Queer literary studies and the question of identity categories



Publication Details

Davidson, G. "Queer literary studies and the question of identity categories." Literature Compass (2020):


2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd In the current imagining of sexuality, both within the academy and beyond it, the supposed fixity (and staidness) of identity categories such as lesbian, gay, and straight are often opposed to the putative lability (and transgressive thrill) of queerness. Queer is originally a distinctively American phenomenon (though the term was quickly taken up in other Anglophone societies); its emergence was provoked by and manifested in a host of coincident cultural and political developments in the United States of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Opposing the alleged assimilationism, gender-conformism, and whiteness of the so-called mainstream gay and lesbian movement, queer aligned itself with transgression, gender fluidity, and intersectionality. This paper tracks the deployment of queer in literary studies since 1990, concentrating on its vexed relation to the identity categories of lesbian and gay. If the founding gesture of queer theory is its rejection of identity, its equally foundational relation to same-sexuality has meant it is constantly forced into contortions-sometimes productive, sometimes not-with the identity categories through which same-sexuality has in the modern era largely been understood. I begin with an overview of the trajectory of queer as a critical term and the ways in which it has been deployed to imagine an anti-identitarian and antinormative politics. I then turn to discussions of sexual identity in recent literary studies. I suggest that if we are not quite seeing a "categorical turn" in recent queer literary criticism, the analytical and political value of identities has been undergoing galvanizing reassessment.

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