Why hello! What’s that sound I hear? Is it your blood boiling? Oh me too, Mary, me too. Sometimes you just need a good rant to get all that fury out. Ranting and raving is one of our favorite past-times as we furiously rage-text each other about issues ranging from tattoos to academia to queer theory conferences. Since we met in a university-setting where we discovered our twin love of filth and decadence, our rants often touch on issues that deal with the current state of queer theory .
While we were both unable to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Queer Method conference this weekend, that certainly does not mean we don’t have anything to add to that conversation. After searching Twitter for a live-tweet feed, Emily spun into a Mink Stole-esque tizzy and brought Marion along with her. What follows is our discussion hitting on privilege in the university setting, queerer-than-thou competitions and our hell-hath-no-fury loathing of PhD Stress gifs, which can hopefully add to and maybe open the dialogue on queer methods.
Emily: I was looking up the Queer Method conference on Twitter to see if anyone was live-tweeting it. I just want to ask about work being done outside of academia. I feel like we can contribute just as much to this conversation without being in academia yet we’ll never be asked to present in these conferences or publish in these publications. What does that say about these people who love to rail against privilege?
Marion: And those people who are anti-academia but still hold those privileged academic positions to say so.
E: Exactly. I find it annoying that you have to have a university position to have a voice in these discussions. We all know university positions are certainly not always based on merit.
M: Yes indeed. It’s also about power and privilege.
E: Which I’m sure is a huge topic in the conference yet its not analyzed in terms of their own positions. It’s always bothered me.
M: I do think queer theory has become a site of power and privilege that’s invoked but other strands of theory. And it’s attacking itself ridiculously.
E: Anything coming out of a university-setting is already imbued with that power. It just is. The problem when you’re talking about something like queerness is it’s not like linguistics or some other discipline because its wrapped up with people’s lives. So the field, I think, has a responsibility to have conferences and publications not just for academics. Why not have a conference that brings in other voices from artists to bloggers to anyone else who is dealing with these issues along with the academics? But that will never happen because of the bullshit power structure that academics feel forced to support in order to boost their own egos.
M: Right, and you know what, queer theory hasn’t been in an academic bubble, despite its production and circulation within the academy. Queer theory has had a cultural impact–or, rather, there is an interaction with culture whereby the queer academics and culturally queer people influence each other: José Munoz has his Vaginal Davis, Kathryn Bond Stockton has her films, and…well, and Jack has his Nemo. There is also a lot of cultural cachet within queer theory, going all the way back to its roots to more recent trends. It’s very hip to be queer! So, yes, you are right to critique how limiting these conferences are: on the one hand, these theorists draw upon cultural artifacts such as artists, poets, and queer bodies, for analysis; on the other hand, they’re not letting culture speak for itself at these events. I know of one conference, the Gay Shame conference in Ann Arbor 10 years ago that featured not only academic but activists and artists too. It’s too bad we missed that one: it was a very intense conference.
But I want to center on the academic level for a moment: I recognize that the university position is a site of power and privilege; therefore, its academics have a responsibility not just for the for the theoretical and archival work it does but also simply for their use of queer theory. Last I checked, queer theory is a tool, not an identity in and of its own; however, judging from academics and their fans, it has been appropriated as an identity in and of itself. This is problematic because rather than “queering” centers from marginal positions, it has effectively created new centers and margins. Now, being gay is no longer good enough to be “queer”; with all of these intersecting (or assemblages of) identities, theorists are trying to find new and exciting ways to be queer, whether it’s being trans, a queer of color, anti-heteronormative, anti-homonormative, anti-Western, and now, anti-academic. Looking at how queer theory was developed and where it came from, it’s becoming like Ouroboros, that snake who devoured himself by eating his own tail. Like you’ve said before, it’s become a game of queerer than thou.
E: Which I loathe. But now for some reason, looking at that Twitter, I started thinking how it’s even more alienating than that since the only people who are tweeting are academics who I can barely understand because they’re writing in academic language in 140 characters.
M: But there is a limit of queerness or rather there’s come a point which queerness means something specific, something tangible.
E: Right? It doesn’t meant cats.
M: Or tattoos or foodies. Queer theory is best when it’s used as a tool for critical analysis not as a lifestyle in and of itself.
E: Exactly. It shouldn’t be used as a marker of hipster Marxist enlightenment.
M: And that’s what it’s become. It bothers me so much that they attack the white homonormative person like with gay marriage. I get their position and I get why they stand against it but discourse is discourse. You can’t tell me that you’re going to suddenly enlighten a Midwestern white gay couple who have spent their whole lives fighting against ignorance and who now want to get married. You’re not going to convince them that gay marriage means systematic assimilation means WRONG. They may support many of the points queer theorists make about alternative forms of companionship as well as other rights issues like racial injustice and housing but they still want to marry. Its the academic tower of privilege speaking through awful PHD Stress gifs.
E: Ughghghgh…My blood pressure rises anytime you mention that blog. But going back to what you said, I completely agree with the idea of gay marriage in relation to queer theory. It’s such a privileged academic position. There are real benefits to marriage beyond the bowing to institutional pressure and the state. Of course, it would be nice if tax breaks, health insurance, green cards and hospital visitations could be granted in another way but that’s never going to happen.
M: Well that’s what I see with all of these queer theorists: “whenever I hear someone tell me they want to get married” (gif of Tyra Banks and her death stare).
E: It’s all some hipster bullshit. But my main gripe now is that people don’t even think to self-analyze their own place of privilege yet they’re gif-ing it up about everybody else’s.
M: It’s because they think there’s nothing to analyze and that they’re in the right.
E: I know but the first part of critique should be to see your own part in it.
M: Which is bullshit. You have to be constantly self-analyzing and self-reflecting.
E: And nobody feels they have to do that in queer theory.
M: I just want to make one more point, and then I’ll shut up: look, I’m not against queer theory. I love queer theory. Really, I do! And I can’t escape it either, even if I wanted to! I’m currently working in Deaf studies and there’s a move in it towards nuancing its archive to include narratives that aren’t White Euro-American ones that privilege genealogies of Deaf from Deaf clans. In the Deaf World, Deaf of Deaf accounts for, like, only 15-20% of the total Deaf population; so, why are we privileging this group over others? Where are the multicultural perspectives? Where are the narratives from those who come from Hearing families? This is a perfect place for queer theory to enter the discussion as a tool to help privileged academics and members of the Deaf World begin to unpack this understanding of the Grand Narrative of Deaf culture as creating centers and margins. But nowhere in this discussion ought there to be finger-pointing. We’re not looking to attack White Euro-American Deaf of Deaf people as a site of power and privilege, though they certainly have it. Nor are we looking to push their narrative out so that others can enter. Nuancing the conversation does not mean that we have to make new centers and margins, which is what I see academics in the field of queer theory, or Queer studies, doing. Queer theory helps us understand the way that power and privilege work; it shouldn’t become a site of power and privilege. We need more sensitivity in the field, and we need academics to own their power and privilege and be careful of the work they do when they go on the attack because, despite conferences like the Queer Method being attended by academics-only, queer theory impacts culture at every turn. Every identity has the potential to be both privileged and marginalized, so sensitivity and respect in any queer analysis of them shouldn’t be such dirty words.
E: Well, one more thing and then I’ll shut up too. I’m certainly not against queer theory either–I mean, we started a blog looking at culture through a queer lens. I love queer theory and I do believe that it provides an important tool of analysis. However my main problem is not queer theory per se–it’s the exclusionary aspect of queer theory. While like you said, theorists have their artists that they analyze and share mutual support with, these artists are not held up as people who have a real voice at these conferences. Even if there were a panel with, let’s say, Jose Munoz, Vaginal Davis and other artists, Jose Munoz would be either the moderator or some presence of authority. And why should that be? It’s certainly not because of his level of audience engagement or even critical thought.
When I think about queer methodology, for example, I immediately refer back to the Fashioning Personnae: Collage, Gender and Feminism panel I just covered at the Brooklyn Museum. I have no doubt Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has more to add about queer methodology and the archive than many of those academics on the panel. And to be frank, I learn more attending artist panels and other non-academic panels than I ever have in academic panels or conferences since academic conferences are often just a way for academics to sell their upcoming books regardless of panel topic. I also think this blog, other blogs like ours and activists have a great deal to add to the conversation about queer theory. I’d love to have a say in these discussions whether in writing or in person. A big reason for starting this site for me was a way to still engage seriously with these issues without having to be stuck in a university.
I think if queer theory is going to progress, it has to open itself up to a wider dialogue with people outside of academia. Since queer theory supposedly exists as a disruption of the academy, I think more voices have to be heard, which will allow for more accessible and interesting conversation about queerness. However if academics continue to alienate themselves, feeling superior because they read the right texts, published in the right journals and picked the right Lady Gaga gifs then I don’t understand how the queer theory will ever effect anything outside the field. And isn’t that the point?