Rubin, G. (1993). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality. In H. Abelove, M. Barale, D. Halperin (Eds.), The lesbian and gay studies reader (pp. 3-44). New York: Routledge.
Eng, D.L., Halberstam, J., Munoz, J. E. (2005). Introduction: What’s queer about queer studies now? Social Text, 84-85, 1-17.
Puar, J. K. Queer times, queer assemblages. Social Text, 84-85: 121-139.
Rubin’s article highlights the special focus law, religion, and medicine have had upon sexuality. She compares the decision to engage in a specific sexuality activity to the choice one makes with food, a metaphor that the more I think about it, the increasingly apt and profound I find it to be. She illustrates the sexual essentialist perspective’s hierarchy of sexual acts, starting wit the acceptable down to the tolerable, and those that are stigmatized, pathologized and criminalized. She calls for the development of “a radical perspective on sexuality” (p. 275)* and outlines the constructivist perspective, stating that it is important to located what we see in the groupings of erotic acts with the trends of erotic discourses. The most important of which is sex negativity. This propagated ideas of “healthy” and “unhealthy” sexuality. She focuses on the criminalization of homosexuality and sodomy, the prohibition of sex with children, and the use of s/m pornography in feminist’s anti-porn rhetoric. The last example is used to illustrate that “feminism” is not the panacea to sex negativity and in fact can play an active role in propagating it. Though this is followed by the problematic challenge that this only a “so-called feminist discourse” (p. 302). She closes her argument with the idea that “Western culture” is caught in the conundrum of taking sex too seriously while not taking sexual persecution seriously enough. In order to ameliorate this we must recognize how erotic life is shaped by political dimensions.
Decades after Rubin’s piece was first published, the introduction to “What’s queer about queer studies now?” addresses the changes in the breadth of material covered by queer studies. This text draws attention to the parochial view of sexuality in Rubin’s piece, representative of it time, which does not thoroughly engage with race, transnationlalism, the global market and labour structures, diasporas, or citizenship, topics taken up by more recent queer publications. Eng Halberstam, and Munoz critique previous gay and lesbian activism that bought into queer positivism and led the way to queer liberalism, which they describe as the exogenous and endogenous workings of the queer community that have lead to the “normalization” of gay and lesbian identities. Through teasers to the following essays in this volume we are offered the following insights into queer studies:
1) Theorists need to reconsider the intersectionality of identifications such as race, sexuality, and class, and demand more than just our rights in order to keep our freedom of mobility;
2) Different identity categories cannot be collapsed as equal in their relationship to domination;
3) The increase in pop culture’s representation of queer identities has come with the price of the ascribing heteronormative gender roles to those representation;
4) Counter-homophobic discourses have been used to shift focus from American atrocities in war to the prejudices of the “enemy”;
5) The term queer often signifies and symbolizes gay white men; this conflates homonormativity with whiteness
6) We ought not confuse the fruits of gay rights advocacy, such as gay marriage, with freedom.
The introduction ends with a reference to Rubin who is quoted as calling for “gay humility” (p. 15) where sexuality does not need to be the central or singular focus of queer studies. Instead those writing in queer theory must acknowledge their “ethical attachment to others” and cease locating sexuality as the centre of queer studies (p. 15).
Puar’s article was a very dense read and I will try my best to do it justice. She is making three arguments. In the first she argues that queer liberalism has contributed to post-9/11 Islamophobia. We see this in queer scholars’ responses to Abu Ghraib Arabs and Muslims were homogenized and academics focused on Islamic homophoboia, diverting attention from the inhumane and unethical treatment of Muslims by American soldiers. Secondly, Puar utilizes Deleuze’s interpretation of the assemblage in juxtaposition to intersectionality. She argues that the terrorist is queered through his failed masculinity and the association of his body with perversion and deformity. She uses the example of the suicide bomber to demonstrate how the terrorist’s body destabilizes temporarily and space. The bomb is intimately strapped to the terrorist’s body hidden beneath clothing. When the bomb detonates the body does not carry the weapon but merges with it and the other bodies in close proximity; the terrorists shifts from being to becoming. Lastly, she applies the terrorist’s being and becoming to the turban. The turban works to both hide and reveal the terrorist body; it is infused with cultural and religious meaning, but also a refusal to assimilate into western dress. I must admit I am struggling with how this then connects to her reading of Axel’s queer diasporas and then to the notion that through the sex based torture in Abu Ghraib the terrorist is left religious impotent and is no longer a threat to the nation. The terrorist troubles the stability of identity categories.
Questions (in no particular order):
Does the push for queer theory to gain some “humility” and shift it’s focus from sexuality to broader issues such as transnational identities, diasporas, and the global economy imply that we have exhausted where queer theory can go in conversations of sex?
What is the difference between sexuality studies, lesbian and gay studies, and queer theory?
Can we compare Puar’s notions of being and becoming to Butler’s and other feminism notions of performativity?
How do people feel about Rubin’s call for the destigmatization of “cross-generational” romances or sexual relationships? I have read a number of feminist’s writing coming out of the 1980s and 1990s that made similar claims but none since then, and Patrick Califia in fact changed his mind. Where does this leave us?
In terms of advocacy how does a queer activist address the fact that much of the major issues on the agenda are in fact very heteronormative ones? Gays and lesbians have fought have to be let into an arguably repressive structure of marriage. EGALE (a GLBT advocacy group in Canada) who once opposed the censorship of Little Sister’s Book Store has more recently lobbied to censor the sale of the music of artists with homophobic lyrics. How to queers claim a desire not to be discriminated against while still repudiating heteronormativity?
And lastly, though this does not stem from the articles, I would like to ask something about the problematic use of the word queer to, in theory, describe the GLBTT2IQ population, when it is in fact being used to describe gays and lesbians (who are also white, middle class, non-immigrants)? I would say that very rarely does the writing on “queer” people apply to bisexuals, trans-identified individuals, two-spirited persons, or those who are intersex. In the name of inclusion have we (queers) homogenized ourselves?
*Sorry I was working with a different source of the Rubin article, my page numbers come from.
Rubin, G. (1984). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality. In C. S. Vance (Ed.) Pleasure and danger: Exploring female sexuality (p. 267-319). Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.