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University of Texas at Austin
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Is Queer’s Future Queer?
Queer Studies is thirty years old today. Yet, as a school of criticism jeopardizing its core premise of deconstructing the centre by centralizing itself around the LGBTI+ discourse, it, without doubt, has a curious place within the academy. In 2005, on Queer Theory’s fifteenth birthday, or fifteen years after Teresa de Lauretis put forward the first theoretical articulation of queer/ness at a conference in Santa Cruz, the journal Social Text devoted an entire volume to tackle the “life” of Queer Theory with a striking title: “What’s queer about queer studies now?” The editors David Eng, Jack/Judith Halberstam and José Esteban Muñoz were emphasizing that the “contemporary mainstreaming of gay and lesbian identity—as a mass-mediated consumer lifestyle and embattled legal category—demand[ed] a renewed queer studies” (2005: 1). To them, this “renewed” queer studies would be “ever vigilant to the fact that sexuality is intersectional, not extraneous to other modes of difference, and calibrated to a firm understanding of queer as a political metaphor without a fixed referent” (ibid.). What constituted the crux of the matter of their statement was, I believe, the word “fixed,” which was a direct reference to the field’s ossified state. Therewithal, the editors were particularly emphasizing the then Queer Studies’ fixation or centralization around “sexuality” that clearly jeopardized the field’s own premise of deconstructing the centre.
Two years later, in 2007, Jasbir Puar raised a homologous question: “What does queer theory offer now?” (228). With this simple yet provoking prompt, she was inviting hermeneutics workers working with queer frames to think “in the way of political sustenance, anti-racist modes of addressing disintegrating public spheres of speech, and challenges to the fake news industry, post-structuralism gone haywire and a post-fact world where concentrations camps become concentration centers” (ibid.). Simply put, Puar was urging us to ask ourselves the following question: “How can queer theory help us?” (ibid.). Four years after Puar, Janet Halley and Andrew Parker put forward a consanguine inquiry at the very beginning of an edited volume titled After Sex? On Writing Since Queer Theory: “what has queer theory become now that it has a past?” (2011: 8). While the editors were questioning the field’s “purview,” they asked two other cardinal questions to further problematize their initial and meaningful query: “does ‘sexuality’ comprise its inside? If so, then does queer theory have an outside?” (ibid.). Hence, by the time Queer Studies turned fifteen, queer theorists had already started questioning the field’s utility and tackling the scholarly debate on whether queer theory has become passé or not.
Harking back to Butler who proposes that we should “let [queer] take on meanings” (1993: 228), this paper proposes that there is an urgent need to queer the current, fixed understanding of queerness in a way which is “redeployed, twisted, queered from [its] prior usage and in the direction of urgent and expanding political purposes” (ibid.). In the pages that follow, I try to “queer queer” by tracing “the political” in it and going back to the term’s earliest articulations in the 1990s through theorists such as Nikki Sullivan, Lee Edelman, Cathy Cohen, Judith Butler and Halberstam. My approach, in turn, allows me to question whether finding oneself “after” Queer Studies “differs in terms of desire, location, temporality, loyalty, antagonism, comradeship, or competence” (2011:10) from finding oneself “after” a political conviction, a traditional academic discipline, a religious orientation, a revised feminism or lesbian and gay studies. While such an inquiry tries to transform today’s ossified understanding of queerness into an occasion of elasticity for the future of Queer Studies itself, it perpetuates thinking upon broadening the remit of queerness and to re-open a timely discussion about whether the field has become passé or not.
queer theory, queer politics, gender studies
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Ipek Sahinler is a researcher of queer(ing) narratives written in Turkish and Spanish, and a doctoral student of Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches rhetoric and writing. Originally a translator from Istanbul who has worked with romance languages, her scholarship emerges from Queer Hispanic Studies to seek new perspectives on the Middle East, with the goal of developing queer studies in Turkey both as a methodology and as a new form of critical engagement within literary texts and other forms of cultural production. In 2017, she received her MSc degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Edinburgh. Her current doctoral research is about the intersections between 20th century Middle Eastern and Latin American Literatures from the perspective of queer theory. Alongside her studies, she delivers seminars in different cultural venues of Istanbul about what she conceptualizes as “müphem Türkçe edebiyat” (queer Turkish literature).
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