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Critically Queer

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Michael Johnson

on 30 March 2017

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Transcript of Critically Queer

Critically Queer
Judith Butler
Judith Butler,
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

The crux of Butler's argument in
Gender Trouble
is that the coherence of the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality—the natural-seeming coherence, for example, of masculine gender and heterosexual desire in male bodies—is culturally constructed through the repetition of stylized acts in time. These stylized bodily acts, in their repetition, establish the appearance of an essential, ontological "core" gender.

Compulsory heterosexuality & the heterosexual matrix

Critically Queer (1993)
Butler opens with Foucault's statement that "discourse is not life; its time is not yours" which illustrates her argument that "there is no "I" who stands
discourse and executes its volition or will

"It is through the citation of the law that the figure of the judge's "will" is produced and that the "priority" of textual authority is established." (p. 19)

The "I" only comes into being through being called, named, interpellated (to use the Althusserian term), and this discursive constitution takes place prior to the "I".


The "I" is the historically revisable possibility of a name that precedes and exceeds me, but without which I cannot speak. (p. 19)
Next, Butler examines "queer" as an interpellation that enables us to conceive of performativity in relationship to a politics of change.

"To what extent has the performative "queer" operated alongside, as a deformation of, the "I pronounce you..." of the marriage ceremony? ... as the shaming taboo which "queers" those who resist or oppose that social form." (p. 20)
Butler warns her readers that it is risky business to reappropriate a powerful performative such as "queer":

"Discourse has a history that not only precedes but conditions its contemporary usages, and this history effectively decenters the presentist view of the subject as the exclusive origin or owner of what is said. (p. 20)
"As much as identity terms must be used, as much as "outness" is to be affirmed, these same notions must become subject to a critique of the exclusionary operations of their own production: for whom is outness an historically available and affordable option? Is there an unmarked class character to the demand for universal "outness"? Who is represented by which use of the term, and who is excluded? For whom does the term present an impossible conflict between racial, ethnic, or religious affiliation and sexual politics? What kinds of policies are enabled by what kinds of usages, and which are backgrounded or erased from view?
"If the term "queer" is to be a site of collective contestation, it will have to remain that which is, in the present, never fully owned" (p. 21)

"As expansive as the term "queer" is meant to be, it is used in ways that enforce a set of overlapping divisions." (p. 21)

"We no more create from nothing the political terms which come to represent our "freedom" than we are responsible for the terms that carry the pain of social injury." ... In this sense, it remains politically necessary to lay claim to [these terms] because they lay their claim on us prior to our full knowing." (p. 21)

"Laying claim to such terms in reverse will be necessary to refute homophobic deployments of the terms in law, public policy, on the street, in "private" life. But the necessity to mobilize "the necessary error" of identity (Spivak's term) will always be in tension with the democratic contestation of the term."

Butler next explains that gender performativity does not mean that one can reach into the closet "put on a gender" as one puts on clothes.

"Gender is performative insofar as it is the effect of a regulatory regime of gender differences in which genders are divided and hierarchized under constraint." (p. 22)

"There is no subject who is "free" to stand outside these norms or to negotiate them at a distance." (p. 22)
She argues that exposing the naturalized status of compulsory heterosexuality does not necessarily lead to its subversion. In fact, the opposite can sometimes be the case:

"Heterosexuality can augment its hegemony
its denaturalization, as when we see denaturalizing parodies which reidealize heterosexual norms without calling them into question." (p. 23)
She continues to question the agency of the gendered subject (the "I" or the "one"):

"There is no "one" who takes on a gender norm. On the contrary, this citation of the gender norm is necessary in order to qualify as "one," to become viable as a "one," where subject-formation is dependent on the prior operation of legitimating gender norms." (p. 23)
"Where there is an ungrieved loss in drag performance, perhaps it is a loss that is refused and incorporated in the performed identification, one which reiterates a gendered idealization and its radical ininhabitability. This is, then, neither a territorialization of the feminine by the masculine, nor an "envy" of the masculine by the feminine, nor a sign of the essential plasticity of gender. What is does suggest is that gender performance allegorizes a loss it cannot grieve, allegorizes the incorporative fantasy of melancholia whereby an object is phantasmatically taken in or on as a way of refusing to let it go" (p. 25)
Judith Butler's main point in her discussion of drag is as follows:

The resignification of norms is thus a function of their
, and so the question of subversion, of
working the weakness in the norm
, becomes a matter of inhabiting the practices of its rearticulation. The critical promise of drag does not have to do with the proliferation of genders, as if a sheer increase in numbers would do the job, but rather with the exposure of the failure of heterosexual regimes ever fully to legislate or contain their own ideals. (p. 27)
Butler on
Paris is Burning

The drag balls produce high femininity as a function of whiteness and deflect homosexuality through a transgendering that reidealizes certain bourgeois forms of heterosexual exchang. And yet, if those performances are not immediately or obviously subversive, it may be that it is rather in the reformulation of kinship, in particular, the redefining of the "house" and its forms of collectivity, mothering, mopping, reading, becoming legendary, that the appropriation and redeployment of the categories of dominant culture enable the formation of kinship relations that function supportively as oppositional discourse within that culture. (p. 28)

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