Queer vs. Gay / Lesbian



I thought this video from Katie Couric’s show that has been circulating around brings up an important point with regards to trans* issues, the fact that focusing always on the body can divert people’s attention from issues of social justice and violence. I’ll definitely need to bring this up in class tomorrow.

We just finished talking about the difference in the terms / associations “queer” and “gay/lesbian.” And we also talked about the relevance of queer studies generally. Basically, for the terms questions, the students boiled it down to “what’s at stake” or what a particular group wants. Generally, they saw that those who frequently use the terms gay / lesbian have an assimilationist agenda: they want to be included at the table. And those opting for queer are more revolutionary: they want to destroy the table because the table is broken.

Perhaps the most useful understanding of the relevance of queer studies came through looking at Eve Sedgwick’s contrasting of the “minoritizing” view and “universalizing” view in Epistemology of the Closet. The minoritizing view (usually gay / lesbian) sees homosexuality as something of interest to those people for whom it is an identity. But the universalizing view sees homosexuality or same-sex desire as “an issue of continuing, determinative importance in the lives of people acros the spectrum of sexualities.” Clearly both views are at work at once.

It seems, to some degree, that the terms lesbian and gay are often used in a minoritizing sense–the people for whom same sex desire is a defining aspect of their identity want to be assimilated into existing cultural norms (e.g. the right to marry). On the other hand, “queer” (the universalizing view) sees societal norms as oppressive and in need of radical change. Queers want nothing to do with the status quo (no interest in marriage, for example).

We’ll continually complicate this understanding, but we got a good look into why certain groups opt for the language they use and the implied aims of those terms.