Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

What is Queer?

“If we think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices, we detach queerness from sexual identity and come closer to understanding Foucault’s comment in “Friendship as a Way of Life” that “homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex” (310)” (Halberstam, 1).

My first thought is Sedgwick’s Tendencies, specifically Sedgwick’s definition of queer, as well as the exercise we did on the first day of class of what queer means. Sedgwick describes queer as “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” (Sedgwick, 8). While Sedgwick is referring to queer as elements of sexuality or family that differs from the “list” society has made as acceptable; Halberstam define queerness as abnormalities or as something differs from the norm, but not just family and sexual identity but everything, like time and space. Their core definition is similar, not sticking to the norm or the status quo in whatever way (this also reminds me of the song “Stick to the Status Quo” from the first High School Musical). What is truly interesting is that on the first day of class before we read anything, we talked about what does queer mean. We used many words and phrases to describe this word, including one particular phrase, something different than “cis”. In Sedgwick’s Tendencies, she has two lists that describe elements that makeup, in the first list, what a family is, and sexual identity in the second list. The elements listed are what we would consider being “cis”, just a bit fancier.

My second thought is about the quote from Friendship as a Way of Life that Halbustam uses, “homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex”. This is interesting because a lot of people use words like “lifestyle” and “choice” when talking about homosexuality. In their minds, people are making the conscious decision to stray from the list of what is acceptable. That these people are more afraid of their lives being upturned than of how a couple or group likes to have sex. If people start turning away from what is “right” and “acceptable” then what does that mean for the people that have structured their lives around it. We see this is Lisa Dordal’s Mosaic of the Dark in the poem Intersection, “Have you ever thought you might be… – / …It wasn’t an option, you said. / Your head never turning, both of us looking straight…” (Dordal, 11). Dordal’s mother tells us in this snippet that being anything other than a heterosexual woman, that being attracted to anyone other than a man was not possible. What is more terrifying, two people of the same sex having sex? Or the timeline people are brainwashed into believing is the only is not the only way?

1 Comment

  1. When Elizabeth Freeman writes about “socioeconomically ‘productive’ moments” and “novelistic framework[s],” that is relevant to your post because those “productive” “framework[s]” make up the monolith. Jumping around a bit, it’s weird to think about something like mental illness being a form of queerness, but that’s just one example of something that disrupts economic (and emotional) productivity while creating what Halberstam terms “strange temporalities” (in this case, altered perceptions of time as well as altered stages of emotional development). I realize you’re focusing more on the relationship between queerness and choice, but still, that’s what your post made me think of.

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