The Big Secret About Queer Theory…

Michael O’Rourke



In his essay “Is The Rectum a Grave?” Bersani states: “there is a big secret about sex: most people don’t like it”1 (Bersani, 2010, p. 3), and goes on to demonstrate that this aversion to sex can take on both benign and malignant forms. The argument I would like to make here is that queer theory has a similar secret. Or, rather, that queer theory is more than ambivalent about what it would like to secrete. My incendiary Bersani-like opening gambit then is this: “There is a big secret about queer theory: it doesn’t like to talk about sex”. Or more precisely it doesn’t like to talk about the messy kinds of sex bodies have or the fluids emitted from bodies whether alone or entangled with others. What interests me about the sex-aversiveness of current queer theory is that it can coexist quite easily with queer theory’s idea of itself as sexy, transgressive, transitive, fluid, dirty, unruly, and so on. But the truth of the matter is that queer theory has a lot to say about sexuality but very little to tell us about sex 2 . It is so hung up on identity that it forgets about sex acts which have little or nothing to do with identity at all. Sex is what is unbearable, even humiliating, for queer theory and in saying that I agree with Lee Edelman and Lauren Berlant that it is not sex itself which is unbearable but rather the contradictory aversiveness which Bersani outlines above which it is difficult for queer theorists to bear6 . The task of the queer parrhesiast is to tell it like it is (Foucault).


Keywords: queer theory, sex, aversion to sex, fluid, dirt