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Factors That Shape Identity

Discuss about the Identity and Queer Theory.

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us , is a part of ourselves. We must die to one life before we can enter another.”

The above quoted lines of Anatole France provide a pertinent account of the concept of identity and the way it undergoes transformation at each point of the lives of the individuals. It is significant to note that identity forms an important part of the lives of the individuals and in the opinion of many people there are various factors which affects the identity of a particular person like the upbringing of the person, the cultural as well as the social environment in which the person concerned person finds himself or herself in, the educational background of the person under consideration, the genetics of the person and others (Boyarin, Itzkovitz and Pellegrini 2012). However, in the present times the identity of a person has been defined in terms of the genre of psychology as well as philosophy. It is here that the significance of the various lines of thought processes like the “Queer theory, Freud’s theories related to identity and character, psychoanalysis” and others come into significance (Boyarin, Itzkovitz and Pellegrini 2012). Furthermore, it is often seen that the identity of a particular person is shaped by the opinion of the people around him or her and the society itself in which he or she dwells (Giffney and O'Rourke 2016). The opinion of Chuck Palahniuk articulated in the famous work “Invisible Monsters” is significant note in this particular context when he says that “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I've ever known”. Even the famous poet and dramatist Oscar Wilde is of the same opinion when he says that “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation”(Boyarin, Itzkovitz and Pellegrini 2012). Therefore, it would be apt to say that the society as well as the opinion of the members of the society plays a significant role in shaping the identity of a particular person (Giffney and O'Rourke 2016). This particular essay will focus on the role which the “Queer Theory” plays in helping the individuals to understand their identity.


In the present times various kinds of theories are used by the psychologists as well as theorists to analyze the character of the various individuals. The “Queer Theory” is one of the most popular theories which is used by the various individuals to determine the character as well as the identity of the various people (Giffney and O'Rourke 2016). It is significant to note that the term “Queer Theory” was coined by the “Italian feminist and film theorist Teresa de Lauretis for a conference which she organized at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1990 and a special issue of ‘Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies’ she edited based on that conference” (Blaise and Taylor 2012). The term in the traditional times was used to refer to “the idea of hetero-normativity, which pertains to the institutions, structures of understanding, and practical orientations that make heterosexuality seem not only coherent—that is, organized as a sexuality—but also privileged” (Blaise and Taylor 2012). However, in the present times the term is increasingly being used to refer to “the correlation between power distribution and identification while understanding the multifarious facets of oppression and privilege. Feminist and Queer Theory are seen as applicable concepts that provide a framework to explore these issues rather than as an identity to those in the community” (Blaise and Taylor 2012).  In the opinion of “Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, the Newman Ivey White professor of English at Duke University”, the concept of “Queer Theory” gained prominence in the 1970s and “'it is about trying to understand different kinds of sexual desire and how the culture defines them. It is about how you can't understand relations between men and women unless you understand the relationship between people of the same gender, including the possibility of a sexual relationship between them” (Hall and Jagose 2012). Therefore, it can be said that the most basic precinct of this particular theory is on understanding the relationship among the people and the way that shapes the identity or the character of the people and also their behavior (Hall and Jagose 2012). Moreover, the “Queer Theory” can also be seen as a prism thorough which the various literary scholars and others try to interpret the various literary texts and also the character of the individuals (Hall and Jagose 2012). In the opinion of many people the genre of “Queer Theory” owes a considerable amount of debt to the life as well as the critical works of scholars and theorists like “Lauren Berlant, Leo Bersani, Judith Butler, Lee Edelman, Jack Halberstam and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick” (Hall and Jagose 2012). It is a reflection of the hard work as well as pertinent opinions of these scholars as well as theorists that the various concepts and theories related to the genre of queer has gained much prominence within a very short time and has become a very part of the genre of psychology (Hall and Jagose 2012).

The Concept of Queer Theory

In the opinion of many scholars people often get confused between the theories related to feminism and queer (Warner and Shields 2013). However, the primary difference between the two genres lie in the fact that the “Whereas gay/lesbian studies focused its inquiries into natural and unnatural behaviour with respect to homosexual behaviour, queer theory expands its focus to encompass any kind of sexual activity or identity that falls into normative and deviant categories” (Warner and Shields 2013). The primary focus of the queer theory lies on analyzing the mismatches between the concepts of gender, sex as well as desire (Warner and Shields 2013). However, in the recent times it is seen that the major focus of the concept of queerness is on the “bisexual, lesbian and gay subjects, but its analytic framework also includes such topics as cross-dressing, intersex bodies and identities, gender ambiguity and gender-corrective surgery” (Warner and Shields 2013). A pertinent example of this is the life as well as the transformation of the gender of Lili Elbe, the famous Danish painter. This particular genre of thinking also tries to debunk the traditional discourses of heterosexuality which were developed in the 19th and the 20th century and attempts “to place the "queer" into historical context, deconstructing contemporary arguments both for and against this latest terminology” (Selden, Brooker and Widdowson 2013). Furthermore, this particular theory is also utilized by the various scholars for analyzing the identity of the various people and in the opinion of many people “Queer theory's attempted debunking of stable (and correlated) sexes, genders, and sexualities develops out of the specifically lesbian and gay reworking of the post-structuralist figuring of identity as a constellation of multiple and unstable positions” (Warner and Shields 2013).

The “Queer Theory” is largely derived from the various “post-structuralist theories” as well as the deconstruction theory in particular (Selden, Brooker and Widdowson 2013). Therefore, it can be said that the primary focus of this particular theory is on the literary representations of the various instances of heterosexuality and their analysis in this particular framework (Selden, Brooker and Widdowson 2013). It is significant to note that back in the 1970s a host of literary theorists as well as scholars used “deconstructionist critical approaches to bear on issues of sexual identity, and especially on the construction of Heteronormativity, that is, the normalizing practices and institutions that privilege heterosexuality as fundamental in society and in turn discriminates those outside this system of power, and focused to a large degree on non-heteronormative sexualities and sexual practices” (Selden, Brooker and Widdowson 2013). Therefore, it can be said that the overarching theme of the concept of queer studies is to deconstruct the existing ideas related to the genre of heterosexuality and the way the various people perceive the sexually deviant people in the society like the gay and the lesbians (Nagoshi, Brzuzy and Terrell 2012). The opinion of Giffney is significant to note in this particular context when he says that “Queer is an umbrella term for those not only deemed sexually deviant, but also used to describe those who feel marginalized as a result of standard social practices. It is a “site of permanent becoming” (Nagoshi, Brzuzy and Terrell 2012). However, it is significant to note that the theory of queer is concerned not only with the binary components of heterosexuality and homosexuality but in the modern times it incorporates the concepts of race, gender, class, religion and other aspects as well (Selden, Brooker and Widdowson 2013).

Differences Between Feminism and Queer Theory

In the opinion of Annamarie Jagose articulated in her famous work “Queer Theory: An Introduction” in the year 1996 “Queer used to be a slang word for homosexuals and was used for homophobic abuse” (Jagose 1996). However, in the recent times the term as well as the theory has undergone much transformation on the score of various factors (Nagoshi, Brzuzy and Terrell 2012). It is a reflection of this that the term in the present times have been used to refer to a host of sexual identities like the gay and the lesbian people who have been culturally marginalized (Nagoshi, Brzuzy and Terrell 2012). Furthermore, the genre is also used to create effective discourse regarding the various theoretical frameworks related to the traditional lesbian as well as gay studies (Nagoshi, Brzuzy and Terrell 2012). Thus the scholar Jagose is of the opinion that “Queer focuses on mismatches between sex, gender and desire. For most, queer has been prominently associated with those who identify as lesbian and gay. Unknown to many, queer is in association with more than just gay and lesbian, but also cross-dressing, hermaphroditism, gender ambiguity and gender-corrective surgery” (Jagose 1996). Therefore, in the recent times the concept of queer is often seen as anything which is at odds with the legitimate, normal as well as dominant. In other words, it can also be said to be an identity which has no logical existence (Nagoshi, Brzuzy and Terrell 2012). Therefore, with this particular intention the various individuals are taught right from their childhood to follow the traditional norms of the society related to gender as well as the sexual preferences (Nagoshi, Brzuzy and Terrell 2012). It is a reflection of this that since the early childhood the boys are taught to have an attraction for the girls and vice versa (Pullen et al. 2016).

In the recent times the various theorists as well as the scholars have tried to provide a concrete definition of the term however they have failed to do so (Pullen et al. 2016). The reason for the same have been provided by the “Queer Theory” expert Michael Warner who himself attempted to do the same with the words that “Social reflection carried out in such a manner tends to be creative, fragmentary, and defensive, and leaves us perpetually at a disadvantage. And it is easy to be misled by the utopian claims advanced in support of particular tactics…..The dawning realization that themes of homophobia and heterosexism may be read in almost any document of our culture means that we are only beginning to have an idea of how widespread those institutions and accounts are” (Pullen et al. 2016). Therefore, in the absence of any particular definition the term queer is generally used to refer to a wide range of terms and correlative concepts (Pullen et al. 2016). Thus, the queer theory broadly tries to explore the various categorizations of the concepts of gender as well as sexuality and tries to explore the reasons for the destabilization of the gender roles in the present day context (Pullen et al. 2016).

The Origins of Queer Theory

In the opinion of Eve Sedgwick “That's one of the things that queer can refer to: the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone's gender, of anyone's sexuality aren't made (or can't be made) to signify monolithically……queens, butch bottoms, storytellers, transsexuals, aunties, wannabes, lesbian-identified men or lesbians who sleep with men, or ... people able to relish, learn from, or identify with such” (Pullen et al. 2016). It is significant to note that in the 19th century as well as the early part of the 20th century the term “queer” was used to refer to the various kinds of people who had sexual preferences which was not in synchronization with the greater proportion of the population (Gedro and Mizzi 2014). However, the above given lines of Eve Sedgwick clearly outline the wide range of terms which the term is generally used in the present times to refer to (Gedro and Mizzi 2014). It is significant to note that this particular theory is used by the scholars to explore the concepts of heterosexuality as well as homosexuality (Gedro and Mizzi 2014). Furthermore, in the opinion of many people this particular theory is used by the various scholars as well as the individuals to challenge the traditionally held opinions about the concepts of heterosexuality as well as the sexual preferences of the people like gay or straight (Gedro and Mizzi 2014).

The present society stigmatizes the people with sexual preferences which are in deviance from the mainline (Milani 2013). These kinds of people are generally seen as queer or divergent from the major section of the population. Therefore, the children from their very childhood are taught to think in a particular manner which is in line with the concepts of gender and sexuality held by the people since the traditional times (Milani 2013). The opinion of Judith Butler articulated in her famous work “Gender Trouble” is significant to note in this particular context when she says “gender is a performance, a social construct which is used by the various entities of the society to maintain the power balance within the society” (Milani 2013). Therefore, it can be said that the concept of gender role is used by the various people to maintain the status quo of power in the present world. It is a reflection of this particular fact that the various artists like Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse and others have gained their success in the recent times by challenging the traditionally held opinions about heterosexuality and homosexuality (Milani 2013). However, even in the present times it is seen that the various individuals are stigmatized on the basis of their sexual preferences or sexual orientations.

Queer Theory and Literary Analysis

In the opinion of Leo Bersani,“queer theory builds both upon feminist challenges to the idea that gender is part of the essential self and upon gay/lesbian studies' close examination of the socially constructed nature of sexual acts and identities” (Thomas 2016). The concept of feminism has gained prominence in the recent times and has been interpreted in the light of the queer theory (Thomas 2016). It is a reflection of this that the concepts of feminism as well as queer theory itself has undergone kind of a symbiotic process and the modern literary texts are interpreted on the basis of the theories related to both the works (McDonald 2013). The incorporation of the various theories related to the genre of feminist has much widened the canvas of the queer theory and therefore in the present times the concept of queer tries to define the various choices made by the people specifically in the context of the feministic perspectives (McDonald 2013). It is a reflection of this that the various classical texts have been interpreted not only in the feministic perspective but also in the context of the various queer theories (Smith 2018). A few examples of such literary works are “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl”, “How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay”, “Is the Rectum Straight?”, “The Wings of the Dove” and others (Smith 2018). Thus, the concept of queer in the present times is used to refer to “the institutions, structures of understanding, and practical orientations that make heterosexuality seem not only coherent—that is, organized as a sexuality—but also privileged” (Smith 2018). Therefore, it can be said that the concept of queer has a significant impact on the identity of the various people.

The social structure of the present society has been arranged in such a manner that it does not allow any significant deviation from the usual norms or the well established traditions (Kirsch 2013). It is a reflection of this that the various people who have a sexual orientation which is not in alignment with the majority of the population are generally considered as outlaws and are generally viewed with suspicion (Kirsch 2013). This is one of the primary reasons why even in the present times the various gay and lesbians are not considered a part of the mainline population even though the majority of the nations of the world like Canada, France and others have legalized the LGBT section of the society (Penney 2018). It is interesting to note that in the present times these queer theories have been used to analyze the identity of the various individuals (Penney 2018). The concept of sexuality has been a sacred one since the ancient times and most of the people do not like to talk about the sexual life in a proactive manner. It is significant to note that this concept is something which has been ingrained in the minds of people since the ancient times. It is generally seen that since the traditional times the men are taught to have a preference for the women and the women are taught to have a preference for the men and any deviation from this particular unwritten rule of the society is not accepted by the people (Drabinski 2013). However, in this particular process the inherent wish of the people is completely ignored and it is therefore often seen that the people are confused about their preferences and generally prefer to follow the normal traditions or the unwritten rules of the society (Garber 2012). In the opinion of many people curiosity is one of the major reasons for the deviation from the general trend set by the society and also for having a preference for a person who instead of being from the opposite sex is from the same sex (Chevrette 2013). However, many queer theorists are of the opinion that the general rule that the men should have preference for the women and the women should have preference for the men was devised with an inherent motive (Chevrette 2013). The main motive which influenced this particular unwritten rule or the law was the reproduction factor (Jones 2016). It is significant to note that since the traditional times the major reason for which the various people looked for partners was not only because they felt the desire or the temptation for people belonging to the other sex but reproduction factor (Jones 2016). The opinion of Jamie Arpin-Ricci is significant to note in this particular context when he says that “When you're accustomed to being considered 'normal', difference feels like a perversion” (Colebrook 2016). It is one of the inherent desires of the human beings to leave behind on this planet something living which once belonged to them and the children which the various people have are the living emblem of this particular desire. Therefore, in the opinion of many people marriage is just a process whose sole focus is on the process of reproduction (Colebrook 2016). However, the present day trend of the gay as well as the lesbian marriages is totally against this basic concept. Thus, this particular concept is seen as contradictory to the general opinion held by the people since the traditional times about the union between the two opposite sexes and therefore they do not entertain the deviation from this particular unwritten rule of theirs (Colebrook 2016). The opinion of Chelsey Johnson articulated in her famous work “Stray City” is significant to note in this particular context when he she says “All I knew that for all our art, for all our writing, for all our self-defense workshops, for all our banding together in our cities and oases, queer survival was still not guaranteed” (Lovaas 2013).

Evolution of Queer Theory

The human beings like to follow the rules set by them ardently and do not like the people who deviate from them. It is here that the reason for the out casting or the outlawing of the various gay as well as the lesbians from the normal walks of life becomes clear (Lovaas 2013). The human beings have from the beginning of their civilization have set the basic rule that the men should have the sexual as well as the romantic desire for a woman and a woman should have sexual as well as romantic desires for a man (Sanchez 2012). The various gay as well as the lesbians when seen in this particular light will not only seem to be errant but deifiers of the rules or the laws set and followed by the society since the traditional times (Sanchez 2012). In the opinion of Deborah B. Gould articulated in her work “Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight against AIDS” “To engage in activism that envisions alternatives ways of organizing society and alternative ways of being is to risk membership in society, a sense of belonging, however partial it may be. Activism can make us vulnerable because it is so obviously about wanting something beyond what is, and to have a political desire often is construed as wanting too much”.  However, it is significant to note that the various gay as well as lesbians do not willfully try to break away from the rules or the law set as well as followed by the society since the traditional times. It is just that their sexual orientation and preferences are not in alignment with the orientation as well as preferences dictated by the society as per their needs and requirements (Sanchez 2012). Thus, it can be said that the sexual preferences of the people does not symbolize their identity or character rather it symbolizes their way of their lifestyle and the choices which they make (Showden 2012). In the opinion of Eli Clare articulated in her work “Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation” “Laugh and cry and tell stories. Sad stories about bodies stolen, bodies no longer here. Enraging stories about the false images, devastating lies, untold violence. Bold, brash stories about reclaiming our bodies and changing the world”. The lines of Trisha North from her famous work “My Greatest Fear” are significant to note in this particular context,

“Whether you’re gay or straight

Love him or her

You deserve to live

You deserve to love

Whether you found someone

Or have heard you’re wanted enough

Know that you’re needed

Know that you’re loved”

To conclude, the concept of queer is a very traditional one however the concept gained prominence only in the 1970s on the score of the rise of the various theories related to feminism and post-structuralism. It is significant to note that in the traditional times the concept was used only to refer to the concepts of heterosexuality and homosexuality and their related aspects and thus the use of the term as slang gained popularity in the early part of the 20th century. However, after the association of this particular with the various feministic as well as the post-structuralistic theories the entire meaning of the term underwent a transformation. Thus, in the present times the term is widely used not only to refer to the various gay as well as the lesbians but it has became an umbrella term which incorporates within itself the concepts of race, religion, class and other factors as well. The concept also plays a significant role on the shaping up of the identity of the various individuals. It is significant to note that the identity or the character of a particular person is influenced by various factors and the various queer theories as well as the prejudices related to this particular concept wields a significant impact on the development of the identity of a particular individual.

References

Blaise, M. and Taylor, A., 2012. Using queer theory to rethink gender equity in early childhood education. YC Young Children, 67(1), p.88.

Boyarin, D., Itzkovitz, D. and Pellegrini, A. eds., 2012. Queer theory and the Jewish question. Columbia University Press.

Chevrette, R., 2013. Outing heteronormativity in interpersonal and family communication: Feminist applications of queer theory “beyond the sexy streets”. Communication Theory, 23(2), pp.170-190.

Colebrook, C., 2016. How queer can you go? Theory, normality and normativity. In Queering the non/human (pp. 45-62). Routledge.

Drabinski, E., 2013. Queering the catalog: Queer theory and the politics of correction. The Library Quarterly, 83(2), pp.94-111.

Duong, K., 2012. What does queer theory teach us about intersectionality?. Politics & Gender, 8(3), pp.370-386.

Garber, L., 2012. Identity poetics: Race, class, and the lesbian-feminist roots of queer theory. Columbia University Press.

Gedro, J. and Mizzi, R.C., 2014. Feminist theory and queer theory: Implications for HRD research and practice. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 16(4), pp.445-456.

Giffney, N. and O'Rourke, M. eds., 2016. The Ashgate research companion to queer theory. Routledge.

Hall, D.E. and Jagose, A. eds., 2012. The Routledge queer studies reader. Routledge.

Jagose, A., 1996. Queer theory: An introduction. NYU Press.

Jones, S.H., 2016. Autoethnography and queer theory: Making possibilities. In Qualitative inquiry and human rights(pp. 136-157). Routledge.

Kirsch, M.H., 2013. Queer theory and social change. Routledge.

Lovaas, K., 2013. LGBT studies and queer theory: New conflicts, collaborations, and contested terrain. Routledge.

McDonald, J., 2013. Coming out in the field: A queer reflexive account of shifting researcher identity. Management Learning, 44(2), pp.127-143.

Milani, T.M., 2013. Are ‘queers’ really ‘queer’? Language, identity and same-sex desire in a South African online community. Discourse & Society, 24(5), pp.615-633.

Nagoshi, J.L., Brzuzy, S.I. and Terrell, H.K., 2012. Deconstructing the complex perceptions of gender roles, gender identity, and sexual orientation among transgender individuals. Feminism & Psychology, 22(4), pp.405-422.

Penney, J., 2018. After queer theory: The limits of sexual politics. Pluto Press.

Pullen, A., Thanem, T., Tyler, M. and Wallenberg, L., 2016. Sexual politics, organizational practices: Interrogating queer theory, work and organization. Gender, Work and Organization, 23(1), pp.1-5.

Sanchez, M.E., 2012. “Use Me But as Your Spaniel”: Feminism, Queer Theory, and Early Modern Sexualities. PMLA, 127(3), pp.493-511.

Selden, R., Brooker, P. and Widdowson, P., 2013. A reader's guide to contemporary literary theory. Routledge.

Showden, C.R., 2012. Theorising maybe: A feminist/queer theory convergence. Feminist Theory, 13(1), pp.3-25.

Smith, D. 2018. 'Queer Theory' Is Entering The Literary Mainstream. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/17/books/queer-theory-is-entering-the-literary-mainstream.html?module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Books&action=keypress&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=article [Accessed 26 Apr. 2018].

Thomas, C., 2016. On being post-normal: Heterosexuality after queer theory. In The Ashgate research companion to queer theory (pp. 35-50). Routledge.

Warner, L.R. and Shields, S.A., 2013. The intersections of sexuality, gender, and race: Identity research Management at the crossroads. Sex roles, 68(11-12), pp.803-810.

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