Queer Theory – What is it and why use it?

When I say “Queer theory” I usually get one of two responses – the person in question either finds it interesting and exciting, or they become awkward and uncomfortable. The word “Queer” itself scares people, just like the idea of homosexuality, racial difference or even spoiled milk could scare someone. Yet, very few people understand what Queer theory is.

It’s one of my favourite words. For me, “Queer” gives me access to a freedom and power that I hadn’t had access to before. It lets me explore places in texts that I’ve never been. It lets me invade traditions and conventions and turn them on their heads. It’s scary, because it can invade your space, and it’s powerful for the same reason.

For me, to queer something is to make it strange. To read into spaces of silence, absence, difference and reveal subconscious forms of sexualities as they protrude into texts. You’re never safe from your own subconscious, and queering texts shows you that.

My first experience of queer theory in action was a queer reading of Roz from Monsters Inc. Instantly I found my whole perception of the movie that I had initially thought of as so light-hearted and childish, altered. I believed in the reading, I understood it at once, perhaps almost recognised the ideas as being my own suppressed thoughts, my own critical eye being given the opportunity to see what it had been trained to ignore. How could one really ignore Roz? Because she was mostly in the outtakes, that’s why – popping out of a toilet cubicle, a closet and a shower curtain – with her famous “Aah haa haa”. See the outtakes here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtXpQwlIBLY.

Yet throughout the movie, her clothes, her hair, her voice and gestures all signify stereotypical “butch lesbian” attributes. Even her inability to be warmed by Mike’s flattery contests to this. Image

I’m not even going to get started on reading into the whole symbolism of the closet that haunts the children in their sleep in fear that monsters will “come out” of them. That’s almost too easy.

After reading the queer reading of Roz, I inadvertently began thinking of childhood cartoons and how one could queer those. I began to think about Winnie the Pooh, in particular Eeyore, whose signifiers declare both feminine and masculine qualities, but who often eludes contemplation. With a very deep voice, a pink bow attached to his detachable tail – who is Eeyore?Image

According to Eeyore, he’s male, or as he states: “At least I was…last time I looked. Thanks for noticing me.” However, Eeyore’s constant female signifier – the pink bow – still poses a challenge to this male identity. Why is it there? Why is it attached to a tail that constantly falls off? Why is he willing to literally pin it to himself, a continuous act of mutilation, to maintain it? Furthermore, could it be that Eeyore’s depression is caused by his obscured gendered identification? Could he possibly have been born intersex? Or is he transgendered, or possibly transsexual? He could even simply be showing a desire to dress in drag.

The various ways in which Eeyore could be construed reveals the effectiveness of queer theory. From simply being a character in a cartoon, Eeyore becomes a queer disturbance to a child’s show. A queer disturbance that says more about our culture than we had originally thought possible. You are never safe, everything you know can be made strange, made queer.

Sarah

One thought on “Queer Theory – What is it and why use it?

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