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During class discussions, we have examined several approaches to sexuality and sexual practices. Queer theory is an extremely interesting but somewhat confusing topic to grasp, however, it is an important concept to understand. There are many queer theories, and various scholars are concerned with queer theory and offer their insight into the notion.
Queer theory has several definitions and it can mean something different to every individual. By definition, queer theory is a field of critical theory that emerged in the early 1990’s out of the fields of queer studies and women’s studies. It includes both the theorization of queerness itself and queer readings of texts. Some features that unify most queer theories are resisting the categorization of people and challenging the idea of essential identities. Queer theory is concerned with decomposing the binaries which define the world as being a specific way only. This theory investigates why some people are seen to be under the gender umbrella and why some people are outside of it. Queer theory also refers to questioning identity therefore it analyzes the fixed identity categories such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and asexual.
One scholar whose viewpoint was discussed in Queer: A Graphic History, that I agree with is Simon de Beauvoir. She was an existentialist in the early 20th century. Her main claim was centered around “existence precedes essence” which is opposite of the beliefs of an essentialist. This means that someone’s personality is not created from a previously designed model but instead from the person who engages in the activity. As discussed in class, essentialism is the belief that humans have a fixed essence which anticipates the meanings that we give ourselves from experience. Existentialists contrast this idea and believe in existentialism which is defined as the approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. De Beauvoir, being an existentialist, feels that the world and culture we are born into already have several meanings which constrict our freedom. She also emphasizes the point that some people are always seen to be freer than others. I completely agree with her points because throughout time I have realized that we should be free to choose and embrace our sexual orientation, and how we dress and look without judgement.
She also wrote The Second Sex which focuses primarily on gender. De Beauvoir feels that gender is something we become rather than something we are. She also highlights the societal pressures on women to conform to societies’ gender notions and become something for others not for themselves.
A second scholar that was portrayed in the book was Jean-Paul Sartre. He was a western philosopher of the 20th century and is also an existentialist. He believed that we are in “bad faith” if we deceive ourselves that we have to be a certain way due to social roles in a community or from one’s biology. Bad faith refers to adopting false characteristics and values from social forces which overall leads to a lack of freedom in an individual. His ideas are similar to De Beauvoir’s ideas. He feels likes we are on a never-ending course of self-creation. I agree with his beliefs because I feel that it is important to break away from the knowledge we gain that is constructed through interaction with others, and really focus on ourselves and what we want to do or be instead. Giving our own lives meaning is what society needs to feel free. Others should not have a say or an effect on how ones behaves or feels.
A third scholar that was examined throughout Queer: A Graphic History, was Gayle Rubin. She was known for being a theorist and activist of sex and gender politics. She wrote an essay called “Thinking sex” which analyzed sexuality on various dimensions rather than concentrating on gender of attraction. In this essay, she introduced the “Charmed Circle” which is the concept that the “Good Charmed Circle” that is privileged by society such as heterosexual, and the “Bad Outer Limits” is the outer circle that lists other sexualities and ideas such as homosexual. This model represents that there is a hierarchal valuation of sex acts. She also discussed the domino theory which is when society reinforces the line between acceptable and unacceptable sex because they see it standing between sexual order. I agree how she states that “Instead of judging sexual tastes according to an arbitrary line, we should emphasize the way partners treat one another”. This society has become so judgmental just because not everyone acts and believes in the same things. If we do not follow the norms in our communities, we are automatically seen as abnormal. I also agree and am interested with how she states that there are six ideologies that constrain us including, “sexual essentialism, sex negativity, the excessive importance placed on sexual behavior, the sex hierarchy, the domino theory of sexual peril, and the lack of a concept of benign sexual variation”. Society as a whole seems to lack the knowledge and concept about favorable sexual variation and we need to realize that just because we do not do something, does not make it wrong when someone else does.
There are many examples of queer theory within popular culture today. One example is a song written by Lady Gaga called, “Born This Way”. The meaning of this song is basically if people are born gay, then it should be acceptable to be gay because that is who they are. Being gay is a process of living and as Gaga says in her song “Don’t hide yourself in regret, just love yourself and your set”, she is saying that everyone should embrace their true identity and show who they really are rather than hiding from society because of the fear of being rejected or judged. Gaga is displaying the idea that there are no binaries and that one will be on the right track if they break away from the social constructions learned in society.
Another example in popular culture is “I kissed a girl” by Katy Perry. As she says in the song “I kissed a girl and I liked it” and “It felt so wrong, it felt so right” she is explaining that because of society and the strict gender roles for females, she should not be doing certain things, such as kissing other women. She is saying it felt wrong because sadly, homosexuality is not always accepted or viewed as normal to societal expectations. This relates to queer theory because there should not be a strict separation between the two binaries of male and female. A spectrum should exist so that no one has to feel almost shameful because of their true, sometimes hidden, identity. Unfortunately, in society, human beings seem to be divided into male and female, and nothing else.
Queer theory goes against this notion and wants to terminate this idea and get us away from thinking in this strict binary sense. Male and female are just social constructs that society develops from the way we live and are brought up. Our communities need to recognize that what is important is how we feel inside and not what other thinks of us.
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