Mette Buchardt, 'Queer - from derogative to militant platform'

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Mette Buchardt

Queer used to mean odd. What does it mean after decades of militant use?

Not gay as in happy but queer as in fuck u, is the wording of a slogan. As 'faggot' and 'dyke' developed from derogatives used about sexual and gender deviants to a platform of militant struggle. To art, tv shows and fashion words. But queer is still the frame of sexual and genderpolitical acitivism as well as a rich subcultural life. This holds both possibilities and problems.

In 1990 militants from New York had had enough of the attempts of the gay organisations to become acceptable on the premises of a hetero-dominated society and composed the queer manifesto. With declarations such as 'I hate straights' the rhetoric was impolite to say the least both to heterosexuality and heterosexuals. Just like the poster decorating Copenhagen walls during the pride in 2007 stating: 'Stop hate crimes - bash a straight'.

The indignation was huge, because there was 'reverse racism'. If you look behind the concrete wording these manifestations must however be understood as actions rather than dogmatic ideology. Actions where 'things' are turned upside down to reveal what 'we' take to be obvious. An attack against norms and those who create them, instead of appealling for understanding. Radical queer activism turns the spotlight on what is hardly ever mentioned, not even in the rights-focused gay movements. On what is taken for granted. Heterosexuality.

Queer as in critical

The radical queer activism attacked the straight self-evident by worshipping the nasty and perverse and being impolite to 'normality'. Since then a lot of water has flowed into the queer-stream. In queer theory and parts of the militant queer milieu drawing on the theory, queer is defined as a critical perspective - not as something you can be or claim.

During the 1990's groups such as Patruljen til Udrensning af Tvangsheteroseksualitet (the Patrol to Purge/Cleanse Compulsory Heterosexuality) - inspired by a Francophone version of radical lesbianism, by the queer manifesto and by themselves - defined 'lesbian' as a 'non-identity'. This lesbian non-identity is impossible to claim - impossible to recognize - in a heterosexist society. It thus serves as a starting point for an attack on the existing sexual order, rather than a point of departure for doing 'positive' work to increase lesbian visibility. Newer forms of queer activism have taken another step towards identity exorcism. Inspired by Judith Butler and by themselves. Homo- and bisexuality are viewed, along with heterosexuality, as identities. Categories and boxes forced upon us, and defining yourself by your deviant sexuality is stuffing yourself into the box. A part of the problem rather than of the solution.

The realisation is neither new nor insignificant. For the workers to go into the factories thay must understand themselves as workers. For the pupils to behave as pupils, even bad pupils, they must understand themselves as pupils. If they don't, you risk their running away or do something completely different at school than they're supposed to. Suppose men refused to be men, and women refused to be women, what revolutions might await?

The problem is, that the impulse not to want to be a worker, not to want to be homo, bi or trans is already quite widespread. Who wouldn't rather be called a 'manager' even if you get the same lousy wage and no share of the profits? How many haven't stayed too long in the closet because 'the other thing' outside heterosexuality was an immense wordless chaos, and how many have not called themselves lesbian because it's such an ugly word?

Queer as in closet

As an offensive criticism of heterosociality and its expectations, queer has potential. And new-queer sometimes succeeds in communicating that straight people as well are being locked up by heteronormativity and have an interest in questioning it. To be real: also because queer uses cultural forms that the straight middle class has the codes to understand.

But queer theory-in-practice sometimes forgets that marginalization of sexual deviance also works through invisibilization. If you're the kind of lady who likes other ladies, naming yourself has the advantage that it becomes easier to get laid by ladies. If you make sure it's known far and wide what direction your desire takes. Claim the crap. If queer stares itself blind on the evil of categorization, it risks overlooking the practical powerfulness of heteronormativity. That the closet did not disappear at the sight of postmodernism - or by coming out. On bad days we're still straight until proven otherwise, even at a queer party.