this falls back to the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat within the Marxist school of thought.

Through human interaction these false beliefs disseminate into society, become objectified, internalized, and then taken for granted. This is part of a three-stage process. The first stage is known as externalization. It is a creation of cultural products through interaction that become publicly consumed. These cultural products can be material artifacts or, in keeping with the topic, a universal belief that homosexuality is deviant. Through the word of mouth, the stigma that is attached to homosexuals has been consumed and continues to spread through human interaction. This leads to objectification, the second stage, which occurs when the products being consumed partake in a life of their own (Ore 6). For example, the now consumed belief toward homosexuals has become abhorrent through human interaction; yet society neglects to see their role in this fallacious idea. If society would realize their role in this system of inequality then the problem at hand would not exist. This is known as internalization, the final stage. Members of society acknowledge their roles in society and seldom question their formed belief system. These belief systems are hegemonic in that they are culturally dominant ideas.

What we now have is what social constructionists would deem a false reality. Social construction is a process in which reality is created. It suggests that our perceptions, which are socially constructed, are false. Therefore, everything we have come to believe as being “normal” is, in reality, misleading. This pertains to views toward sexuality, such as the “deviant” homosexual status established through human interaction. Social constructionism holds that categories of sexuality, like hetero/homo, derive from cultural influences, not from essential features of an individual’s biology or psychology (Berggren n.p.). Through social construction, an ideology evolves and creates dominance over any form of behavior or belief that deviates from the norm. Everything is influenced through human interaction. Essentialists would tend to disagree. Essentialists contend that an individual is born with an innate and unchangeable behavior. It is predetermined by “genetic, biological, or physiological mechanisms and thus not subject to change” (Ore 5). In terms of sexuality, essentialists believe that sexuality is determined by biology and psychology and that an individual is born gay or straight with no other features, such as human interaction, being of influence. Because essentialism proclaims a predetermined status, it guides society to make informed decisions on what is valued and devalued.

To add more perplexity to the topic of sexual inequality, queer theory has now arisen. This new theory serves to expose guilty parties involved that reinforce negative stigmas toward homosexuals. This theory stemmed from the gender rebellion feminist thought perspective. Similar to gender rebellion theory, queer theory focuses solely on eradicating dichotomies and pursuing fair treatment within the media; its goal is to place more levels within the gay community, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, rather than simply gay and lesbian. The theory aims to eliminate any and all signs of exclusivity (Klages n.p.). In Paula Rust’s article, chapter 15, she discusses the perils of being labeled bisexual in the two main dichotomies that exist: hetero/homo. “Some women identify themselves as bisexual only among other bisexuals…and lesbians among lesbians” (Ore 162). There is a feeling of shame and a notion of not belonging if an individual classifies himself or herself as a bisexual because seldom has there been a universal thought to include bisexuals; this is what queer theory is trying to solve.

However, through the years the queer theory made lots of advancement in making further understanding of the gay sexuality. Thus, queer theory expands the scope of its analysis to all kinds of behaviors, including those that are gender-bending as well as those which involve “queer” non-normative forms of sexuality. The word homosexuality comes from the Greek word ‘homo’ meaning different, the scope which the queer theory encompasses covers all the types of humans that participates in sexual activities with same sex. The kind of self expression from transvestites to bisexuals are all covered in queer theory in whatever aspect as to how they conduct themselves in public or even in the very basic mode of self expression, in the clothes they wear, effeminate or masculine they maybe as long as they participate in same sex sexual activities, they are queer. This concept is crucial in constructing this theory for it is vital not to create other modes of marginalization, repression, and oppression to any kind of human being. This tends to emancipate a certain minority which is the homosexuals and this will only remain true to its essence as long as it does not subvert anyone.

Today, the concept of ‘queer theory’ provided a distinctive way of viewing sexual desire, an approach that resists categorization (Creed, p.124). Human desire comes in diversified forms: some expressions such as gay, straight and bi mark out the object of desire, while other terms such as auto-erotic, vanilla, masochistic and fetishistic articulate the nature of desire. In spite of the multiplicity of sexual desire, the dominant culture has attempted to bind it to a singular form – heterosexual, penetrative coupling – in which the male is oppressive and the female submissive (Creed, p.124).
Queer theory seeks to disclose the problem of what we might term hetero-normative or ‘straight thinking’, arguing that identities are not fixed biologically, hence they do not determine who we are (Creed, p.124). It proposes that

one’s sexual identity and one’s gender identity are partly or wholly socially constructed, and therefore individuals cannot really be described using broad terms like ‘homosexual,’ ‘heterosexual,’ ‘man,’ or ‘woman’ (Jagose, p.3; Creed, p.124). It challenges the common practice of isolating the description of a person to fit into one particular category, emphasizing instead on diversity and plurality of sexual identities. (Jagose, p.3; Creed, p.124). In particular, queer questions the notion that sexual identity comprises a stable, fixed set of meanings. Queer argues that regardless of being heterosexual or homosexual, bisexual or transsexual, a fixed sexual identity does not exist (Creed, p.124). Above and beyond that, queer argues that there are no rigid gender characteristics that are associated with heterosexuality or homosexuality. Rather, an individual’s sexual identity and sexual preference are fluid, subject to change and transformation (Creed, p.124).

That is, biologically we do have a fixed sex, but our sexual orientation is volatile and changeable. In other words, gender is not instinctive, but an act; it is ‘what you do’ at particular times, rather than a universal ‘who you are’. Butler (p.24) argues that we all put on a gender performance, whether traditional or not and so it is not a question of whether to take on a gender performance, but what form that performance will take. By choosing to be different about it, we might work to change gender norms and the binary understanding of masculinity and femininity. This idea of identity as free-floating, as not connected to a state of naturalness, but instead a performance, is one of the key ideas in queer theory (Butler, p.24). Seen in this way, our identities, gendered and otherwise, do not express some authentic inner ‘core’ self but are the dramatic effect, rather than the cause of our performances (Butler, p.24).

Homosexuality has persisted and evolved throughout the ages and only a thorough consideration will enable the application of some basic sociological analysis from theories that will allow us to fully understand queer theory. Homosexuality has been extremely prevalent in many of the cultures of the past such as in Ancient Greece, Imperial China, and Europe during the Renaissance and England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In some cases, homosexuality was accepted as a natural phenomenon.

The Ancient Greeks had a positive and accepting view on homosexuality, which is shown in tangible evidence as well as can be inferred by the nature of their mythology. The Greeks had a very different view on sexuality, rather than having a male and female part, they felt that it was more of passive and active parts, which is an explanation for their passive attitude towards homosexuality. The Greeks also “assumed that at one time or another almost everyone would respond to both heterosexual and homosexual stimuli (Downing p136). The passive and active roles are clearly shown by the types of homosexual relationships in which the Ancient Greek partook. The relationship was almost always a young boy and an older man. In fact, young boys would often go to gymnasiums to show off to older men in hopes of being selected by a noble. The decadency of homosexual relationships can also be clearly shown in Symposium, a fable written by Plato:

They show their masculinity throughout their boyhood by the way they make friends with men, and the delight they take in lying beside them and being taken in their arms”When they themselves have come to manhood, their love in turn is lavished upon men. They have no natural inclination to marry and beget children. Indeed, they do so only in deference to the usage of society, for they would just as soon renounce marriage altogether and spend their lives with one another. In a word, such persons are devoted to lovers in boyhood and themselves lovers of boys in manhood. [(Sypm.192) Downing 139].

Another aspect of Ancient Greek life, which clearly shows their acceptance of homosexuality, is their religion and mythology. The subject does not embarrass them, nor do they think that it is dirty or immoral. This is clearly shown, as they believe in stories that place their most highly pristine god, Zeus, in a situation that resembles the homosexual tendencies of the time. One famous Greek myth is of Zeus and Ganymede; Ganymede was supposed to be the “loveliest of the born mortals”. Zeus would carry this young boy up mount Olympus so that he could be with him. Another mythological character, which could be viewed as having homosexual tendencies, is Apollo. Apollo is almost always depicted naked, and as well as being the sun god, he is the patron god of the Greek festival of naked boys. Same-sex unions were also common among females of Ancient Greek times. This comes mostly from their dislike of men. The Amazons, for example, were strong women who only sought out men for the need of procreation.

These women must have found affection in amongst their Amazon sisters. Another mythical reference to the Greeks’ homosexuality is that of the goddess Artemis. Artemis was quite like the Amazons in her independence from men and her obvious hatred of them. Artemis also had a group of nymphs which where her followers, and it can be inferred that he goddess found solace in her nymphs as the Amazons found in each other. The Greeks did not worship the Christian faith, which could be one reason why they were not ignorant towards homosexuality.

Another non-Christian society which has roots in accepting homosexuality can be found in Imperial China. It started off as a society in which homosexuality was a normal and accepted aspect of life, but it abruptly changed its views in the seventeenth century. In the 3rd century BCE, homosexuality was a normal and accepted phenomenon. “It appears as if male homosexuality was tolerated as long as it was not an exclusive sexual relationship and men fulfilled their procreative duties” (Duberman pg. 77). There are texts that clearly state male homosexual relations among rulers and other nobles. One is “Chronicles of the Warring States” that includes numerous biographies that clearly state the authors’ blatant homosexual relationships. Homosexuality was tolerated among rulers as well; in fact, the Chinese words for male loving male relationships are named after ancient homosexual rulers and/or stories about ancient Chinese rulers and nobles.

Europeans during the Renaissance and the Middle Ages were opposed to all sexuality and considered it dirty and immoral, but they where especially opposed to homosexuality. Any sexual relations which where overly pleasurable or weren’t for procreation were considered a sin. The missionary position was the only moral form of intercourse and even then the participants where not to enjoy themselves too much. Having the woman on top, entry from behind, anal or oral sex were completely out of the question and where considered sins, which ruled out any homosexual relation at all. Just because homosexuality was outlawed, didn’t mean that there were no sexual relations. In cities large enough for anonymity, homosexuality was celebrated secretly by all classes, including nobles such as Frances Henri III and Britain’s James I. Homosexuality was condemned not only religiously, but civilly as well. In Venice in 1406, eight nobles and fifteen non-noble where arrested for sodomy, in Florence, several hundred men where prosecuted a year for sodomy in the fifteenth century.

Sodomy was not the only homosexual crime severely punished in Europe at the time. In 1578, there were several “marriages” between Portuguese men. The couples lived together until they where arrested and burned. Women where not excluded from these laws either. Two fifteenth century nuns where burned for penetration with a dildo. This societies’ homosexual communities have one big thing in common with the Ancient Greeks in that most of the homosexual relations exist where an older man and a younger boy is in consideration. “In an atmosphere of indiscriminate pleasure-seeking, boys where considered interchangeable with women because of the still “˜feminine’ physical characteristics of beardless, high voiced, smooth skinned adolescents” (Duberman pg. 92).

Feminist theorists looked at gender as a system of signs, or signifiers, assigned to sexually dimorphic bodies, which served to differentiate the social roles and meanings those bodies could have. Feminist theory thus argued that gender was a social construct, something designed and implemented and perpetuated by social organizations and structures, than just being essential to a person, something innate to the ways bodies worked on a biological level. In this light, the feminist theory made two very important contributions. A very important point is that the feminist theory separated the social from the biological, insisting that we see a difference between what is the product of human ideas, hence something mutable and changeable, and what is the product of biology, hence something (relatively) stable and unchangeable. By separating the social and the biological, the constructed and the innate, feminist theory insisted that gender is not innate to a human being, its is dynamic and a person is capable of reinventing himself not by changing his sexuality but by making a representation for it.

Part of Queer theory is based around the recognition of the role of interpretation in understanding all aspects of human life. That is, queer theory assumes that events, attitudes, relationships, etc., are never self-evident or self-interpreting but always require some grid of interpretation or key to decode and make sense of them. This to some extent even includes the provision, participation and enjoyment of leisure. In Australia, for instance, where homosexuality is blatantly considered wrong, several circumstances has arisen that greatly manifested how homosexuality is continually repressed by the hegemonic culture. An example is Rugby which is a national sport. In the football field, it should be a milieu for rugby players to massively exhibit their masculinity, the physical strength of a man, and in return this highlighted the line of margining women as mere spectators for the game, and in these mode queers and or gay males are even more on the back line.

Lastly, queer theory has made interesting contributions to sociology, and though many sociologists are wary and skeptical of Queer theory some have taken Queer theory and used it constructively in social analysis. Sociology influenced by Queer theory is a move to a model of difference that provokes new insights into the continual reproduction of heteronormativity hegemony.
Sociologists have been challenged to sharpen their analytical lenses, to grow sensitized to the discursive production of sexual identities, and to be mindful of the force of heteronormativity as a fundamental organizing principle throughout the social order.

The impact of queer theory can also be seen in studies of the institutional regulation and management of sexualities, and in people’s responses to that regulation by media, religion, kinship institutions, and political organizations.

Sociologists have used Queer theory in application of the globalized media, in particular in the explosion of reality television such as Big Brother and talk shows such as Ricki Lake who provide a slice of what and how sexuality and sexualities operate within society. They not only study the behavior of the people within this media discourse but a public (church groups, politicians, psychologists) reaction to their behavior.

Sociologists have used Queer theory in an examination of power and authority in the intersections between class and or race and sexuality. Scholars have examined how those in power use languages of sexuality to naturalize oppression based on race, class, and gender, such as in racist understandings of black women as sexually insatiable, Asian women as sexually exotic, black men as sexually predatory, and white women as sexually innocent. These assumptions, whether spoken or unspoken, have influenced policies as broad as colonization, marriage and welfare law, healthcare and education and not to mention less institutionalized practices.

The importance of Queer theory and its contributions to social analysis and a general understanding how the world has and continues to function is never ending in possibilities. Queer theory can continue its deconstruction and reinvention over time because sexuality is always changing. A continued effort of social analysis through a Queer lens can only help expose the many intricacies of sexuality. It’s potential to escape criticisms of Eurocentric bias and utilize it’s position that it’s available to everyone can help deepen an understanding of Western understandings of race, culture, ethnicity in regard to sexuality. Queer theory is in a constant state of change and challenge; it can only continue to broaden itself and academics into new thought-provoking realms.

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