There are many different versions of Queer Theory. It is a very
slippery beast which allows great diversity in how it appears as well
as making it annoyingly impossible to attack or defend it in it's
entirety. Some forms of it are stupid, dangerous or boring and only
some are liberating.
However there is a spirit behind Queer Theory which is very
defendable. It is a spirit which flows through the Punk and Grunge
subcultures as well as the dry academic reads of Postmodern
philosophy. It is in the high kick of Camp, the smouldering stare of
Butch and the whip crack of S+M. It is a spirit of performing,
celebrating and proceeding from our fucked-up-ness, our pain.
Revolutionary anger comes from peoples pain. However speaking and
acting from that pain is often treated as trivial. What is called
modern thought including most theories of revolution like Marxism or
the Shiela Jeffreys style of academic Feminism however likes to speak
about pain and suffering but from outside it, objectively and
The Queer theory of knowledge is the feminist theory too,
first employed by women.Queer Theory emphasises it
to be the main point but Postmodern Feminists or
Feminist Queer Theorists and many other Feminists
would recognise the continuity of ideas.
Queer Theory may remove this attitude towards experts
from the context of patrarchy, dangerous at times but
also useful for critiquing modern expertise within some
feminisms or other revolutionary theories.
Such thought prepares those in pain to submit to their wiser,
outsider leaders for any change. This is like the medical model of
mental pain where the sick or insane person docily accepts the advice
of the "well" doctor. In terms of social change it prepares
generations of the poor, women, workers or other oppressed groups to
trust political leaders who "have got their shit together".
Queer theory would suggest that people who have their shit
together do not occupy a neutral position with the ability to
objectively help people who are fucked up. Instead these neat and
tidy souls having risen above the smelly messy humans they want to
lead, are actually coming from a different perspective that's equally
subjective. Smelly, messy, fucked up people in pain are actually
better off with their own knowledge and their anger.
So Queer theory rejects notions of perfection, utopia, absolute
truth if those ideas expect us become like neat and tidy souls with
objective rational perspectives. Instead of seeking therapy for our
humaness we should find ways to embrace it and perform it in ways
that are healthy and informed by our values.
Because Queer Theory rejects absolutes this
"should"statement is taken with a grain of salt.
If suffering from depression a Queer Theorist
might take medication to alleviate it,
another might use it as a source for creative expression.
The decision is a tactical one
not an absolute right or wrong one.
This point about values is important and I'll refer to it later.
One obvious example of Queer Theory applied is with sexuality.
Take Sado-masochism which in general usage refers to a range of
sexual games played with power roles and/or pain. If you're into this
a neat and tidy soul like a Psych doctor might want you to spend a
lot of time trying to cure yourself of these desires. A Queer Theory
response however might be to find ways of doing it with people you
trust and who are consenting, with rules such as safe words and
negotiated limits. This way performing S+M means that you own the
situation and your self rather than handing yourself over to some
expert.This is not an experts endorsement of S+M.
Some people involved will only play S+M with
people who are willing to switch roles in
recognition that they are playing with
powerful psychological stuff. Not everyone you
play with or everything you do might be good
How can this really do any good though on a societal level? Queer
theory is often called individualistic because examples like this one
emphasise personal dilemmas. Well, my response to that is that Queer
Theory is about smashing the submissive relationship between
fucked-up people and experts and that this can occurr for communities
as well as individuals provided people support each other in
solidarity. A form of Queer Theory which forgets solidarity is the
boring form I mentioned at the start of this piece. Ending our
reliance on experts isn't the end of the revolution but it's the
begining of any truly liberating future because otherwise we'll just
end up with a paternalistic state dictatorship or a doctor state.
I also mentioned dangerous forms of Queer Theory at the start of
this piece. This returns me to the issue of values. Queer Theory is
very poor at providing any idea of the values which should inform how
we perform our fucked-up-ness. "Bad" values or no values at all
produce nothing to challenge racist or sexist, or anti-poor
performances particularly by the rich, by whites and by men. For this
such groups must look outside themself, not to experts but to the
pain and voices of people whose experiences they don't share.
Tragically too often in Queer culture and politics dominant groups
don't. Without utilising Feminist, Anti-Racist, Socialist or Humanist
revolutionary theories people outside the dominant groups in one way
or another can get fucked over without knowing why or how to
Queer Theory isn't perfect. It isn't the whole of what is needed.
But it is a useful ingredient in a revolutionary mindset. Viva
smelly, messy, humans.