Queer Theory

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In the article “Rupture or Continuity? The internationalization of Gay Identities” author  Dennis Altman discusses the influences of  Western colonization on gay demographics in other countries. This is a relatively new cultural phenomenon, as homosexuality as an acceptable mainstream practice has long been disputed and remains a  highly controversial and taboo topic. Indeed, in some cultures homosexual practices can result in death.  Societies that adhere to traditional gender roles are often unwilling to embrace practices that have not been observed or adhered to previously. With the advent of globalization, and its accompanying influences, Western attitudes and practices regarding homosexuality as well as practices that do not conform to the traditional male/female gender binaries have influenced other less developed countries:“Critics have argued that globalism and consumerism create  individualism and greater life choices, which consequently lead to the emergence of Western-style identities and identity politics. As Rosalind Morris put it: ‘We know that the apparatus of power is different in every society and that the discourses of sex and gender differ from context to context. Yet a considerable body of critical theory persists in a mode of historical analysis-the emphatically linear genealogy–that derives from the West’s specific experience of modernity.”‘( Altman 79)

Through a postcolonial lens, Western attitudes, those belonging to the colonizer in other words, toward nontraditional gender roles and practices associated with them,sexual or otherwise, have inevitably influenced other  less advanced and developed cultures that can be considered “colonized.” There is both a conscious and unconscious acceptance of these Western influences. Some may find these views on sexuality to be more liberating, and progressive,  because they can identify with these views on a personal level, but may find their well being in jeopardy due to their embrace of these Western ideologies. Additionally, what may appear to be a tolerance of homosexuality by one culture may in actuality be a form of oppression that is unfamiliar to the other culture, and is therefore unrecognizable, and erroneously considered to be tolerance: “Western romanticism about the apparent tolerance of homoeroticism in many non-Western cultures disguises the reality of persecution, discrimination, and violence, which sometimes occurs in unfamiliar forms. Firsthand accounts make it clear that homosexuality is far from being universally accepted-or even tolerated-in such apparent paradises as Morocco, the Philippines, Thailand, and Brazil: “Lurking behind the Brazilians’ pride of their flamboyant drag queens, their recent adulation of a transvestite chosen as a model of Brazilian beauty, their acceptance of gays and lesbians as leaders of the country’s most widely practiced religion and the constitutional protection of homosexuality, lies a different truth.Gay men, lesbians and transvestites face widespread discrimination, oppression and extreme violence”(Altman 80).

Homosexuals, and those who do not conform to traditional gender binaries, face many manifestations of marginalization, to an extreme degree in some cases. Some are disowned by their families, while others are the victims of brutality and violence, at times resulting in death. They are treated as though their sexual choices are a form of moral deviance, and ostracized for what is considered to be a compromised ethical code,while it is fact a biological predisposition for some, and the presence of same sex desire and sexual encounters have been a part of the earliest of world histories:“ Modern forms of homosexuality often exist side-by-side with older traditional ones, and the boundaries can appear either blurred or distinct depending on one’s vantage point and ideology. Thus some homosexuals in non-Western countries seek to establish historical continuities while others are more interested in distancing themselves, psychologically and analytically, from what they consider old-fashioned forms of homosexuality, especially those that seem based on crossgender lines” ( Altman 82). While some find comfort and a kind of allegiance aligning themselves with history, others feel that past traditions and presentations of homosexuality does not accurately represent them or their beliefs.

Those that adhere to  more modern ideologies and views on homosexuality recognize the dynamic elements of cultural traditions:”‘traditional culture’ is increasingly recognized to be more an invention constructed for contemporary purposes than a stable heritage handed on from the past” (Altman 79-80). A great deal of progress has been made in regard to the civil liberties and basic human rights of those who identify as queer or do not fall within the traditional male/ female binary; however, a great deal of prejudice and oppression still exists worldwide. More work must be done to eradicate these prejudices and recognize these people as equal members of society. In the essay, “Transnational Conversations in Migration, Queer, and Transgender Studies: Multimedia Story spaces” Gema Perez-Sanchez discusses the importance of equal rights for members of the LGBTQ demographic, as they provide valuable contributions to society  and ways in which this equality can be achieved, “…that queer novelists and artists living at the so-called margins were crucial to the consolidation of the contemporary Spanish democracy and that their works were central to understanding complex changes with regard to gender and sexuality that the Spanish imaginary has undergone. I would posit now that the spectacular legal gains obtained by Spanish gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender activists in the last decade could be read as a form of belated and overdue compensation, on the part of the progressive political class, for the suffering that LGBTQ individuals experienced under repressive laws…”( Perez-Sanchez 164).

This essay focuses on the implementation of LGBTQ laws in Spain specifically, and  the author suggests that  while these laws would benefit all of those within this demographic there may have been ulterior motivations by the government to appease other countries: “a more cynical view of the reasons behind the passing of these progressive laws is that they also respond to Spain’s desires to be recognized by the rest of Europe and the United States as sharing their values of modern citizenship rights and to obliterate and bury, once and for all, Spain’s repressive fascist past. What better way to prove Spain’s progress to its European partners than to pass gender and sexuality laws that are at least as, if not more, forward-looking than any others to be found in the European Union? In this regard, Spain joins other recent democracies, such as South Africa, in guaranteeing the civil rights of sexual minorities” (Perez-Sanchez 164). While the LGBTQ community did benefit from the implementation of  this legislation, the Spanish government  did this moreso to distance themselves from fascism to appease other Western countries as opposed to placing the civil rights of all their citizens at the forefront and as the primary catalyst for this legislation.

Nonetheless, this still marks an important step towards the protections of this vulnerable demographic even though this was not the exclusive and genuine motivation for the implementation of this legislation.  As Perez-Sanchez suggests, it is important for the global community to protect and acknowledge the civil liberties of all humans, ” … the importance of establishing transnational conversations – both literal and metaphorical – to bridge differences among migration, queer, and transgender studies in an international context” (167).The enactment of this legislation is a step forward to facilitate an ongoing international dialogue to protect all members of the LGBTQ global community.

FINAL PROJECT ABSTRACT

For my final project, I am going to focus on the text, Woman at Point Zero. There are several themes that I will focus on for this project. The masculine/feminine dichotomy within a patriarchally dominated and colonized society will be explored at length. I would also like to examine the  manifestations of autonomy that the protagonist Firdaus demonstrates. Another theme that I will examine is the social stratification that occurs as a result of colonization and a patriarchal hierarchy.  As illustrated through the trials of Firdaus, females are not granted equality in any social aspect. A very small amount of women were permitted to attend school, and only if they came from a family that could pay for them to attend. Since they lacked education, they lacked skills to find a job that provided a salary that they could live on. Women had few choices in this type of society; they could marry and endure various forms of abuse from their husbands, turn to prostitution, or work a menial low paying job that they could barely subsist on. Firdaus had experienced all of these things in her life, and found that women are denigrated and suppressed regardless of their position as an office worker or as a prostitute and they are seen as sexual objects by men whether they are a prostitute or a wife. She becomes so jaded and enraged by her treatment of men that she eventually kills the man who became her pimp. Firdaus is sentenced to death for this murder, yet she remains stoic about her impending execution. This is the true tragedy of the story. Firdaus’ horrible treatment, simply because she was born a female, left her so hopeless and nihilistic that death seemed like a welcome reprieve from living the kind of life she was forced to endure. This project will explore the tragedy of being born a woman in a colonized and misogynistic society.

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7 thoughts on “Queer Theory

  1. Leah,
    I also chose to touch on “Rupture or Continuity” this week. I enjoyed your reading of the essays mentioned, but I would hesitate to name colonized cultures as “less developed” or “less advanced.” It’s this neoliberalist terminology for anything that isn’t Western that kind of irks me. I think those terms tend to implicitly refer more to ideologies and cultures, which has a way of inadvertently creating this percieved exceptionalism of Western culture.
    I love the idea of working with “Woman at Point Zero” for your final project. I’m still struggling to find a piece of literature that I can use with middle schoolers that hits home but is still accessible.

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  2. HI Leah,
    I enjoy your discussion of “Rupture or Continuity.” I also read that essay, but struggled through that one just a little bit. However, I feel as if you have done a great job summarizing Atman’s stance, and it has helped me gain even more insight on the essay. I like that you looked at Western attitudes through a postcolonial lens, bringing back concepts that we have discussed throughout the past few weeks, specifically looking at gender and sexuality. On the other hand, I also read Perez-Sanchez’s essay and loved it. While some of the Spanish threw me off because I did not know every word, I felt Perez-Sanchez eloquently established her viewpoints, noting that yes, the laws were beneficial in some ways, but that there were ulterior motives and thoughts, such as Spain’s longing to belong and be recognized by the rest of Europe and the United States. I also liked that Perez-Sanchez noted that the laws overshadowed many other issues such as racism and oppression, that are still at large for many individuals.
    I really enjoy your project proposal. I love Woman at Point Zero and would love to write a unit plan on it, but I feel it may be too jarring for a younger classroom. I like that you state “This project will explore the tragedy of being born a woman in a colonized and misogynistic society.” I would be interested in checking out your final project when it is completed as it sounds like it will be amazing. You should try to publish it somewhere, as I think it is a necessary piece for many conversations!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree. I think the subject matter is a bit intense for that grade level. I’m not going to create a lesson plan for the final project; I’m going to choose the essay option.

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  3. Would still love to see you working with blogging as a form, using links and images more to make your point.

    As for the final paper, I am curious what theoretical texts you will be using to help you make your arguments about Firdaus.

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    1. I haven’t begun research yet. Do you think this is a productive topic for the assignment, or should I explore other options?
      Also, I do includes links or images with all of my blog posts. I’m sorry, but I’m not sure what you’re referring to; I don’t have prior experience with blogging.

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