To be queer, is to be what?

The study of language and sexuality revolves around (the beliefs) of accepted norms. In other words, a person’s language style, behavior and maybe even preferences would be attached to being a ‘him/her’. (Something like girl=pink, boys=blue) However, studies on such patterns have proven otherwise as even those belonging to the same sex group may disagree on specific language styles.

In relation, Koch has attached the idea of ‘language deviant’ by using the men’s hegemonic power as a basis. Instead of generally labeling any group as the ‘deviant speakers,’ Koch initiated that, ‘speakers who are in some way disenfranchised from institutionalized male power’ (Koch, M., 2008:7) or those rejected by masculine domination are all deemed deviant. With this ambiguity, we then wonder what does speaking-gendered connotes, and question where does one type, ends before the other starts? Amidst the attempt to sort this fuzzy idea of gendered languages, the realization of Queer Theory (QT) surfaced which we would now uncover and address.

The notion of ‘queer’ on its own is vague like ‘a signifier without a stable signified’ (Barrett, R., 2002:27). According to Spargo, T. (1999:9), ‘if the queer theory is a school of thought, then it is one with a highly unorthodox view of discipline.’ It discusses the existence of non-normatives while taking into consideration its relations with the study of sex, gender, and desire. While it insinuates that queer theory is a label that identifies with the comparison of social powers of gays and lesbians against the hegemonic heterosexuals, it is not in its entirety as it also embraces those in between the spectrum. QT targets the heteronormativity and questions how and why it has been considered the ‘natural’ form by studying the immediate environment such as their sociocultural contexts. Rather than deducing a solution to QT (Motschenbacher, H., 2011:153), it highlights the endless possibility of interpretations, deconstructing the idea of binaries. 

There are a few perspectives involved in the study of QT, and they are as follows: the essentialist who considers all queer individuals as something fixed throughout history, constructionists who looks at the history with the current social norms and how it has evolved through time and the structuralists who views hetero and homo as binary (Alberhasky, M., 2014). The main theoretical influences of the queer theory mentioned here would be Foucault, Butler, and Derrida all of whom are post-structuralists (Post-structuralism, 2018). In comparison to the above-mentioned structuralists, the trio disagrees with the binaries of gender and sexuality.

Firstly, one of the Foucauldian approaches that pioneered in the study of QT would be the ‘deployment of sexuality’ (Motschenbacher, H., 2011:155). Foucault believed that instead of willingly accepting the idea that an individual’s sexuality is given or based on their biologies, he believes that sexual identity is a form of social construct, created based on their experiences. This, in turn, allows one to have the capacity to make sense of other phenomena in relation to their personal sexual needs and desire. Extending Foucault’s stand to a critical topic of QT; ‘the homosexual versus heterosexuals’ (Spargo, T., 1999:44), it could be said that even the notion of heterosexuals may be socially constructed. Some might have reasoned this to the literary term of ‘getting out of the closet,’ which entails that being a homosexual is ‘out’ also mentally construing that being a heterosexual is an ‘in-thing,’ which most might link to being the norm. Despite this, Foucault asserts that even by distinguishing homo to heteros, it is by itself affirming binaries. Instead, QT may be viewed as a tool in observing how ‘moral and political hierarchies of knowledge and power’ (Spargo, T., 1999:47) has been shaped based on opposing homo-hetero parties such as the stereotypes attached to each group. 

However, it is recognized that binary matters such as a person’s sex, plays a critical role in the way we form ideas of people. This can be demonstrated by Judith Butler’s heterosexual matrix in Table 1 (Tredway, K., 2014:169) below. In which a masculine-male is confirmed to be a heterosexual and a feminine-male is a total homo. Likewise for females! As we form perceptions based on what we notice and the (individual’s) accepted norms of the society, it is no surprise that we find it hard to deconstruct and extract sexuality from the biology. In other words, though sexuality should not be confined within parameters, it is tough to remove a structured concept that has been inbuilt into our minds such as seeing someone as a man/ woman based on their privates.

That mentioned, Butler resonates with Foucault, additionally giving recognition to the aspect of gender which brings us to another factor of QT; gender performativity. Once again, Foucault’s belief of construction is being built on in which Butler asserts that gender is ‘an ongoing discursive practice’ (Spargo, T., 1999: 54). More than ‘acting our gender’ as though in a performance, we are actively constructing it as we observe and act out. This includes the appropriate behavioral norms of a gender group reflected in Table 1, which subsequently latches on to being requirements or expectations of a female/male (Tredway, K., 2014). Gender has since become the cultural meaning denoted by our biological sex.

Butler also believes the idea of sex-gender-sexuality has been transferred into the language domain, specifically in the labeling of pronouns. Terms ‘he’ and ‘she’ has been made synonymous with male and female respectively. This forces people to categorize or be categorized into either grouping. Over time, it has stabilized and has unknowingly become an important part of ‘linguistic gendering’ (Motschenbacher, H., 2011:156). The naturality idea of desire has also been raised by Butler (Tredway, K., 2014:168) in which it is of our social construct that we believe in a masculine (gender) male (sex) to naturally desire for women and likewise. Thus, whoever refuses or find themselves not belonging to either would be out of the ordinary, odd or… queer.  

Finally, the theory of deconstruction by Jacques Derrida also established how the use of language might both empower or complicate. Derrida mentioned how ‘writing is a signifier of a signifier, the graphic sign of mental speech, itself a sign of ideas’ (Derrida, J. 2016: 300). This shows how each meaning can be reinterpreted and there is doubt as to whether there would be an end to the train of meanings. This leads to the binary opposition which is a major theory under structuralism which emphasizes on making distinctions for languages and thoughts. Relating back to the over-generalized notion of gender, the two binaries that have been embedded would be male and female. Despite creating ‘inclusive’ terms such as transsexual, bisexual or pansexual, which was intended to have a meaning of its own, it backfired. The terms are perceived as only further supporting the notion that they are the deviants of the dominant male-female discourses rather than as full functional alternatives.

Queer Linguistics (QL) on the other hand, is an extension of Queer Theory. As a relatively young study, it echoes the beliefs that ambiguity lies between languages. It ventures into the ways and methods in which various notions of sexuality may be implied with certain discursives (Leap, W. L., 2015: 663). This may be done through examining stereotypes which people have formed based on what they have observed, such as the linguistic practices (that they think) the person practices (Motschenbacher, H., 2011:158). Thus, queer linguistics is a realm of its own under the umbrella term of queer theory. Defined as the ‘sociolinguistic study of language use without recourse to identity categories’ (Weber, S., 2011:155) by Wong et al., queer linguistics takes into consideration the performativity of the language and considers the sexual identities and desires together with their related discourses.

The study of QL is vast, and one of such would be of a sexuality marker. There are many hidden associations to sexuality that may be etched in their personal beliefs or unconscious behavior. A way to extract implicit stereotypical opinions would be to observe their casual conversations. According to Leap, W. L. (2015:663), an aim of QL is to identify these stereotypes and connect it back to the ‘normative authority,’ ultimately observing who, how and why the sexuality in the topic is discussed. We shall exemplify this by analyzing a conversation between a group of white college students. As they conversed over a sports show, it appeared to be an innate action for some to describe some of their classmates (who are not direct interlocutors) with derogatory terms. Though it may be untrue, the group of boys needed a form of distinction against their ‘gay’ classmates. They needed to ‘display their heterosexual orientation’ (Cameron, 1997: 61) by trying to mark their sexuality through ‘asserting the authority of their own masculinity’ (Leap, W. L., 2015:663).

In summary, with the knowledge of queer theories and rise of queer linguistics, we should realize that no one has the right to label anyone based on their own social perceptions. Language should help us to convey ourselves as who we are but not confine us to basis such as heteronormativity. We need to accept that notions of gender and sexuality are fluid and being ‘queer’; no matter homo-queer or hetero-queer is EQUALLY ACCEPTED as being a ‘not-queer.’


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