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Viva Smelly, Messy Humans. The Pro's of Queer Theory.

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 rationally.

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.

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.

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 challenge it.

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.