Annamarie Jagose. (1996). Queer theory: An introduction. New York: New York University Press.

p. 1 Once the term "queer was, at best, slang for homosexual, at worst, a term of homophobic abuse. In recent years "queer" has come to be used differently, sometimes as an umbrella term for a coalition of culturally marginal sexual self-identifications and at other times to describe a nascent theoretical model which has developed out of more traditional lesbian and gay studies. What is clear, even from this brief and partial account of its contemporary deployment, is that queer is very much a category in the process of formation. It is not simply that queer has yet to solidify and take on a more consistent profile, but rather that its definitional indeterminacy, its elasticity, is one of its constituent characteristics.

p. 3 While there is no critical consensus on the definitional limits of queer--indeterminacy being one of its widely promoted charms--its general outlines are frequently sketched and debated. Broadly speaking, queer describes those gestures or analytical models which dramatise incoherencies in the allegedly stable relations between chromosomal sex, gender and sexual desire. Resisting that model of stability--which claims heterosexuality as its origin, when it is more properly its effect--queer focuses on mismatches between sex, gender and desire. Institutionally, queer has been associated most prominently with lesbian and gay subjects, but its analytic framework also includes such topics as cross-dressing, hermaphroditism, gender ambiguity and gender-corrective surgery. Whether as transvestite performance or academic deconstruction, queer locates and exploits the incoherencies in those three terms which stabilise heterosexuality. Demonstrating the impossibility of any "natural" sexuality, it calls into question even such apparently unproblematic terms as "man" and "woman".

p. 3 The recent intervention of this confrontational word "queer" in altogether politer academic discourses suggests that traditional models have been ruptured. Yet its appearance also marks a continuity. Queer theory’s debunking of stable sexes, genders and sexualities develops out of a specifically lesbian and gay reworking of the post-structuralist figuring of identity as a constellation of multiple and unstable positions.

p. 5 Rather than represent queer as unequivocally either progressive or reactionary, this book argues that it does not have any fixed [p. 6] value. Simplistic attempts to evaluate this new terminology and conceptual framework ignore the fact that, since the late nineteenth century, knowledge of homosexuality has always been structured by strenuously contested categories. . . . Nor is this kind of classificatory uncertainty characteristic only on an unenlightened and remote historical moment.

p. 16 To foreground only those processes that resulted historically in the formation of homosexuality is to imply that heterosexuality--that frequently unremarked but no loess historically contingent category--is somehow the more self-evident, natural or stable construction. This assumption is naturalised in a culture that commonly understands homosexuality to be a derivative or less evolved form of heterosexuality. Such an understanding is voiced in a number

of different discourses, ranging from popular psychology--which offers supposedly reassuring accounts of homosexuality as a stage through which adolescents pass before maturing into heterosexuals--to those religious and legal definitions of "family" by which homosexual family groupings are declared illegitimate or inauthentic.

p. 17 In the late twentieth century both heterosexuality and, to a lesser extent, homosexuality have ben thoroughly naturalised. This makes it difficult to think of either category as having histories, as being arbitrary or contingent. It is particularly hard to denaturalise something like sexuality, whose very claim to naturalisation is intimately connected with an individual sense of self, with the way in which each of us imagines our own sexuality to be primary, elemental and private.

p. 21 It is evident that different understandings of homosexuality are mobilised in the early homophile movement, gay liberation, lesbian feminism and queer theory. Different historical circumstances and widely disparate models of knowledge have meant that no unbroken line can be traced between successive theoretical models and political strategies developed in relation to same-sex desire during the last century or so. What is sometimes less evident are certain relations of continuity that can be established productively between these different movements, each of which commonly represented itself as radically opposed to the configuration it succeeded.

p. 36 Nationally and internationally, gay liberation was neither a monolithic nor even an entirely coherent social movement. It was organised around analyses of the structures of lesbian and gay oppression, and how such oppression might be overcome. Homosexuality was represented as an identity repressed by heterosexist power structures which privilege gender-asymmetry, sexual reproduction and the patriarchal nuclear family. Unlike the homophile movement, gay liberation theorised that the system would never [p. 37] be radically transformed by those who were invested in it. Dominant formulations of sex and gender categories (and the institutions which supported them) would be eradicated only by gay men and lesbians who, refusing to accept their subaltern status, would destroy the system through literal and symbolic acts of violence. A gay identity was a revolutionary identity what it sought was not social recognition but to overthrow the social institutions which marginalised and pathologised homosexuality. In so far as homosexuality did not conform to normative understandings of sex and gender, in liberationist discourse it was often represented as heralding the subversion of those categories, and enabling a new and unmediated sexuality of all people.]

p. 40 Gay liberationists supposed other sexual minorities not just because heterosexual society regarded them as gay or even [p. 41] because of a certain undeniable overlapping of subcultures. Rather, gay liberation understood that the marginalisation and devaluation of homosexuality was effected by that dominant and rigidly hierarchical conceptualisation of sex and gender which constituted the social norm. In order to liberate homosexuality, gay liberation was committed to eradicating fixed notions of femininity and masculinity: that move would similarly liberate any other group oppressed by what it critiqued as normative sex and gender roles.

p. 58 The homophile movement began by outlining principles more radical than those it eventually came to represent. Similarly, both the lesbian and gay liberation movements evolved into social movements so culturally concretised and elaborate that the tenets and values they represented came to be seen as hegemonic, and were resisted in turn by further marginalised groups.

p. 60 Despite their differences, both the gay and the lesbian feminist models of liberation are intent on transforming oppressive social structures by representing same-sex sexual practices as legitimate. In emphasising the malleability of gender and sexuality, each has an avowedly constructionist understanding of sexuality.

p. 60 The shift in emphasis from a liberationist to an ethnic model of identity is explicable partly in terms of a general disillusionment with the grand scale of the liberationist project, sustained by a millennial notion of a liberated humanity free from constraining normative structures’, and partly as a result of a gradual revaluation of the ways in which strategies of power and hence resistance are deployed. . . .. Lesbians and gay men turned their attention increasingly to local sites of struggle and concentrated on securing specific rather than universal transformations of social structures.

p. 61 According to the liberationist model, the established social order is fundamentally corrupt, and therefore the success of any political action is to be measured by the extent to which it smashes that system. The ethnic model, by contrast, was committed to establishing gay identity as a legitimate minority group, whose official recognition would secure citizenship rights for lesbian and gay subjects.

p. 62 The process of stabilisation--even solidification--enabled lesbians and gays to be represented as a coherent community, united by a collective lesbian and gay identity. That very process, however, disenfranchised subjects who might reasonably have expected to take up a position within any lesbian and gay constituency, or who felt better represented by the previous liberationist model.

p. 62 At that historical moment when the dominant ethnic model constituted lesbian and gay subjects as a mainstream--albeit minority--group, processes of centralisation and marginalisation were repeated, and newly disaffected groups opposed or critiqued the notion of a singular or unified gay identity. Those alienated from the ethnic model consolidated by lesbian and gay identity did not simply demand to be included but also critiqued the fundamental principles which had centralised that specific (although supposedly universal) identity in the first place.

p. 70 Variously referred to as intergenerational sex, child abuse, man-boy love and paedophia, even the semantic continuum of terms used to describe the concept evokes a variety of positions in a debate structured overwhelmingly by such issues as consent, power and the legal definition of childhood. The association of paedophiles with gay men persists (in spite of evidence to the contrary) in homophobic culture, which is doubtless why the mainstream gay movement would be reluctant to countenance any official discussion of this matter. But the issue of intergenerational sex continues to be debated vigorously in many gay and lesbian communities.

p. 71 An initial response to the successful consolidation of gay and lesbian identities in the ethnic model was a demand for equal recognition of non-normative categories of identity. In certain cases, this developed into a dissatisfaction with the categories of identification themselves and a questioning of their efficacy in political intervention. . . The suspicion that normative models of identity will never suffice for the representational work demanded of them is strengthened by influential power postmodern understandings of identity, gender, sexuality, power and resistance. These provide the context in which queer becomes an intelligible--almost, one might say, an inevitable--phenomenon.

p. 77 Indeed, as an intellectual model, queer has not been produced solely by lesbian and gay politics and theory, but rather informed by historically specific knowledges which constitute late twentieth-century western thought. Similar shifts can be seen in both feminist and post-colonioal theory and practice when, for example, Denise Riley (1988) problematises feminism’s insistence on "women" as a unified, stable and coherent category, and Henry Louis Gates (1985) denaturalises "race". Such conceptual shifts have had great impact within lesbian and gay scholarship and activism and are the historical context for any analysis of queer.

p. 77 Both the lesbian and gay movements were committed fundamentally to the notion of identity politics in assuming identity as a necessary prerequisite for effective political intervention. Queer, on the other hand, exemplifies a more mediated relation to categories of identification. Access to the post-structuralist theorisation of identity as provisional and contingent, coupled with a growing awareness of the limitations of identity categories in terms of political representation enabled queer to emerge as a [p. 78] new form of personal identification and political organisation. "Identity" is probably one of the most naturalised cultural categories each of us inhabits: one always thinks of one’s self as existing outside all representational frames, and as somehow marking a point of undeniable realness. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, such seemingly self-evident or logical claims to identity have been problematised radically on a number of fronts. . . . To think of identity as a "mythological" construction is not to say that categories of identity have no material effect. Rather it is to realise--as Roland Barthes does in his Mythologies (1978)--that our understanding of ourselves as coherent, unified, and self-determining subjects is an effect of those representational codes commonly used to describe the self and through which, consequently, identity comes to be understood. Barthes’ understanding of subjectivity questions that seemingly natural or self-evident "truth" of identity which derives historically from Rene Descartes notion of the self as something that is self-determining, rational and coherent.

p. 79 In some influential lectures on structural linguistics which he delivered in 1906-11, Ferdinand de Saussure argues that language does not so much reflect as construct social reality. For Saussure, language is not some second-order system whose function is simply to describe what is already there. Rather, language constitutes and makes significant that which it seems only to describe. Moreover, Saussure defines language as a system of signification that precedes any individual speaker. Language is commonly misunderstood as the medium by which we express our :authentic" selves, and our private thoughts and emotions. Saussure, however, asks us to consider that our notions of a private, personal and interior self is something constituted through language.

p. 82 . . . Foucault radically reconceptualises identity is ways that have substantially reshaped lesbian and gay studies. The recent critique of identity politics--both inside and outside lesbian and gay circles--has not arisen simply because the reification of any single identity is felt to be exclusionary. It has occurred because, within post-structuralism, the very notion of identity as a coherent and abiding sense of self is perceived as a cultural fantasy rather than a demonstrable fact. Objections to the emphasis on identity in lesbian and gay politics were based initially on the fact that the foundational category of any identity politics inevitably excludes potential subjects in the name of representation. Clearly, lesbian and gay identity [p. 83poltics that merely replicate race and class oppression are inadequate. Yet identity politics cannot be recovered simply by a scrupulous attention tot he axes of difference. For as post-structuralism also demonstrates, identity politics are eviscerated not only by the differences between subjects but the irresolvable differences within each subject. As Diana Fuss (1989: 103) argues, "theories of ‘multiple identities’ fail to challenge effectively the traditional metaphysical understanding of identity as unity".

p. 83 Butler argues--controversially--that feminism works against its explicit aims if it takes "women" as its grounding category. This is because the term "women" does not signify a natural unity but [p. 84] instead a regulatory fiction, whose deployment inadvertently reproduces those normative relations between sex, gender and desire that naturalise heterosexuality.

p. 84 No longer a natural basis for solidarity, gender is refigured by Butler as a cultural fiction, a performative effect of reiterative acts. . . .

P. 86 Butler’s notion of performativity has gone into a kind of hypercirculation. Mentioned in passing here, pressed into more rigorous service there, it has been highly productive for lesbian and gay studies in the 1990s. Most commonly, however, critics who appropriate Butler’s notion of performativity literalise it as performance, and concentrate on those theatricalised stagings of gender which self-consciously interrogate the relations between sex, gender and desire. . . . While the concept of performativity includes these and other self-reflexive instances, equally--if less obviously--it explains those everyday productions of gender and sexual identity which seem most to evade explanation. For gender is performative, not because it is something that the subject deliberately and playfully assumes, but because, through reiteration, it consolidates the subject. In this respect, performativity is the precondition of the subject.

p. 87 Butler reiterates the fact that gender, being performative, is not like clothing, and therefore cannot be put on or off at will. Rather it is constrained--not simply in the sense of being structured by limitations but because (given the regulatory frameworks in which performativity is meaningful) constraint is the prerequisite of performativity.

p. 90 Debates about performativity put a denaturalising pressure on sex, gender, sexuality, bodies, and identities. In proliferating as an [p. 91] explanatory model--and being subject to contestations and negotiations--performativity has engendered a renewed engagement with those processes by which the identity categories we inhabit determine our knowledge and everyday ways of being in the world.

p. 91 In stark contrast to those liberationist or ethnic gay and lesbian models that affirm identity, promote "coming out", and proclaim homosexuality under the organising affect of "pride", lesbian and gay studies in the 1990s have begun to question and resist identity categories and their promise of unity and political effectiveness.

p. 99 Clearly, there is no generally acceptable definition of queer; indeed, many of the common understanding of the term contradict each other irresolvably. Nevertheless, the inflection of queer that has proved most disruptive to received understandings of identity, community and politics is the one that problematises normative consolidations of sex, gender and sexuality--and that, consequently, is critical of all those versions of identity, community and politics that are believed to evolve "naturally" from such consolidations. By refusing to crystallise in any specific form, queer maintains a relation of resistance to whatever constitutes the normal. While bearing in mind the multiple and even contradictory sites signified by queer, Queer Theory emphasizes this aspect of [p. 92] queer, and the analytical pressure it brings to bear . . . .

p. 101 Although queer can be described as a logical development in twentieth-century gay and lesbian politics and scholarship, its progress has not been uncontentious. As the point of convergence for a potentially infinite number of non-normative subject positions, queer is markedly unlike those traditional political movements which ground themselves in a fixed and necessarily exclusionist identity. In stretching the boundaries of identity categories, and in seeming to disregard the distinctions between various forms of marginalised sexual identification, queer has provoked exuberance in some quarters, but anxiety and outrage in others. The various contestations of the term demonstrate the implications and investments of queer, clarifying its ambitions and limitations.

p. 103 Another common objection to the recent queering of lesbian and gay identities focuses on political efficacy: to question the self-evident status of identity (so the argument goes) may well be explicable in intellectual terms but is indefensible because it encourages apolitical quietism. In this evaluation, the assumption that provides the rationale for identity politics in the first place--namely, a coherent and unified identity is a prerequisite for effective political action--also structures the criticism of any suspension of identity. However, while the strenuous reworking of traditional understandings of lesbian and gay has revalued what might constitute effective political action, recent challenges to a now recognisably 1970s style of identity politics do not discredit the notion of politics itself. "The deconsruction of identity is not the deconstruction of politics:, Butler (1990:148) points out: "rather, it establishes as political the very terms through which identity itself is articulated.

p. 103 Perhaps the simplest objection to queer comes from those one might expect to be among its constituents, and yet are neither interpellated by the term nor persuaded that the new category describes or represents them. Often accounted for in terms of "a gay generation gap", this objection comes from those who cannot accept a once pejorative term as a positive, self description. . . .

p. 104 Those who adopt or reject queer as a self-identifying term are often opposed in their conception of its political usefulness. Proponents of the new terminology argue that to redeploy the term queer as a figure of pride is a powerful act of cultural reclamation, and strategically useful in removing the word from that homophobic context in which it formerly flourished. . . . Opponents of the new terminology, however, point out that merely to change the semantic value of queer is to misrecognise the symptom for the disease. They argue that even if its resignification were to prove successful, other words or neologisms would take on the cultural work it once did. After all, the successful neutralisation of the term dyke has not resulted in the end of discrimination against lesbians.

p. 106 Anxiety that "queer" will continue to connote perversion and illegitimacy has led some to argue that its adoption is politically a counter-productive gesture. . . . Those lesbians and gays who are committed to achieving social change by means of democratically sanctioned structures allege that the queer position is too politically naive and idealistic to be effective. Ignorant of the real machineries of power, queers will not be able to achieve anything from the marginalised position they champion.

p. 109 While the success of queer is often measured in terms of its widespread acceptance, this has equally been a source of anxiety for some. The alacrity with which queer has caught on has been widely criticised. . .

p. 111 Perhaps the most controversial deployment of queer is as an umbrella term for dissimilar subjects, whose collectivity is [112] underwritten by a mutual engagement in non-normative sexual practices or identities.

p. 112 Queer’s totalising gesture is seen as having the potential to work against lesbian and gay specificity, and to devalue those analyses of homophobia and heterocentrism developed largely by lesbian and gay critics.

p. 113 Certainly the prospect of being politically mobilised in the interests of those whose sexual practices or identities are understood as antithetical to the broadly progressive politics traditionally articulated by lesbians and gay men is often identified as a major deficiency of the queer model. There is little agreement, however, on which groups politically compromise a lesbian and gay affinity with queer, although most commentators nominate paedophiles in that category.

p. 126 Queer’s impact on identity politics has yet to be determined. It is probable that identity politics will not disappear under the influence of queer but become more nuanced, less sure of

itself, and more attuned to those multiple compromises and pragmatic effects that characterise any mobilisation of identity. Although frequently characterised as aggressive, queer is also tentative. Its suspicion of homogeneous identity categories and totalising explanatory narratives necessarily limits its own claims. It does not offer itself as some new and improved version of lesbian and gay but rather as something that questions the assumption that those descriptors are self-evident. Queer is not a conspiracy to discredit lesbian and gay; it does not seek to devalue the indisputable gains made in their name. Its principal achievement is to draw attention to the assumption that--intentionally or otherwise--inhere in the mobilisation of any identity category, including itself.

p. 130 In the sense that Butler outlines the queer project--that is, to the extent that she argues there can’t be one--queer may be thought of as activating an identity politics so attuned to the constraining effects of naming, of delineating a foundational category which precedes and underwrites political intervention, that it may better be understood as promoting a non-identity--or even anti-identity-- politics. If a potentially infinite collation of sexual identities, practices, discourses and sites might be identified as queer, what it betokens is not so much liberal pluralism as a negotiation of the very concept of identity itself. For queer is, in part, a response to the perceived limitations in the liberationist and identity-conscious politics of the gay and lesbian feminist movements. The rhetoric of both has been structured predominantly around self-recognition, community and shared identity; inevitably, if inadvertently, both movements have also resulted in exclusions, delegitimation, and a false sense of universality. The discursive proliferation of queer has been enabled in part by the knowledge that identities are fictions--that is, produced by and productive of material effects but nevertheless arbitrary, contingent and ideologically motivated.

pp. 101-126 [summary of criticism of queer theory. attacks include charge that it is apolitical, that it lacks political efficacy, that the previously pejorative term still wounds, subversive attempts at reclamation won’t work, that it was institutionalized too quickly and drained of meaning, that its language is elitist and inaccessible, that it is a totalising gesture which wipes out many differences, that it undercuts visibility and progress of gays/lesbians, it erodes the place of lesbians in a male queer movement, that it is antifeminist. On p. 126