Social Justice Usage
Source: Barnett, Joshua Trey, and Corey W. Johnson. “Queer.” Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice, Sherwood Thomson (ed.). Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, p. 582.
As an activist framework, queer functions as a verb: “to queer” is to “challenge the dominance of heterosexist discourses” (Beemyn & Eliason, 1996, p. 165) or is “a distorting, a making the solid unstable” (Corber & Valocchi, 2003, p. 25). To put it another way, “queering” is a complicating of the taken-for-granted heteronormativity of everyday practices, spaces, and discourses. Queer activism thus takes many forms, from “queering spaces” (Barnett & Johnson, 2013) to resisting mainstream (read assimilationist) gay and lesbian movements (Warner, 2000), and, at times, to being conflated with the social movements being led by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people (Eaklor, 2008). Like the ambiguity of the term itself, queer activism or queer politics is many things at once.
Queering is one strategy for queer activists who want to unsettle or complicate normative practices, spaces, or discourses. Introducing queer bodies into normative spaces, for instance, changes the dynamics of that space by unsettling the taken-for-granted characteristics of that space. Drag queens might “take over” a “straight bar” in order to queer the space, or complicate what that space means to the people inhabiting it (Barnett & Johnson, 2013). In normative space, the presence of queer bodies can unhinge assumptions about social relations. As an academic kind of activism, queering occurs when scholars “read” texts queerly or interpret an artifact through a queer theoretical lens, thus changing how others understand the world. After Alex Doty (1993), one might never be able to watch Pee Wee Herman without thinking of him as a queer subject.
New Discourses Commentary
In the Theory of Critical Social Justice, more specifically in the branch of applied postmodernism called queer Theory, the term “queer” is not merely used as a noun and an adjective but also as a verb, to queer. To queer is to make change or to act in a way that is disruptive of normativities, which is to say in ways that rejects both the normal and norms as a matter of principle, particularly but not entirely limited to matters of sex, gender, and sexuality. To understand this concept fully, it is very helpful to understand how Critical Social Justice uses the word “queer” as an adjective (and noun) and to understand the fundamentals of queer Theory (see also, queer and queer Theory).
Unlike other examples in Critical Social Justice where a noun has been changed into a verb (e.g., minoritize and gender), the purpose of turning “queer” into a verb is not to accuse dominant groups and discourses in society of imposing a systemic power structure upon marginalized and oppressed people, but to resist ones it believes are in place. These allegedly oppressive structures are referred to as “norms” and “normativities” (see also, hegemony), centrally including cisnormativity (that there’s an unjust power dynamic that socializes people to have their sex and gender match and to consider this matching to be normal) and heteronormativity (that there’s an unjust power dynamic that socializes people to be heterosexual and to consider this normal). To queer something is to make it queer. To queer something, then, is to in some way challenge (nearly always abstractly and symbolically) those normativities by acting or behaving well outside of them, often in ways that are intentionally absurd or exaggerated (see also, strategic resistance, strategic essentialism, pastiche, and politics of parody). This is considered subversive to the extant normativities and transformational in that it opens up new possibilities around them (see also, Foucauldian).
Queering, as an activity, is not limited to activities that might generally be called “gender-bending,” to use a slightly antiquated term (see also, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender non-conforming, genderfucking, non-binary, queer heterosexuality, and transgender). It can also involve queering language, for example, like breaking the norm around using vulgarity in an academic setting, as in the term “genderfucking” (literally, “fucking” with our allegedly socially constructed ideas about gender). It can involve queering sexuality, even homosexuality, perhaps by having a lesbian have sex with a man but in such a way that he acts very performatively and with ironic intention like a lesbian (i.e., a gay woman). It can involve queering just about anything by finding some way to ironically invert the normal expectations around that thing. For example, one could queer a meal by serving it in reverse or random order or by putting condiments on the various dishes in abnormal ways. One could also queer time by adopting and utilizing (or attempting to) entirely different conventions, such as considering being late to a meeting as being early and only considering being “on time” when one doesn’t care what time they arrive at all. Queering can be—and in fact routinely is—applied to queer Theory itself, lest it undermine itself by ever becoming normative (read: comprehensible and effective) in any way. This may all sound silly and rather like a lot of word games, but queer Theorists tend to consider that part of queer Theory’s “charm.”
Queering, as an activity, is ultimately rooted in the concept of performativity, particularly Judith Butler’s gender performativity, as well as in the kind of shocking queer activism that was rather effective at certain stages in the various LGBT civil rights movements (see also, genderfucking, politics of parody, pastiche, and strategic essentialism). Specifically, queering seeks to expose or otherwise uncover that our norms are, in fact, just limitations on a far broader set of possibilities—social constructions that we feel suck in performing but that could be otherwise if we shook ourselves out of the stagnant patterns of thought, dominant discourses, and constraining social expectations that keep us doing them. This mindset owes a tremendous amount to the French postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault (see also, Foucauldian). Understanding it this way, it’s possible to see the sensible and interesting kernel that keeps queer Theory alive while still appreciating that it’s ridiculous, fundamentally unserious, and disinterested in reality, if not hostile to it (the truth, after all, constrains all of us). Of course, queer Theory would simply say it’s the imposition of dominance that requests that their work be “serious” in the first place and might ask us to queer “seriousness.”
Applied postmodernism; Binary; Change; Cisnormativity; Critical; Discourse; Disrupt; Dominant; Foucauldian; Gender; Gender (v.); Gender non-conforming; Gender performativity; Genderfluid; Genderfucking; Genderqueer; Hegemony; Heteronormativity; Heterosexism; Injustice; Man; Marginalize; Minoritize; Non-binary; Norm; Normal; Normativity; Oppression; Pastiche; Performativity; Politics of parody; Queer (n., adj.); Queer heterosexuality; Queer Theory; Sex; Sexuality; Social construction; Social Justice; Socialization; Strategic essentialism; Strategic resistance; Structural; Subversion; Systemic power; Theory; Transgender; Truth; Woman
Revision date: 4/6/20