Thursday, April 9, 2015

Which Came First?

Queer theory is post-structural in its ability to constantly shift the way we, as a society, view the culturally-constructed ideas of gender and sexuality. According to Judith Butler, our idea of “man” cannot exist without “woman;” likewise, our idea of “heterosexuality” cannot exist without “homosexuality.” My understanding of queer theory is that we have tried to place people and into two steadfast categories: man and woman, and homosexuality and heterosexuality, but these hard and fast categories are unable to function the way we have built them to function, because we are more fluid and diverse than these categories allow. They are ill-functioning signs. They are necessary signs, however, says Butler. At least in a political sense, to gain attention and to promote change in the way we structure our understanding of these identities. Butler says that we must “[avow] the sign’s strategic provisionality rather than its strategic essentialism,” because, as Butler and other queer theorists assert, these signs are not essential as we as a society believe them to be.
Queer theory also points out that our ideas about gender and sexuality are completely in relation to society. Homosexuality in modern America is far removed from homosexuality in ancient Greece. 

To illustrate this, I drew a picture of a heterosexual person popping out of an egg next to a homosexual couple. This draws from our class conversation on which came first: the homosexual or the heterosexual (much like the familiar argument about the chicken and the egg). It is impossible to tell which is the original and which is the copy. One cannot simply exist without the other, because for there to be homosexuality there needs to be heterosexuality to oppose it and vice versa. 
I wonder if there are any categorical identities that we can create that will satisfy our fluidity and diversity? 
I also wonder if there are identities (related to sexuality or anything else) that we haven't named yet because we haven't yet named the opposing identity.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my gosh, Emily, this is terrific. You really understand the poststructuralism at the heart of Queer Theory. Your discussion of the "ill-functioning" signs and how Butler thinks of that as a strategic provisionality-- wonderful. I wish you had explained a bit more what you think the difference is between that strategic provisionality and strategic essentialism... But really, this gets right to the key ideas of Butler's work, and also raises wonderful questions about how we can exist in the world and talk about each other without always recreating the kind of oppressive categories that hem us in.