and the Media
•Teresa de Lauretis
What is Queer Theory?
• Queer theory grew out of Feminism and Gender Studies in
• In this theory the word ‘queer’ is not necessarily a
synonym for ‘gay’ but rather a position that rejects
conventions or mainstream expressions of all types of
behaviour including sexuality and gender.
• Queer theory looks at any kind of identity or behaviour that
would fall outside of the ‘typical mainstream’ or might be
considered ‘other’ or deviant.
• It is interested in studying and examining non-normative
expressions of gender, sexuality and identity.
• Theorists believe that identities are not fixed – they are
fluid and changing, not only for different people but within
the same person at different times.
What is Queer Theory?
• David Halperin:
– “Queer is by definition whatever is at odds
with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant.
There is nothing in particular to which it
• Eve Sedgewick:
– “The dividing up of all sexual acts – indeed all
persons – under the ‘opposite’ categories of
‘homo’ and ‘hetero’ is not a natural given
process but a historical process, still
incomplete today and ultimately impossible
but characterised by potent contradictions and
The Queer Space
• Queer Theory rejects essentialist nature of theories of identity
expressed through binary oppositions – male/female,
• Theorists argue that people do not simply categorise themselves
in this way (binary) – representations don’t conform to either side
of these divides – instead there is another spec outside of these
oppositions and it is this space which is ‘queer’
• Essentially Queer Theorists do not agree with the black or white
version the world that the binary system presents. They think
there are more grey areas – these would be the ‘queer spaces’
where it’s not as simple as male/female, gay/straight, either/or.
• Example of the Queer Space:
– In the film Sylvia Scarlett, Katherine Hepburn plays a woman living as a
man. Male and female audience members who gain ‘sexual pleasure’
from looking at her as a ‘man’ are having a ‘queer moment’ and
inhabiting a ‘queer space’ because the ‘sexual pleasure’ does not mean
they are gay or straight. It shows the fluidity of identity and behaviour.
What is a Queer Text?
• According to theorists ‘queer texts’ are those;
– That deal with explicitly ‘queer’ themes and characters
– That can be ‘read’ as ‘queer’ – “accumulated queer readings” – identifying
• So important to remember that it’s not just gay characters
• Queer Theory can encompass anyone on the margins of society
– an outsider – in terms of race, sexuality, religion, disbaility –
• People who do not conform to conventions expectations of
society = queer.
• Queer Theory argues that representations of ‘queer’ people
should not be about assimilation or attempting to get the
mainstream audience to accept them – when ‘queerness’ is
represented it should be positive BUT not pandering to ‘normal’
society or conventions.
• One of the foremost theorists in Queer Theory
• She argued for fluidity when it comes to identity and
construction of identities.
• Butler agued that all identity is performance whether
it is our gender, sexuality etc.
• She argued that the notion of identity as performance
of key to queer theory – seen this way, our identities,
gendered or otherwise, do not express some
authentic inner ‘core’ or self but are the dramatic
effect (rather than the cause) of our performances.
Critics of Queer Theory
• Critics argue with the notion of identity as fluid since
most people would assert that their sexual identity
isn’t fluid even if other parts of their identity are.
• Some critics argue that since queer theory focuses
on media analysis instead of real life it cheats
because it is easier to find ambiguities in texts.
• Critics argue that queer theory celebrates radical
diversity and that this can be damaging for society as
it can lead to individualism and fragmentation.
Your Case Study
• Whether you are looking at Identities in the Media
or Impact of New Digital Media you can use Queer
Theory in your arguments.
• Write a paragraph explaining how/where you might
use Queer Theory (either using a specific text to
argue your point or you general argument).