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queer

“Queer” emerged as a politically charged term around the time that AIDS politics gathered urgent momentum. With the advent of such groups as ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, 1987) and Queer Nation (1990), issues of homophobia and gender and sexuality were soon recognized as key political concerns. While Stonewall (1969) served as the historical marker for gay and lesbian politics and identity many younger activists saw this version of identity as too assimilated in and abject to heterosexual culture. Strategies for AIDS activism, on the other hand, demanded a radical term that announced the fact that the disease was particularly affecting those whose sexual desire was very different from the heterosexual norm. “Queer” fit the bill.

From the streets to the radical possibilities of the ivory tower the notion of queer found its way into departments of English Literature, Film Studies and even Architecture. In 1990 Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet (1990) arguably set the stage for queer theory. Scholars such as these and Michael Warner rethought the essentializing propositions of identity politics that most often attended traditional gay, lesbian and feminist politics. Merging especially the works of Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser and Jacques Derrida, American queer theorists queered poststructural itself. After all, Althusser and Derrida make strange bedfellows.

The vitality and importance of the term “queer” (although often perceived as recapitulating a historically pejorative adjective) is its suggestive refusal of cultural conditions that insist on an identity as such. The dilemma “queers” once again face, as does any radical social movement, is the solidification of meaning for this once radical word. Under the aegis of capitalism, it is no surprise that “Queer Theory” has become a cottage industry.

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