‘The queer is the taboo-breaker, the monstrous, the uncanny.’ (Castle, 1995, p.383)

 

Enver Ethemer-IMC

23.03.2011

‘I think that when the unreal lays claim to reality, or enters into its domain, something other than a simple assimilation into prevailing norms can and does take place.’ (Butler, 2004, p.27)

Raphael, a well travelled and enlightened sailor, is the main protagonist in Thomas Moore’s Utopia.  In Raphael’s opinion, Utopia was the only commonwealth which could accurately be called a “commonwealth”,- all citizens there were treated equally and given equal opportunities and possessions: “When no one owns anything, all are rich.”  One could only be happy when production was based on the equal participation of everyone regardless of their identity, their status and could then collectively create harmony of differences where hierarchy, patriarchal dominance and monopolistic “masculinist social construction of gender” are challenged. Gender has always been the crux of all Utopian thinking since dystopias are constructed and framed around the idea of “authoritarian male suppression” of the “other”[1].

Normative definitions of gender were first called into question in the 1960s by feminists who contested the subordination of women in a patriarchal society based on structuralist theories; de Beauvoir famously exclaimed: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” rejecting gender as a state of nature but rather claiming it to be a cultural construction. Queer theory aims to transform public sensibilities towards the relationship between sex, gender and sexuality in the social context and thereby change our understandings of gender and sexual identities. It deconstructs these hegemonic categories which reduce identities to hetero-normativity – gender roles conformed to cultural norms of all-male/all-female and heterosexuality as the normal sexual orientation – and which in turn keep the patriarchal matrices of society in place. The theory advocates a view of sex, gender and sexuality as fluid continuums in which identity based on these fixed categories is a meaningless concept.

This traditional belief was first confronted by the scientific recognition that both sexes contain a mixture of male and female hormones. While the automatic link between biological sex and gender was gradually refuted, their link to sexuality remained undisputed. Foucault expanded on this, asserting that even sexuality is a social construct; he argued that social and historical power relations changed constantly through resistance and negotiation. Similarly, (gender and sexual) identities are also in constant flux and therefore cannot be demarcated with clear boundaries and set in binary opposition to one another According to Foucault, discourses create regulatory spaces in which identities are formed, reinforced and reproduced. These discourses, comparable to an omnipresent disciplinary regime, are employed as a means to maintain social control over conceptions and practices in gender and sexual identification to guarantee that identities are suited to hetero-normativity. Butler contends that identity is constructed through performativity – the stylised repetition of acts through time; the resulting identity has no inner core but merely the illusion of a self. Nonetheless, as no two acts can be identical, a single modality cannot represent the identity of all subjects within a group but rather signifies the re-enactment of the same norms that constitute regulatory regimes. This indicates that identities are not fixed categories, but are fluid, open and in constant flux.

Based upon Foucault’s and Butler’s theories on the formation of identity, queer theory is a post-modern line of thought that counters the normative discourse of identity. Rejecting defined categories of male/female, man/woman, heterosexual/homosexual, queer theory deconstructs the hegemonic hetero-normative discourse which dictates the intelligible sexes and permitted identities. Although the refutation of fixed boundaries between categories of identities seen in gay movements was perhaps a springboard for the development of queer theory, it was aimed at people “across the whole spectrum of sexualities” – gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT), and even heterosexuals. Travestis, transgendered prostitutes in Brazil, are an ideal example of gender reversal and deviations from normative gender expectations. In the ‘brave new world’ of queer theory, the concepts of heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality cease to exist because there is no definite distinction made between men and women or heterosexuality and homosexuality.

Queer politics attempts to translate the deconstruction of hetero-normative categories into pragmatic steps to change the general social conceptions and performances of sex, gender, sexuality and sociality. One way of following its agenda is through queering popular culture, which aims to transform experiences and understandings of sexuality and subjectivity through the manipulation of cultural artefacts and performances – for example, by ridiculing gender and sexuality in movie characters to personify the artificially constructed identities and to “inject a secret sensibility into the mass market.”

To follow its own agenda, queer politics is obliged to engage in discourses and institutions bound to the hetero-normative culture; hence, it seems as though ultimately queer politics is itself captured and subjected to the conditions and mechanisms which it is attempting to deconstruct and transcend. It therefore appears that queer politics is contradictory and incompatible with queer theory, which aims to deconstruct the very categories and identities that queer politics engages in.

The queer agenda envisages the establishment of a queer community consisting of progressive individuals open to diverse sexualities, fluid relations and abstracted identities. While criticising the notion of identity and subjectivity, queer theory leaves the notion of community largely unharmed, hereby disregarding the fact that identity itself is largely created through the community. While ‘I’ produces discourse, ‘I’ can only come into being through being named and receiving social recognition, and thus discourse and the community are first needed to enable the ‘I’. In other words, a woman cannot identify herself as lesbian if society does not recognise the concept of homosexuality first.

However, as queer politics and queering communities can be critiqued for being essentialising and reductionist, one can question whether queer is truly as genderless as it proclaims to be, or whether it is becoming more like a third gender next to the traditional categories. Nevertheless, applying Spivak’s theory of ‘strategic essentialism’, queer politics may be considered a means to an end and its criticised behaviour of essentialising roles and disregarding differences as a simplified and temporary means for the queer agenda to be fulfilled and the queer community realised. While queer theory has received criticism for being utopian and intrinsically contradictory, the theory has equally presented an invaluable challenge to the normative discourses and their power of maintaining a patriarchal heterosexual structure in society. Queer theory is a unique attempt to deconstruct not just these hegemonic social discourses but also the very categories creating the identification with these structures and ideologies. The categories of sex, gender and sexuality are proven to be socially and historically constructed, devised through the power of discourse, historical social relations, and repetitive acts of performativity. Queer theory and its agenda denaturalise and deconstruct the understandings of these categories. It brings to the foreground fluid, non-hetero-normative identities and lifestyles, proposing a dynamic, interactive queer community for “a being-together animated by resistance, discord and disagreement” between individuals, enabling difference and diversity.


[1] Other referred as  women, LGBT and Queer. These are considered as “outside” the norm where the gender roles and identities are thwarted as being “ not normal” or “ norm defying”.

Source: Independent Media Centre, Northern Cyprus



About shortbusmovement

SHORTBUS MOVEMENT is a civil society initiative consists of Human Rights activists whose roles and positions change during each activity. SHORTBUS is a team of dedicated volunteer individuals who believe that all people are equal, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex or any other status. The group’s center is located in northern part of Cyprus and they aimed to support all the individual or organizational activities of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) people of Turkish Community of Cyprus.

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