Stages of Queerness

Representations of Sexual Otherness in British Drama between 1900 and 1968

Textbook, 2018

418 Pages




Introduction, or: Let me queer you.

Part I

Getting Started – Getting Queer(ed)

1. (Queer) Theories and Propositions
1.1. Some Heuristic Definitions, or: Queer Propositions
1.2. A Short Introduction to Queer Theories
1.3. Introducing the Default Reader, Queer Textual Structures, and a Cognitive Model of Queer Reading and Writing Strategies
1.4. A Very Short Introduction to (Queer) Script Theory

2. Antecedents of Queer British Drama before the Twentieth Century
2.1. Queerness and Censorship
2.2. Queerness and Comedy

Part II

Queering the Stage – Staging Queerness

3. Queer Codes, Symbols and Metaphors: Queering The Sacred Flame (1927)
3.1. Exploiting Subcultural Knowledge: Queer Codes
3.2. Of Closets, Masks, and Cigarette Cases: Queer Symbols
3.3. Queer Metaphors
3.3.1. Queerness as Medical ‘Condition’: Invalidity and Impotence in The Sacred Flame
3.3.2. The Queerness of Impotence Queering Moral Standards by Querying Standard Morality, or: The Queer Views of the (M)other On the Bleakness of Queerness in The Sacred Flame
3.3.3. Queerness as Moral Depravity, Crime, or Nameless Offence
3.4. Interim Findings

4. Queer(ing) Clichés: Swirling in Coward’s Queer The Vortex (1923/24)
4.1. On the Deployment of (Queer) Clichés and Stereotypes
4.2. Sex, Drugs, and Piano Playing, or: Clichés and Stereotypes in The Vorte x
4.2.1. Camping it up: The Play’s Number One Queer and the Use of Campness
4.2.2. The (Occluded) ‘Queer Couple’: Nicky Lancaster and Bunty Mainwaring
4.3. Interim Findings

5. Allusions to Queer Culture: Proudly Presenting a Queer Adventure Story (1949)
5.1. Queer References
5.1.1. Queer References to History
5.1.2. It’s Getting Personal: Queer References to People
5.1.3. “In whatever queer bar in London or Paris or New York”: Queer References to Places”
5.1.4. Queer References to Texts
5.2. Queer Signals: Queer Signal Words, Discourses, and Themes
5.2.1. Queer Signal Words and Discourses
5.2.2. ‘Feelings can’t be helped ’: Queer Themes
5.3. “You’ve been a homosexual all your life, and you know it!”: Straight References to Queerness
5.4. Interim Findings

6. Queer Ambiguity, Obfuscation, and Oscillation: Playing with a Queer Variation on a Theme (1958)
6.1. From Queer Clichés to Scripts
6.2. Queer Oscillation
6.3. Queer Obfuscation
6.4. The Queer Rhetoric of Reticence: Queer Gaps, Indeterminacies and Ambiguity, Puns, Double Entendre and Innuendo
6.5. Of Bendable Genders: Gender Ambiguity
6.6. Queerness in the Eye of the Beholder: Queer Images
6.7. Interim Findings

7. Extending the Homosocial Continuum: From Hero-Worship in Post-Mortem (1930/31) to Homo-Eroticism and Same-Sex Coupling in Home and Beauty (1919)
7.1. Hero-Worship and Love between Men (in War) in Post-Mortem
7.2. From Homosociality to Homoeroticism and Same-Sex Coupling in Home and Beauty
7.3. Interim Findings

8. The Heteronormative Matrix Suspended: Sexually Predatory Fallen Angels, an Astonishingly Queer Design for Living and the Queer Half-World of Semi-Monde
8.1. Representing Illegitimate Desire, Staging Queer Mé nages à trois and Disrupting Heteronormative Institutions
8.2. Queering Norms and Naturalness
8.3. Reversing Marginality and Dominance: Suspension of the Heteronormative Matrix
8.4. Interim Findings

9. Queerness Goes Mainstream: A Very Brief Outlook on Queer Drama after 1968

(In lieu of a) Conclusion

Works Cited



Introduction, or: Let me queer you.

It should be easy, you know. The actual facts are so simple. I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me. There now! Start to unravel from there. (Leo to Gilda in Design for Living, I, 21)

“It should be easy, you know. The actual facts are so simple” – well, not quite. In fact, what is ‘queer drama’? Since when have there been representations of queerness in British drama? Can we speak of queerness avant la lettre, and if so, what did it look like? How did queer representations in British theatre change throughout the twentieth century? What influence did stage censorship have on representations of queerness? What happened before the sudden eruption of queer drama after the abolition of stage censorship and by what means could the legal taboo on queerness be circumvented? How did queer representations in the theatre influence notions of queerness in society and vice versa ? These are some of the leading questions this book addresses.

Does this book have anything to offer you? Are you gay, lesbian, or heterosexual? Are you a trans-, a-, bi-, non-sexual being? Or are you insecure of who you are? Are you a scholar, reviewing the latest publications? Really, it does not matter very much. You are the potential reader of this book, and if you decide to go on reading, I promise you will read things that may prove of significance to you. Because you are human. You are a human being who can, potentially, fall in love, aren’t you? If you are, this book concerns you.

Taking the beginning of the twentieth century as the starting point for discussion, this book aims at exploring representations of queerness, or sexual otherness, in British drama before the abolition of theatre censorship in 1968. In disagreement with the commonly held view that queerness did not feature prominently in British theatre until the mid-1960s, this book is based on the assumption that British drama before 1968, particularly after the turn to the twentieth century, is replete with queer representations. This book further aims to demonstrate that queerness did not merely appear in the margins of pre-1960s British theatre but that it can be detected in its very centre, namely in many of the most popular and most successful plays of their time. To achieve this aim, a selection of plays by three eminent male playwrights writing within the British cultural and socio-political context of the first half of the twentieth century will be analysed. This book focuses predominantly on plays by William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), Noël Coward (1899-1973), and Terence Rattigan (1911-1977), all of whom were extremely popular and commercially highly successful at their time. Furthermore, this book is based on the assumption that representations of queerness in British drama did not develop in a linear movement. Instead, I suggest that queerness emerged in an odd movement that may be compared to oscillation, within a certain queer continuum.

Readers of academic books are usually very fond of all sorts of indices and diagrams. So, of course, I would love to be able to please them by presenting a neat little diagram, illustrating the emergence of queerness. If that was possible, we could imagine this diagram looking somewhat like this (see fig. 1):

(Fig. 1: ‘Oscillation of Queerness’. The data points, or peaks, mark prominent queer plays; the x-axis represents the timeline of the twentieth century; in the space between the x-axis and the bottom row, key dates of the emergence of queerness are given; the bottom row of the diagram lists eminent authors of queer plays; the grey diagonal serves to illustrate that queer representations in general increased throughout the twentieth century.)

It would certainly be handy to be to be able to line things up as clear-cut as this diagram suggests. Unfortunately, however, it is not as simple as that, not least because it impossible to measure the ‘degree of queerness’ of a certain play. Consequently, I will not pretend that there is any validity to a diagram such as the above – apart from giving us a slight hunch as to the existence of a vast body of plays suitable to queer readings.

Coming back to the three authors mentioned above, this book is based on the conviction that their plays did not only significantly contribute to the emergence of queerness in British theatre but that they also influenced public opinion of queerness by contributing to a heightened sense of awareness of homosexuality and sexual otherness in society and by shaping society’s notion of it. As we will see, the changing meaning and usage of the term ‘gay’ is a case in point.

Finally, another important aim of this book is to develop and test a cognitive model of queer reading and writing strategies which is intended to enable us to account for this seeming paradox concerning queerness in British drama before 1968, namely the paradox that British drama is full of ‘queer plays’ in spite of the taboo on representing queerness. I am referring to the model of the ‘default reader’ (cf. Kubowitz 2012), as it is outlined below (cf. Chapter 1.3.).

Though predominantly concentrating on plays by William Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, and Terence Rattigan, for early traces of queerness we will also look back to the plays of Oscar Wilde and even further back to Elizabethan and Restoration plays. Since this book is based on the assumption that the occurrence of queerness was not restricted to the margins of British drama but reached right into its centre, the greatest part of the text corpus consists of plays that were highly popular at the time, i.e. plays which may be labelled as ‘mainstream plays’.

The reason for focussing on the works of exclusively male playwrights is directly linked to the decision of concentrating on popular and successful plays of the time. Generally, compared with the number of plays by male dramatists, plays by female dramatists were rare to non-existent in the period between the early twentieth century and the mid-1960s (cf. Chothia 1996; Schnierer 1997). Moreover, most of the comparatively few plays that were actually written by women in this period were neither particularly popular nor strikingly successful. For another thing, since many of these plays could be subsumed under the general heading of ‘Suffragette plays’, a discussion of these works would be much more fruitful from a feminist perspective.[1]

The decision to focus on British rather than American plays is also a deliberate one. Whereas in recent years enough material has been gathered to fill shelves with books on gay and lesbian American drama after Stonewall, or on the queer implications of Tennessee William’s plays, there is still a significant gap in queer criticism of British drama, particularly that of the first half of the twentieth century.[2]

The choice of texts to be discussed in detail has also been influenced by generic considerations. Stage censorship prohibited all direct mentioning of homosexuality on stage, thus preventing any serious treatment of the topic until 1958. As a consequence, comedy became one of the major means of representing queerness on stage, even if only between the lines. As we will see, a common vehicle for transporting queer content onto the stage was the comedy of manners, a genre that was extremely popular, and commercially successful, especially during the first three decades of the twentieth century. It is for this reason that a considerable part of the plays on which this book centres are comedies.[3]

The three playwrights this thesis focuses on were themselves queer in the sense of having same-sex relationships. It would be dishonest to deny that this fact also had a certain influence on the selection of plays and authors. However, this does not go to say that only queer playwrights can write queer plays. On the contrary, I believe that one could do very fruitful queer readings, for instance, of some of the plays by G.B. Shaw, himself a ‘non-queer’ playwright. His comedy Getting Married (1908) with its queer character Lesbia Grantham is an obvious example. On the other hand, during my research for this book, I observed that queerness was much more prominent in the plays of queer authors. I found this to be particularly true of indirect representations of queerness. (I am not speaking, for example, of the use of obviously queer characters, for example effeminate men who are employed as figures of fun.) As I would argue, it is not surprising that queerness featured more prominently in the plays of queer authors than in the works of non-queer authors because, especially in an age of reticence and repression, an interest in discussing queer issues was (or is) likely to be greater among people who were (or are) directly or personally affected by it. Interestingly, this imbalance gradually became less pronounced after 1968 and particularly since the early 1990s, when more and more non-queer playwrights wrote plays of queer significance. This development, I would suggest, might have to do with the gradual ‘mainstreaming’ of queerness. As of today, queerness is more or less integrated into the canon of mainstream plays. This proposition will be elaborated on in the last chapter. I did not, then, settle on the plays of Maugham, Coward, and Rattigan because of their authors’ personal queerness, but on account of the plays’ relevance for the emergence of queerness in British drama. This decision was based on the following considerations: Firstly, the plays of these three authors promised to be highly fruitful for queer readings; secondly, they were among the most popular and successful plays of their time; and thirdly, I did not encounter the same amount of suitable material among the other prominent authors of the time.[4]

I would also like to emphasise at this point that I will not exclusively discuss plays in which queerness is represented in a positive way. The crucial factor in deciding whether to include a particular play was if it significantly contributed to the emergence of queerness in British drama (though not necessarily if it did so in an affirmative way) and if it exhibits productive queer textual structures. Moreover, it is important to note that in the plays that will be analysed, it is only very rarely the case that queerness is represented openly or discussed explicitly. Much more frequently we will be dealing with mere intimations of queerness or subtexts featuring queerness. This is why it makes sense to speak of a certain ‘queer rhetoric of reticence’ governing these plays.

Regarding the period of analysis, there are a number of reasons for taking roughly the early twentieth century as the starting point for analysis and the mid-1960s as its end. They range from major changes in society to the legal situation, and from conditions in the theatre to the status quo of queer criticism. In general, the decades between late Victorianism and the Georgian period saw a great number of radical socio-political changes. Hitherto undisputed social and cultural norms of behaviour and morals began to be questioned, among them the gender roles and the notorious sexual double standard. The various wars at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century and their aftermaths, particularly the First World War, significantly contributed to the changing perception of gender roles, so did the Suffragette movement and the emergence of new public images such as that of the New Woman and the Dandy. The institutions of marriage and the family gradually ceased to be taken for unquestionable natural givens. What is more, the very concept of ‘naturalness’ itself became increasingly unstable, not least due to ever more developments and discoveries in the sciences. The Victorian fascination with taxonomy, for example, resulted in the creation of numberless, mostly dichotomous, categories in the various scientific fields, among them the fields of biology, medicine, and social theory. The concept of ‘degeneracy’, separating the ‘normal’ from the ‘abnormal’, is an (in)famous example, which was to play an important role also in the then newly emerging fields of psychology, psychoanalysis and sexology. No less significant in our context is the emergence of concepts such as that of the ‘invert’ and the ‘homosexual’, both of which came into existence in the last third of the nineteenth century (cf. Showalter 1990).

Another important reason for choosing the beginning of the twentieth century as the starting point and the end of the 1960s as the end point for analysis is rooted in the legal situation. The so-called Labouchère Amendment to the 1885 Critical Law Amendment Act and the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, for instance, are key dates for the history of homosexuality and the emergence of queerness both in society and in the theatre. The Labouchère Amendment criminalised homosexuality, rendering any ‘act of gross indecency’ a crime to be punished with penal servitude. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act de- criminalised homosexual acts between consenting males, provided they were over twenty-one and confined themselves to the private realm. Of similar importance were the 1885 trials of Oscar Wilde, sharpening public awareness of the existence of ‘inverts’ and contributing to the branding of the stereotypical (effeminate) homosexual of the 1890s (cf. Weeks 1990: 21).

Moreover, the first half of the twentieth century is a highly intriguing period for drama analysis due to the specific situation of the theatre at the time. Until the Arts Council of Great Britain was founded in 1945/46, British theatre was not subsidised. Playhouses were run by private managers, i.e. by entrepreneurs financing the stage with their own capital, who were understandably interested in making their business a success, that is in avoiding (potential) failures.[5] As a result of the highly commercialised nature of the theatre, the survival of a play directly depended on its box-office success, in other words: its popularity. Whether a play would be produced or not, entirely depended on the question if it was likely to be a success. The ‘success’ of a play in this context is reduced to commercial success, resting on the sales figures at the ticket counters. This may explain why playwrights such as Somerset Maugham and Coward unashamedly admitted that their major aim as dramatists was the entertainment of the audience. It was, after all, the theatregoing public who decided which plays were produced, simply by buying or not buying tickets.

Clearly, when entertainment is one of the theatre’s major aims, controversial issues in drama run the risk of being sacrificed to mainstream public opinion. I would suggest, however, that it is this specific situation, in which playhouses are run like commercial enterprises, which makes the decades before the foundation of the Arts Council and the abolition of stage censorship a highly interesting period for investigating queerness in British drama. This has to do with the subversiveness of queerness in a heteronormative society. If, in a situation such as outlined above, in which playhouses are subject to the rules of capitalist entrepreneurship, plays contain queer- cum -subversive elements, a thrilling tension is to be expected between subversion and mainstreaming. It is not least this tension between entertainment and titillation, this oscillation between straightness and queerness, which makes the period between the beginning of the twentieth century and the 1960s a fascinating era for queer investigations.

Paradoxically, the decision to focus on British drama of this particular period also has to do with stage censorship as it was in use until 1968. I say ‘paradoxically’ because one might suppose that stage censorship prevented playwrights from presenting queerness in the theatre. This, however, was not the case. The Lord Chamberlain could not prevent queer representations altogether, even if he did his best to prevent any open representation of queerness. As the following chapters will demonstrate, the playwrights under discussion employed a wide range of effective strategies to avoid the censor’s blue pencil. Not the least important of these was the use of humour, ambiguity and double entendre.

Last but not least, the decision to focus on this particular period is also based on the status quo of (queer) criticism. It results from the observation that there is a pronounced gap in queer criticism regarding British drama between the beginning of the twentieth century and the 1960s. While recent queer studies have concentrated either on very early ‘queer’ plays, such as Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, or on post-1968 drama, particularly on gay and lesbian plays of the 1980s and 1990s, British drama between 1900 and 1968 has been a little neglected, to put it mildly. If it has been discussed at all, it has often been dismissed for its lack of explicitness, and its authors have been accused of lacking the courage to ‘come out’ and abandon their reticence (cf. Sinfield 1999: 71-295; de Jongh 1992: 16-139).

What is new in this book, then, above all is its approach in terms of applying queer reading and writing strategies and the concept of the ‘default reader’ as well as its focus in terms of the period of analysis and the particular plays under scrutiny. Despite, or perhaps because of, their exceeding popularity, most of the plays by Maugham, Coward, and Rattigan have not yet been critically discussed as queer plays. This book is based on the conviction that the ‘sudden eruption’ of queer plays after 1968 is a myth rather than an accurate rendering of the history of queerness on the British stage. Maintaining that there would not have been such abundance of queer plays in the 1980s and 1990s without certain earlier twentieth-century precedents, I aim to explore the development of queerness in British drama before the turning point of the late 1960s. In doing so, I hope to be able to demonstrate that many of the plays by William Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward and Terence Rattigan were not just meagre and rather unsatisfactory attempts at queering the theatre, as some queer critics would have it (see, for example, Sinfield 1999: 42-47; 98-113; 159-66; de Jongh 1992: 122-132), but that they contributed most significantly to the emergence of queerness. I even consider many of these plays to be invaluable antecedents of queer British plays of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Many of them anticipate the ‘gay problem play’ of the 1970s, the ‘gay emancipation play’ of the 1980s and even the ‘gay-affirmative’ and queer play of the 1990s.

Having said all that, we must ‘talk serious business’: as far as theory is concerned, this book is based predominantly on concepts developed by queer theories and gay and lesbian studies. In addition, certain tenets of script theory and reader response criticism are applied. Further theoretical support is drawn from discourse theory, mainly following Michel Foucault, and ample use is made of the theoretical tools provided by drama studies. As far as queer theory is concerned, a considerable number of the models applied in this book have their origins in the work of Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. No less influential are ideas and models developed by critics, theorists and thinkers such as David M. Halperin, Jonathan Dollimore, Alan Sinfield, Andy Medhurst, Joseph Bristow, Richard Dyer, Annamarie Jagose, Sally Munt, Nikki Sullivan, George E. Haggerty, Bonnie Zimmerman, and Donald E. Hall. The basic tenets of queer theories in general, and the concepts and models I will be using in particular, will be outlined in the first chapter. Concerning reader response criticism, I will be mainly concerned with concepts such as the simultaneous addressing of two and more types of audiences, multiple implied readers (cf. Richardson 2007), ‘queer bricolage’ (cf. Dyer 1984), and other ‘queer reading strategies’. I also deploy the concept of the so called ‘default reader’ (cf. Kubowitz 2012). As for discourse theory, I mainly work with Michel Foucault’s definitions of discourse as he introduced them in The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972 [1969]) and The History of Sexuality (1990 [1969]). Very generally, I share Foucault’s assumption that ‘literature’ is not a discourse of its own, but that it participates in various discourses, such as the discourses of sexuality, medicine, law, or religion. Regarding the tools for analysing drama, I will be mostly using the methodology and terminology presented by Manfred Pfister in his seminal study The Theory and Analysis of Drama (2000 [1977]).


The book is divided into two parts. The first part, ‘Getting Started – Getting Queer(ed)’, introduces the basic theoretical concepts underlying this book. Some heuristic definitions of key terms, such as ‘homosexuality’, ‘gayness’ and ‘queerness’ as they are understood in this book, will be provided. Furthermore, the two major theoretical approaches on which this study rests, queer theories and script theory, will be introduced. In this section, I will also introduce a fairly new cognitive model of ‘queer reading and writing strategies’ including the above-mentioned concept of the ‘default reader’. This model is intended to explain the above-mentioned paradox concerning queerness in British drama. I refer to the paradox that British drama teems with plays inviting queer readings, which, however, date from a period during which open representations of queerness were rendered impossible by repressive circumstances, such as stage censorship. The ‘Getting Started’ part of the book also outlines some of the antecedents of queer drama before the twentieth century. In this section, we will also briefly glimpse at plays featuring illegitimate desire. In two subsections of the second chapter, we will look at the relationship between queerness and stage censorship, and between queerness and comedy.

The second and, in fact, main part of the book, entitled ‘Queering the Stage – Staging Queerness’, is dedicated to the discussion of the queer reading and writing strategies which I see as having been most productive for representing queerness in British drama before 1968. This section encompasses various strategies that range from the deployment of queer codes, the exploitation of clichés and stereotypes, allusions to queer culture, the use of oscillation and ambiguity, and the deliberate extension of the homosocial continuum, to the suspension of the heterosexual matrix. To see these strategies at work, I will draw on examples from a large variety of plays. The main focus, however, will lie on the following nine plays: The Sacred Flame (1927) and Home and Beauty (1919) by William Somerset Maugham, The Vortex (1923/24), Fallen Angels (1924/25), Design for Living (1933), Semi-Monde (written 1926) and Post-Mortem (written 1930, premièred in a Prisoners of War Camp in 1944) by Noël Coward, as well as Adventure Story (1949) and Variation on a Theme (1958) by Terence Rattigan. While the deployment of queer codes, symbols and metaphors can be seen particularly clearly in The Sacred Flame, the playing with (queer) clichés dominates The Vortex. Allusions to queer culture abound in Adventure Story, whereas Variation on a Theme (1958) is full of examples of queer ambiguity, obfuscation and oscillation. Finally, Home and Beauty as well as Post-Mortem exemplify how a play can significantly extend the homosocial continuum, whereas Fallen Angels, Design for Living and Semi-Monde illustrate ways in which the homosexual matrix can be suspended.

Other plays by Maugham, Coward, and Rattigan which will be discussed at some length are The Circle and The Constant Wife by Maugham, Hay Fever, Present Laughter and A Song at Twilight by Coward as well as Ross and Separate Tables by Rattigan. For further examples, I will additionally draw on The Green Bay Tree by Mordaunt Shairp, Journey’s End by R.C. Sherriff, Loot and What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton, A Patriot for Me by John Osborne, As Time Goes By and The Dear Love of Comrades by Noël Greig and many more plays.

In short, the second part of the book traces the development of queer representations in British drama before 1968. As stated above, the critical readings of plays are aimed at demonstrating that queerness was an important element of British drama already before the ‘queer 1960s’, enabling us to speak of a queer continuum within twentieth-century British drama. However, the close readings are also intended to show that even plays which, with hindsight, we may label ‘queer drama’, more often than not oscillated between queerness and straightness. It will be demonstrated that such an oscillatory movement can be detected both within the individual plays under scrutiny and in (queer) British drama of this period in general. Within the individual plays, there is a permanent tension between legitimate vs . illegitimate desire and heterosexual vs . homosexual proclivities. The penultimate chapter provides a brief outlook on the development of queerness in British drama since the late 1960s. The conclusion sums up the most important findings.

If you are still wondering if this book will be of any interest to you – I hope it will. To help you pick your choice, I might add: its main addressees are readers who are interested in great plays as well as all those who take an interest in the history of queerness or in queer culture, queer studies, or queer theories. Yet, even if you do not identify as any of those but feel you are generally an open-minded person, I would still like to invite you to accompany me on this queer journey. Let me queer you, if not permanently at least temporarily, for the time of reading.

Part I

Getting Started – Getting Queer(ed)

I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives. […] (Amanda in Private Lives, I, 16)

1. (Queer) Theories and Propositions

It may seem a little odd to start this theoretical chapter with a disclaimer, but that is, nevertheless, exactly what I am going to do. What will follow in this chapter are not definitions so much as what perhaps would be best described as ‘propositions’. This has a lot to do with the fact that ‘queerness’, as well as the bunch of concepts related to queerness, resists being pinned downed to any clear-cut definition. Having said that, let’s try to find out what is referred to by the term queerness anyway.[6]

1.1. Some Heuristic Definitions, or: Queer Propositions

For it is only through [our] queerness that they can recognise their own Normality. (Magnus Hirschfeld in As Time Goes By, v, 31)

As we will presently see, the attempt to define terms such as ‘queerness’, ‘homosexuality’ and ‘otherness’ proves a dilemma for anyone seeking to apply ‘queer theories’. On the one hand, such definitions are prerequisites for ‘queer theories’ to be developed. On the other hand, the attempt to define what ‘queer’ or ‘homosexual’ is, involves categorisations – but categorisations are precisely what queer theories above all try to subvert and ultimately get rid of. There are only two unsatisfactory options of how to deal with this problem: either to use the terms even though they are deficient, misleading, and partly at odds with the aims of queer theories; or not to use the terms, in which case one will be unable to talk about the concepts behind them and thus be forced into silence. Since there is hardly any opportunity for critical reflection and discourse in silence, the only option seems to go for the first alternative. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasise that what follows in the next section should be taken as a description of how the different terms are employed in this book rather than as definitions. If they are taken as definitions at all, they should be understood as heuristic definitions.

Homosexual(ity), Heterosexual(ity), Gay(ness), Lesbian(ism), and Straight(ness) Just like the term queer, ‘homosexuality’ is a historical term that cannot sensibly be used with reference to just any historical period. Coined in 1869, its emergence predates the term ‘heterosexuality’ and coincides with the paradigm shift articulated so famously by Michel Foucault: “The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species” (Foucault 1990: 43).[7] In other words, being called a sodomite meant that one was supposed to have performed a certain kind of action, to have committed particular kinds of acts. Being labelled a homosexual, by contrast, meant to be considered a particular kind of person. The category of ‘the homosexual’ therefore has to be thought of as an identitarian category. The invention of the term homosexuality correlates with the “medicalisation of homosexuality – a transition from notions of sin to concepts of sickness or mental illness” (Weeks 1996: 50).[8] While it hardly needs mentioning that since the emergence of the concept of homosexuality its implications have undergone radical changes, it should be noted that it was not until the last third of the twentieth-century that homosexuality ceased to be considered an illness.[9] Since the terms ‘homosexuality’ and ‘homosexual’ still bear the traces of these medical connotations, some queer theorists disapprove of their use and demand a differentiation “between ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ on the basis of whether a given text or person was perceived as embodying (respectively) gay affirmation or internalized homophobia” (Sedgwick 1990: 17). I would like to stress here that I will neither adhere to this differentiation in the terms’ usage, nor do I presuppose internalised homophobia when applying the terms homosexual and homosexuality. This decision is based on the fact that the term ‘gay’ usually excludes female homosexuality and that it can arguably only be sensibly applied to male homosexuality in contexts subsequent to the Stonewall riots and the beginnings of the gay liberation in 1969 (cf. Hall 2003: 23-25; 41-42). In what follows, whenever the term ‘homosexuality’ is employed, it usually refers to both male and female same-sex desire or same-sex sexual encounters. However, its reference is not restricted to homosexual-identified persons. The term ‘hetero­sexuality’ will be employed when referring to non-same-sex desire or non-same-sex sexual encounters. ‘Gay’ and ‘gayness’ will be used in analogy to homosexual and homosexuality. Yet, the terms gay and gayness will mainly be employed with reference to the period from the last third of the twentieth century up to today and exclusively to male homosexuality. The terms ‘lesbian’ and ‘lesbianism’ will be used as their female equivalents. The terms ‘straight’ and ‘straightness’ will be used in analogy to ‘heterosexual’ and ‘heterosexuality’, yet again mainly with reference to the period from the last third of the twentieth century up to today.


Whereas trying to pin down the concept of ‘queer’ to one specific meaning is a little bit like trying to capture the colours of a chameleon, the creation of the noun formation ‘queer- ness ’ comes close to creating a real linguistic monster, an ‘impossible word’ or even a ‘non-word’. While it has been claimed that ‘queer’ tries to resist and undermine categorisations, that it is fluid, changing, and without any fixed essence, the suffix ‘-ness’ tries to tie it to a state, a substance, an essence. This is because one surmises that ‘queer ness ’ is the state of being queer, with all the implications of immobility, unchangeability, and rigidity. Not disregarding, but keeping in mind, these reservations, the term ‘queerness’ will be used here nevertheless. It will be used in reference to the many different forms and possibilities of being queer, acting queer, and playing queer. Queerness is therefore not used as a real synonym for gayness or lesbianism. It denotes at once more and less than these terms because it does not suffice to be gay or lesbian or bisexual in order to be queer. In addition, queerness entails being (self-)critical and willing to question persistently all that is held to be common sense. At the same time, queerness denotes less than gayness or lesbianism, because one does not necessarily have to be gay or lesbian or bisexual in order to be queer or to act queer. There is no statute that would a priori deny queerness to straight-identified people – as long as they oppose heteronormativity.

It may be stating the obvious, but heteronormativity and the heterosexual matrix as such are characterised by an overwhelming degree of heterosexism, which in many ways works in a similar way as other discriminatory ‘ -isms ’ such as racism, colonialism, even anti-Semitism, but also various forms of sexism. What I am getting at is that all these ‘ -isms ’ regard their own (self-defined!) moral standards and characteristics as normative, i.e. as that which is ‘right’, ‘normal’ and ‘natural’, even ‘positive and (to deploy one of the infamous catchwords of racism and Anti-Semitism) even ‘superior . For example, masculinity in a member of the male sex is regarded as being the ‘right’ and ‘natural’ disposition for a man and therefore superior to effeminacy, which, in a member of the male sex, is considered somehow ‘wrong’, ‘abnormal’, ‘unnatural’ and ‘inferior’. Needless to say that what exactly is meant by ‘natural’, ‘unnatural’, ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ has been the matter of endless debates during the last decades, particularly in the realms of feminist theory, gender studies, queer theories, etc. We will come back to this in the next chapter. Personally, I do not subscribe to any of these valuations. I simply fail to see why heterosexuality should be superior to homosexuality, male to female, white to coloured, Caucasian to African, Christianity to Buddhism – or vice versa, for that matter. What is more, I genuinely hope that at some point in the future, these valuations will indeed fade and ultimately die out. Some of them (such as the one regarding maleness vs. femaleness or the one concerning whiteness vs. colouredness) are arguably on the wane. At any rate, in most Western cultures it is nowadays at least deemed ‘politically incorrect’ to (publicly) pronounce such stigmatising valuations, and various attempts have been made to prevent the more drastic forms of discrimination against others by the passing of relevant laws to this end. Still, whether this means that they are no longer, more or less secretly, practised, or thought, remains highly dubitable. I have tried to consider all these points in trying to sum up my use of the term queerness as follows:

One meaning of queer is considered to be closely linked to sexuality, while the second meaning is taken to signify strangeness, oddity, peculiarity or extra-ordinariness irrespective of sexuality. By the first meaning of queerness I understand a relational term indicating a certain distance or deviance from the norm, especially from heteronormativity, which denotes some sort of sexual otherness. This can be same-sex sexuality but may also be any other form of marginalised, ‘non-straight hetero-sexual or hetero-normative’ sexuality, with the norm implying a monogamous and monoamorous lifestyle. (Kubowitz 2008: 172)

Though this definition does not capture the colours of a chameleon, I hope it comes closer to planting an idea in the reader’s mind of how s/he might picture these colours before her/his inner eye.


The term ‘heteronormativity’ refers to a particular way of normative thinking. Heteronormativity “[…] designates all those ways in which the world makes sense from a heterosexual point of view. It assumes that a complementary relation between the sexes is both a natural arrangement (the way things are) and a cultural ideal (the way things should be)” (Dean 2003: 238). The terms ‘heteronormative’ and ‘heteronormativity’ will be used in reference to discourse which marginalises, discriminates against, or even excludes individuals on the basis of their non-compliance with ‘compulsory heterosexuality’.[10] It is significant that such non-compliance or ‘deviation’ does not have to concern sexuality. It might also be a deviation from underlying belief systems. Heteronormative discourse tries to marginalise all dissidents of the patriarchal order, no matter if homosexual or non-homosexual.

Otherness, identity and alterity

What is referred to with the term ‘otherness’ is the quality of what is perceived as ‘other’ from the perspective of a specified self. The term ‘other’ is used to signify that which is perceived as crucially different, and typically also strange. It has to be noted that the term usually is not used altogether neutrally. Often, it bears a negative connotation: “The construction of Otherness can be detected at the root of much injustice and suffering […]” (Corbey/ Leerssen 1991: xvii). The ‘other’ is defined ex negativo from the self, it is considered to be what the self is not:

The other is other because s/he is focalized by the self of the observer. While the self is in the position of focalization, the other is by definition the object. […] The other is used as screen on which ideals or terrors can be projected, or as location to which problematic feelings about the self can be displaced. (Van Alphen 1991: 15)

At the same time, the ‘other’ is essential to the self, because the self requires an ‘other’ to delimit itself and to be(come) itself. The ‘other’ is essential for the formation of selfhood. In order to account for the necessity of the ‘other’ for the formation of the self, we may turn to Jacques Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’ (Lacan 1973: 63-70; cf. Bristow 1997: 83-89; Roudinesco 2003: 30-33). It should be understood, however, that the following is just a brief adumbration which necessarily must remain incomplete and extremely simplified.

The mirror stage (stade du miroir) occurs between the sixth and eighteenth month of life. At this stage, the infant is far from being able to fully master her/his own body. However, on seeing her/his own reflection in a mirror, the infant perceives the image of a bodily unity which s/he takes to be her-/himself. This very image the infant perceives is what Lacan calls the ‘ o ther’ (with a small ‘o’). The infant identifies with the image of her-/himself, thus anticipating the bodily unity the image presents. S/he recognises her-/himself for the first time as a whole. Yet, this recognition is a ‘mis - recognition’, for the infant not only takes but ‘mis - takes’ her-/himself for the image of her-/ himself. What this implies is that the self does not begin to form an identity or a notion of selfhood until it is confronted with an other, i.e. the image of itself. This ‘other’ has to be distinguished from another ‘ O ther’ (with a capital ‘O’). The other ‘Other’ is the person who carries the child, i.e. usually the mother or father. This second ‘Other’ comes into play because, when the infant identifies with the image s/he perceives, s/he demands that this (mis -)recognition be verified by an ‘Other’. By turning her/his gaze to the ‘Other’ for verification, the infant requests verification of her/his self through the ‘Other’. This request is made non-verbally, yet it is already structured like language. It is at this moment, therefore, that the infant enters into language, i.e. enters the symbolic order (cf. Lacan 1973: 50-51; Pagel 1999: 50-51; Hiebel 1990: 57-59).[11] However, the constitution of selfhood is not a one-time action. In fact, it should be considered as an ongoing formation process in constant need of repetition rather than a state that can be reached. Therefore, the relevance of the other for the constitution of the self is obviously not restricted to infancy but accompanies the individual human being throughout her/his life: “Otherness will not go away: we know the world by subdividing it in spheres that we do or do not identify with” (Corbey/Leerssen 1991: xviii).

To sum up what I understand by the terms other and otherness, although the self perceives as other what it perceives as alien to itself, identification as this same self would not be possible without an other. ‘Otherness’ and ‘selfhood’ as well as ‘otherness’ and ‘sameness’ are relational terms, neither of which has any meaning without the other.

Closely related to otherness and sameness are the terms ‘alterity’ and ‘identity’:

‘Alterity’ can broadly be defined as discourse on the otherness of people, particularly people outside one’s domestic ken. ‘Identity’ is the affirmation of who we are by contrasting nearly every element of our way of life with that of others. The self-other dialectic is the core of the debate on alterity and identity: they invest each other with meaning, one does not go without the other. (Voestermans 1991: 219)

In this book, identity is only partly analysed with regard to its relation to alterity. Partly, it is examined in its relation to roles, i.e. social and gender roles.

Finally, it should be noted that heterosexuality and homosexuality are concepts that are formed along such lines of sameness and otherness, identity and alterity. From a heterosexual perspective, ‘the homosexual’ is usually perceived as crucially other. Conversely, from a homosexual perspective, ‘the heterosexual’ is usually perceived as crucially other. One of the aims of queer theories would be to eventually put an end to the underlying assumption that sexual difference makes people different. Ultimately, the aim would be to demonstrate that it really is ir relevant which person of which sex, age, social status, colour, religion, or nationality has sex with, desires, or loves which other person.

1.2. A Short Introduction to Queer Theories

Queer Theory […] is a discipline that refuses to be disciplined, a discipline with a difference, with a twist if you like. (Sullivan 2003: v)

In this section, I will briefly introduce the theoretical framework referred to as ‘queer theories’, which underlies this study. To this end, I will outline the origins of queer theories, adumbrate what queer theories are, or rather, what they aim to do, and give credit to a number of thinkers and theorists whose reflections have been influential in the emergence of queer theories. I will then discuss similarities and differences between queer theories and gay and lesbian as well as feminist studies, before introducing the theoretical models and concepts developed by queer theories that are of high significance for this study. Finally, I will draw attention to those aspects of queer theories that I consider to be problematic and I will aim to provide alternatives to controversial concepts.

It should go without saying that I do not intend to offer a comprehensive overview of queer theories. In part, this is simply because I lack the space for doing so in this book. More importantly, it is because there are several excellent monographs and introductions to queer theories as well as numerous weighty essay collections, to which the interested reader is kindly referred.[12] All this section is intended to do is to familiarise the uninitiated reader with some basic aspects and tenets of queer theories. The already initiated reader may find worth reading this section as a way of remembering fundamental aspects of queer theories as well as for the suggestions it makes for some alterations of existing models and concepts; of course, s/he might, however, decide to skip the rest of this chapter and proceed with the introduction of the default reader (cf. Chapter 1.3. ‘Introducing the Default Reader, Queer Textual Structures, and a Cognitive Model of Queer Reading and Writing Strategies’).

Origins of queer theories

When approaching the heterogeneous body of theories referred to as queer theories, it helps to look back to when and where queer theories originated. Very basically, queer theories emerged at the beginning of the 1990s in US academia.[13] They developed out of gay and lesbian studies as well as feminist studies and were fuelled by the 1980s AIDS crisis, which required a significant re-conceptualisation of sexualities (cf. Morland/Wilcox 2005: 2).[14] The rapid spread of the HI-virus, particularly among men who had same-sex sexual contacts, made necessary a clear break with identity-based concepts of sexuality, i.e. both of sexuality in general as well as of homosexuality in particular. Only such a re-conceptualisation could enable anti-AIDS campaigns to address, reach, and thus protect not only openly gay men from becoming infected by the HI-virus but also men who were not homosexual-identified but who nevertheless occasionally engaged in same-sex sexual activities (cf. Dean 2003: 241; Jagose 1996: 93-96).

‘Queer’ ideas and concepts, which were first introduced by US-based theorists in the early 1990s, were eagerly taken up by scholars in the humanities all over (Western) Europe and Oceania. Since then, queer tenets have been partly accepted, partly re-considered, partly adopted, partly adapted, partly refuted, and partly rewritten. As of today, one will hardly find any university in Germany, the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada, Australia, you name it, that does not offer programmes specialising in queer studies. In this context, and particularly with regard to this book, above all the queer writings of Alan Sinfield, Jonathan Dollimore and Andy Medhurst merit attention. I will return to other influential queer thinkers in a moment.

Aims of queer theories

When trying to bring to mind what queer theories are, or rather what they aim to do, it is important to note that there is no single, coherent theoretical framework that could be called ‘queer theory’. Above all, queer theories are characterised by interdisciplinarity, plurality and heterogeneity. The term ‘queer theories’ itself serves as an umbrella term encompassing a variety of theoretical approaches from different fields of study. ‘Queer theorists’, by which I refer to theorists deploying queer theories, work in a great variety of fields of study both within and outside of academic departments. This includes disciplines ranging from literary and drama studies to sociology, from media and film studies to biology, from cultural studies to philosophy and politics, and from gender studies to history and political studies. It is not least for this reason that many queer theorists, including myself, prefer the plural queer theories to the rather misleading singular queer theory.

Despite their differences, however, there is one aspect most variations of queer theories have in common, one common denominator so to speak. The one thing queer theories arguably share is their aim. One could postulate, very basically, that queer theories aim to draw attention to, call into question, and queer heteronormativity and the heterosexual matrix: “Queer theory is best described as an ongoing cultural critique of the heterosexual privileged social order” (Kennedy 2003: 1092). Encompassed by the rubric queer theories is a body of heterogeneous theories all “recogniz[ing] the partiality and tendentiousness of knowledge and perspectives” and wishing to “expose[] conventions and social norms as artificial and based in a broad dynamic of power relations that often oppress sexually nonconforming individuals” (Hall 2003: 6-7). Another aim queer theories share is to raise awareness of, and ultimately do away with, heterosexism. However, this is not only a more concrete and more directly political aim than to generally ‘queer heteronormativity’, but to a certain extent it is also a much more difficult project. It is more difficult because pursuing a political agenda requires a certain amount of concerted activity on behalf of those subscribing to the agenda in question (these could be, for example, queer theorists, thinkers, writers, lay persons, politicians, relatives of queer people, people who sympathise with queers, want to see them not discriminated against etc., i.e. ‘queers’ and ‘queer-affirmative’ people). This is true even in cases in which the political goal is as abstract as the abolition of heterosexism.

Political action also requires that one forms alliances built partly on shared aspects of identity, i.e. one’s ‘queerness’ or at least a queer-affirmative attitude. Identity-based concepts of queerness, however, pose a dilemma to queer theories and queer theorists. This is because the line between identity-based concepts of queerness and essentialist notions of queerness is a very thin one – and from a queer point of view, essentialism is quite controversial.[15]

In short, even if their individual theoretical approaches and tenets may vary, and in fact sometimes do vary significantly, most queer theorists share a general ‘will to question’ as well as a certain critical perspective. The perspective they share is a critically queer one. It is a shared vantage point from which to query and queer, subvert and undermine, re-view and re-consider questions concerning sex, gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation in particular and, more generally, power relations, suppression, control, and exclusion mechanisms at the interface of cultural, political, biological, psychological, sexological, and sociological concerns, to name but a few. What queer theories also have widely in common is that they stress the historical boundedness of concepts such as queerness, homosexuality and the like.

On influential thinkers, the development and the status quo of queer criticism

Owing to their interdisciplinary nature, queer theories are indebted to the works of multitudes of influential thinkers, coming from very different fields of study. Accordingly, it is impossible to give credit to all of them individually here. The following ‘roll call’ therefore is inevitably very selective, mentioning only those thinkers and theorists whose work has had a more direct impact on this book, while saying nothing about the host of other thinkers whose influence may be no less strong but less directly traceable. Among the former are the two grandes dames of US-based queer theories, the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler, whose writings are particularly influential in terms of the philosophical-theoretical framework of this book. Somewhat more direct has been the influence of a number of thinkers and critics located in the United Kingdom, among them Alan Sinfield, Andy Medhurst, Jonathan Dollimore, Sally Munt, Richard Dyer, Joseph Bristow, David M. Halperin and Jeffrey Weeks. Tribute should also be paid to Nikki Sullivan and Annamarie Jagose (both New Zealander), as well as Bonnie Zimmerman, Donald E. Haggerty and Donald E. Hall (all American).[16]

Similarities with and differences to gay and lesbian studies

Having called into remembrance where queer theories originated, it will have become clear that there is a close connection between queer theories and gay and lesbian studies and that queer theories are deeply indebted to a great number of gay and lesbian, as well as feminist theorists.[17] This intimate connection becomes patent, for instance, when taking a look at the body of ‘canonised’ texts of both gay/lesbian studies and queer theories. For example, many essay collections that can be subsumed under the heading of ‘queer theories’ in fact re-issued texts that were first published under the rubric of ‘gay and lesbian studies’.[18] The first high-profile use of the term ‘queer theory’ actually fused queer theories and gay and lesbian studies even in its title: Queer Theory: Gay and Lesbian Sexualities (de Lauretis 1991). Likewise, the ‘recommended reading’-lists of many academic courses that nominally deal with queer theories read like a compilation of the seminal texts of gay and lesbian studies.[19] A lot of theorists and lecturers themselves alternate between referring to themselves as working in the fields of ‘queer studies’, ‘gay and lesbian studies’, and ‘gender studies’ or else they started out ‘doing gay and lesbian studies’ and nowadays refer to themselves as ‘doing queer theories’. Similarly, drawing on both queer theories and gay/lesbian studies for its theoretical framework, the book you are presently reading is another case in point. Gender studies, too, are closely related to queer studies. Perhaps gender studies could be said to establish the missing link between queer, gay/lesbian, and feminist studies. In a way, gender studies can be conceptualised as the chic, brushed-up version of feminism for the 1990s and 2000s, but, generally speaking, they are more concerned with the relation between the genders than with sexualities and sexual orientations. Many theorists and many seminal texts are influential on both queer theories and gay and lesbian studies.[20]

While all this goes to show that the similarities between queer theories and gay and lesbian studies, as well as (lesbian) feminism are very pronounced, what may be less obvious is how exactly queer theories differ from the others. In answer to this question, we may propose that one aspect in which queer theories do significantly differ from gay and lesbian studies as well as feminism, concerns the influence of poststructuralism, which is much stronger in queer theories. For example, while gay/lesbian studies had hardly any qualms about deploying clear-cut dichotomies and binary oppositions (such as gay versus non-gay, lesbian versus non-lesbian; homosexual versus heterosexual, gay versus lesbian, etc.), queer theories approach binary pairs much more cautiously. Yet, in contrast to a number of queer theorists, I would argue that instead of aiming to reverse the hierarchy inherent in binary pairs such as homosexual/heterosexual, queer theories do not – or at any rate would be well advised not to – aim to privilege any of the entities constituting a dichotomy. Rather, their goal is to re-conceptualise dichotomous entities as being on the same hierarchical level.

What is more, in contrast to gay/lesbian studies, queer theories aim to show that the concept of binary oppositions is problematical in itself. This is because very often diversity occurs along lines much more diverse than just a binary, dichotomous divide. There are often more differences to be made than to split entities into mere dualities. With reference to the relationship between homosexuality and heterosexuality, for example, the term ‘binary opposition’ or ‘dichotomy’ is both reductive and misleading. This is because the ‘homo vs. hetero’-pairing suggests that these are the only options of sexual orientation, while in truth there are many more alternatives besides these two. To name but a few, apart from homo- and heterosexuality, the spectrum of sexual orientation also includes bisexuality, asexuality, polyamory, auto-sexuality, and cyber sexuality. In short, to sort elements, i.e. beings as well as concepts, into neat binary oppositions very frequently leads to a certain, rather misleading, simplification, because often neither concepts nor beings are not to be compartmentalised into exactly two neat categories but are more diverse than that. Despite these reservations, however, I will retain the concept of binary oppositions, because in some cases it does seem to make sense to contrast just two elements (such as homo- vs. heterosexuality). This is because to contrast just two rather than a greater number of elements reduces complexity, which is sometimes necessary in order to grasp differences and similarities more clearly. As long as one remains conscious of the fact that what one refers to as binary oppositions or dichotomies is usually a simplification, to my mind it seems perfectly acceptable to deploy this (simplifying) terminology. What is important to keep in mind, though, when deploying binary oppositions and dichotomies is that they are simplifications.

Another aspect in which queer theories and gay/lesbian studies differ significantly concerns their attitudes towards identitarian concepts of sexual orientation. As mentioned above in connection with the origins of queer theories, the 1980s AIDS-crisis made necessary a re-conceptualisation of sexualities based on non-identitarian categories. Gay/lesbian studies of the 1970s and 80s, by contrast, for obvious reasons were very much concerned with the political impact of sexualities and sexual orientation. Many gay/lesbian theorists were actively involved in the gay/lesbian liberation movement, especially in the strife for equal rights. As long as one was fighting for political aims, one fared fairly well with essentialist notions of sexual orientation. Indeed, as suggested above, inasmuch as political activism and pursuing a clear-cut political agenda presupposes a sharing of the same goals and participation in concerted actions, it seems to require a certain amount of essentialist thinking. Later on, however, the impending threat of the AIDS epidemic made it inevitable to move away from essentialist and minoritising views of sexualities and sexual orientations in order to reach non-gay-identified men who nonetheless engaged in same-sex sexual acts.[21]

In short, another notable difference between queer theories and gay/lesbian studies lies in the extent to which their proponents pursue specific agendas and concrete political goals. While gay/lesbian studies were very much concerned with pursuing concrete political goals, such as equal rights and liberation agitation, the focus of queer theories, even though benefiting greatly from what gay/lesbian studies have achieved, has moved away a little from direct political action towards more abstract forms of cultural criticism, for example towards queering (popular) culture. One of the reasons for this ‘theoretical turn’ is that that many of the more concrete political goals, such as the acquisition of legal rights, fortunately have already been achieved. Another reason is that queer theories – unlike gay/lesbian studies – paradoxically face the problem of not being able to address any specific, real human subjects, owing precisely to their notion of anti-identitarianism, which postulates that there are no ‘queers’, only queer ways of doing things. Likewise, due to queer theories’ broader focus, it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify shared goals for political activism. While queer theories are less politically active than gay/lesbian studies, their focus is somewhat broader.

It also became increasingly clear that gay and lesbian studies were not as inclusionary and non-discriminating against various forms of sexual dissidence as they may have appeared when they first emerged. If at all, gay/lesbian studies were concerned exclusively with male and female homosexuality, while at the same time mostly ignoring, or even actively excluding, other forms of sexual dissidence. I say ‘if at all’, because at times even the chasm between gays and lesbians appeared so great that it became questionable if one could speak of ‘gay and lesbian studies’ at all (I am thinking here, for example, of radical lesbian feminists). Consequently, it was gradually felt that a more inclusionary umbrella rubric was needed that could both bridge the gap between gays and lesbians and include other forms of sexual otherness, such as transgender, bisexual, polyamory, asexual, s/m, or autosexual sexual orientations. After all, despite all differences, there is arguably one common denominator connecting everyone who considers her-/himself queer, namely being a potential victim of heterosexism. Such an inclusionary function could be fulfilled only by a term that would be highly stretchable, flexible, and, above all, relational instead of absolute. In short, the term queer could represent sexual variety and bridge the gap between diverse (dissident) sexualities. In fact, one could say that queer theories connect all kinds of studies concerned with power and sex dynamics.

Compared with gay and lesbian studies, queer theories also exhibit a broader focus concerning other forms of discrimination, exclusion, and marginalisation. Whereas, as a rule, gay and lesbian theorists firmly focus on aspects of marginalised (homo-)sexuality, queer theories include other aspects of marginalisation into their analytical frameworks. In other words, queer theories take into account forms of ‘deviance’ from the heteronormative matrix other than merely aspects concerning sexuality. For example, class issues are of considerable importance in the works of some English queer theorists, such as Sally Munt or Alan Sinfield and Jonathan Dollimore, the two latter originally coming from the direction of cultural materialism. Similarly, in recent years queer theories have begun to branch out into the territory of postcolonial studies.[22] Fairly recently, too, there has been an increasing interest in incorporating questions of disability into queer theories (cf. McRuer 2006; McRuer/Wilkerson 2003). What all this points to is that queer theories acknowledge and incorporate multiple forms of diversity besides sexuality, even though sexuality remains an important concern. In short, queer theories are more inclusionary of other minorities than gay and lesbian studies with their strict focus on gays and lesbians.

To summarise then, we could say that queer theories are a little more hedonistic and elusive and a little less political than their predecessor, gay/lesbian studies. To put it somewhat nonchalantly, one could postulate that queer theories are the post-1980s’ offspring of gay/lesbian and feminist studies: They are brushed up with some poststructuralist ideas (such as queering and deconstructing binary oppositions), generally subscribe to cutting-edge anti-identitarian ideas and are spiced up with concerns about pop art and pop culture, for example concerns about cyber culture and popular culture, ‘queer culture’ is also about ‘having fun’, about enjoying being queer, about queerness as a positive kind of lifestyle.

Concepts of queer theories that are significant in this book

Having clarified the similarities and differences between gay/lesbian studies and queer theories, we can now turn to the theoretical concepts that are of crucial importance for this study. The most pertinent among them are the concept of the heterosexual matrix (following Judith Butler), the notion of queerness as being culturally constructed rather than biologically determined (constructionism vs. essentialism), the analogous notion of heterosexuality as being similarly constructed (following Jonathan Katz and Richard Dyer), the concept of strategic essentialism (following Gayatri Spivak), the concepts of homosociality and the homosocial continuum, as well as the illusion of the homosexual/homosocial divide (following Eve Sedgwick and anticipated already by Kinsey’s reports), the notion of gender performativity (Butler), the gender/sex distinction and the notion that sex is not a ‘natural fact’ but a similarly constructed effect as gender (following Butler and Kilian).

Concerning the ‘heterosexual matrix’, my use of the term concurs with Judith Butler’s use of it as introduced in her influential book Gender Trouble. The heterosexual matrix designates that grid of cultural intelligibility through which bodies, genders, and desires are naturalized. I am drawing from Monique Wittig’s notion of the “heterosexual contract” and, to a lesser extent, on Adrienne Rich’s “compulsory heterosexuality” to characterize a hegemonic/epistemic model of gender intelligibility that assumes that for bodies to cohere and make sense there must be a stable sex expressed through a stable gender (masculine expresses male, feminine expresses female) that is oppositionally and hierarchically defined through the compulsory practice of heterosexuality. (Butler 1990a: 151)

This heterosexual matrix is part of a more general socio-cultural-political matrix that governs our lives both in the public and the private sphere. Agreeing with the basic idea behind the heterosexual matrix but putting it a little differently, for reasons that will become clearer in the next chapter, I would argue that society is characterised by certain standard parameters or default settings concerning sex, gender, and sexual orientation to which human individuals are subjected, ‘by default’, so to speak. What this means is that there are certain ruling norms at work, which are partly established by the authority of sheer numbers (i.e. there are more people who are either male or female than there are people who are somewhere in between; likewise, there are more people who are of a heterosexual orientation than of a homosexual or otherwise queer sexual orientation). Partly, however, these norms are not just norms on the basis of numbers (‘normal’ because it is the majority), but are established by dint of mechanisms of normalisation and naturalisation. It is these processes of normalisation and naturalisation, these attempts at creating normalcy, which usually remain hidden, that queer theories strive to expose for what they are: namely mechanisms and strategies of exclusion, repression, suppression.

In contrast to Judith Butler and Adrienne Rich, however, I would prefer not to speak of ‘compulsory (practices of) heterosexuality’, at least with regard to contemporary Western discourse, but instead, drawing on the notion of default settings, I prefer to speak of heterosexuality as the default setting for sexual orientation. Of course, in some socio-cultural-political contexts it does make sense to stick to the notion of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’, particularly when homosexuality and other forms of queer sexuality are not just culturally suppressed but are actually grounds for legal prosecution.[23] Alternatively, if one does not share my assumptions about default settings (with the default setting for sexual orientation being ‘straight’) one might still consider speaking of ‘normative heterosexuality’ or a ‘normative practice of heterosexuality’ rather than of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ or a ‘compulsory practice of heterosexuality’.

The term ‘homosociality’, originally used in sociology, refers to various kinds of same-sex social interactions and relationships. Eve Sedgwick explains the term homosocial as follows:

‘Homosocial’ is a word occasionally used in history and the social sciences, where it describes social bonds between persons of the same sex; it is a neologism, obviously formed by analogy with ‘homosexual,’ and just as obviously to be distinguished from ‘homosexual’. (Sedgwick 1985: 1)

Even though ‘sociality’ indicates that homosociality refers to social relations and interaction rather than sexual ones, in her book Between Men (1985) Sedgwick demonstrates that the boundaries between the social and the sexual are permeable and that homosociality and homosexuality are connected by a continuum instead of being divided by a chasm. In analogy to the term homosociality, the phrase ‘homosocial bond’ refers to (social) relationships between members of the same sex (there is both male bonding and female bonding).

Neither the term ‘homosociality’ nor the term ‘homosocial bond’ as such implies homo- or heterosexuality. Ironically, however, as indicated by Sedwick’s brief definition above, many of the closest homosocial bonds are based on the (mistaken) belief that there is a divide between homosociality and homosexuality. It would come nearer the truth, however, to speak of the illusion of a homosocial/homosexual divide. But Sedgwick was by far not the first one to point to this illusion. Already in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Alfred Kinsey and his co-authors indicated as much in their ground-breaking studies of human sexuality that came to be known as the ‘Kinsey reports’:

Males [and females] do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. […] It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. […] An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each age period in his life. (Kinsey et al. 1998: 639)

It seems to be a strange and regrettable paradox that the closest homosocial bonds often rely on a system of internalised homophobia. Notorious examples are football teams and the armed forces. These institutions build on very close homosocial bonds, but at the same time rely on an absolute taboo of homosexuality, or have done so until relatively recently. However, as indicated above, this alleged homo- vs. heterosexual divide is but a myth, a principle that is preached but not necessarily practised. According to Sedgwick (and Kinsey et al.), with whom I agree, it is much more likely that in reality there is a homosocial/homosexual continuum and that the boundaries between homosocial and homosexual are blurry and permeable.[24] In fact, it is quite obvious that the clear-cut boundary between homosocial and homosexual is only an artificial (and illusionary) one: Clearly, among homosexuals there are also homosocial bonds that are not merely social but also sexually connoted, ‘sexed-up’ we may call it. I would argue further that this artificially constructed divide between what is considered homosexual and what is considered ‘merely’ homosocial is required – as well as created – by the patriarchal system, because the patriarchal order is based on the dominance of heterosexuality and heteronormativity and that this is precisely why homophobia and homosexual panic are not rare phenomena (i.e. a system error) in the patriarchal order but systematically reinforced principles (i.e. both a precondition and a corollary of the system).[25]

I would like to briefly outline two more concepts here, namely ‘heterosexualisation’ on the one hand and ‘(queer) appropriation’ on the other. Heterosexualisation is closely connected to heteronormativity, but I would argue that the term nonetheless bears a slightly different connotation. Compared with the phrase heteronormativity, it puts more emphasis on the fact that such processes frequently require quite an active agent at one point or another in the process. As I see it, most processes of heterosexualisation aim at silencing people (namely those who deviate from the heteronormative matrix) as well as rendering them invisible. Let me clarify what I mean by drawing on a real-life example: When the biographer of a famous gay playwright – let us fill these agent slots with the names of Richard Cordell and William Somerset Maugham, for example – manages to write this biography without even mentioning the playwright’s homosexual proclivities, I would claim that this is a clear case of heterosexualisation. What is not quite as clear, however, even (or particularly) in this concrete example is who is the one to ‘heterosexualise’ the (life) story: the biographer or the playwright? (In this case, I would claim that it was both – plus the publisher as well as a host of other people involved in publishing this particular version of the life story.) In a heteronormative socio-cultural-political context, processes of heterosexualisation are more or less omnipresent. Very frequently, queerness is thus silenced, censored, even transformed into non-queerness. Such processes of – intentional or unintentional – silencing, indirectly censoring, and thus ultimately heterosexualising queerness, if oblique, have been prevalent throughout history, for example when omitting certain delicate (queer) details or when stressing or even inventing others.[26] And it is precisely such processes of heterosexualisation that writers of queer history aim to un-do: “In addition to its critical, descriptive, explanatory, and strategic uses, [...] [queer] history helps circumvent the censorship, denial, and amnesia that have continued to inform so much of lesbian and gay existence” (Bravmann 1997: 4).

The phenomenon of (queer) ‘passing’, by the way, raises a similar question.[27] Here, too, we may ask: who does actually do the heterosexualisation in these cases, the one who passes or those who lets the subject in question pass? Unfortunately, I lack the space of addressing the question here in any detail but my suggestion would be: in most cases presumably both parties. In a way, then, (queer) ‘appropriation’ can be conceptualised as a process which is diametrically opposed to heterosexualisation. While heterosexualisation aims at silencing queers and making them invisible, (queer) appropriation means to let queers be heard, be seen, ‘be there’: “It’s all there – all through history we’ve been there; but we have to claim it [...]”, make it visible, appropriate it, we may add.[28] When a whole list of potentially queer people of the past is read out like a role-call in a play, as is the case, for instance, in The Normal Heart, this is arguably a case of (queer) appropriation.[29] Similarly, when 21st-century queer critics argue that William Shakespeare was ‘one of us’, this is a case of queer appropriation. What I would like to point out here, however, is that as far as references to queer culture as a means of evoking queerness are concerned, it is only of minor relevance if this ‘appropriation’ is ‘correct’ or not. It suffices that the person in question has been appropriated (I am coming back to this in Chapter 5).[30] For want of a better term, let us call this appropriation of queer people – or history, or places, for that matter – ‘the queer claim’.

Gender performativity, culturally constructed queerness and strategic essentialism

The term ‘gender performativity’ goes back to Judith Butler’s influential book Gender Trouble (1990). Butler’s notion of gender performativity is based on the idea that gender is not a natural given, no biological necessity, so to speak, but something culturally constructed. Moreover, gender is nothing static or absolute but something that has to be continually repeated and performed: Gender is constituted by reiterated acts; gender is not ‘natural’ but naturalised (naturalisation by dint of repetition). Moreover, gender is an ‘effect’ rather than something ‘real’. One is not and does not have a gender, but one becomes a gender by performing performative gender acts. Originally, the term ‘gender performativity’ was influenced by speech act theory and particularly by John Searle’s notion of performative speech acts (cf. Butler 1990a and 1990b; Searle 1969). Gender is not a fact but something that has to be continually constituted through performance: “Gender reality is performative which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed” (Butler 1990b: 278).

Feminists emphasised the distinction between sex and gender and argued that sex is the ‘biological’ or ‘corporeal’ side to the sex/gender coin, whereas gender is the socially constructed, historically bound, reverse side to it. Butler goes further than this and in Gender Trouble claims that not even sex is a-historical and purely ‘biological’ or factual. Instead, she argues that sex, like gender, is culturally – and linguistically – determined and constructed. The idea is that the way we ‘make sense of’ and conceptualise bodies and sexes is always pre-structured by the cultural, linguistic, social, and political matrix of which we are a part.[31] Sex is nothing natural, nothing that would pre-exist the symbolic order but is part of it and determined by it. Therefore, one may indeed consider if it does not also make sense to speak of ‘sex performativity’. The idea would be that – in analogy to the notion of ‘gender performativity’ – a person’s sex and sexuality is not a fact but a ‘reality’ that becomes real only through reiterated acts or performances of sex.

Having said this, it is quite clear why queer theorists conceive of queerness as being culturally constructed rather than biologically determined. If there is no stable, biological, static gender and no stable, biological, static sex and if sexual orientation is also a ‘fiction’ rather than a ‘fact’ – inasmuch as it is just a way of making sense of one’s desires (one does not fall in love with ‘men’ or with ‘women’ but with individuals; but throughout one’s life a pattern may evolve: repeatedly falling in love with individuals of one’s own sex or of the opposite sex – and hence one subsumes these different loves and desires under an umbrella rubric, e.g. homo/hetero/bi) – then it is clear that a single ‘queer identity’ can hardly be conceived of, which is why some theorists prefer to speak of the verb ‘to queer’ rather than of the noun or adjective as identitarian category. It is in this sense, then, that we can also speak of queerness as being culturally constructed.

The concept of ‘strategic essentialism’, which was first introduced by Gayatri C. Spivak in the 1980s who, however, later rejected it again (cf. Ritzer/Ryan 2010: 193; Spivak 1985), refers to a political tactic that particularly minority groups can employ in their attempt to achieve what they conceive as common goals. For obvious reasons, the term was frequently used by postcolonial, feminist, gay and lesbian and also by queer theorists. Recalling what I have outlined above concerning significant tenets of queer theories, especially for the latter it was clear that any concept of essentialism could – at the utmost – be strategic and thus temporary. In a sense I, too, employ the concept of strategic essentialism, because it might offer answers to the question that will be addressed below, namely the question why certain readers (and writers), for example queer readers (and writers), may be more prone to employing foregrounding queerness reading (and writing) structures than others. We will come back to this question in the chapter introducing the concept of the default reader.

Problematisation and ‘way out’

In concluding these introductory words on queer theories, I would like to voice some challenging, if not altogether problematic, aspects. One of the greatest dilemmas that remains is that queer theories often defy definitions – whereas one needs to define certain terms in order to be able to apply them. No less challenging is the fact that queer theories are not a coherent theoretical framework and that they do not offer tools for literary analyses as concrete as, say, narratology. This is because, as we have seen before, queer theories are not literary theories in the strict sense but work inter­discipli­nari­ly. As a consequence, queer theories are, on the one hand, somewhat unspecific, which may be regar­ded as a disadvantage; on the other hand, however, this also entails that they can be adapted for many purposes and projects, which definitely can count as one of their strong points. Another rather challenging aspect is that many of the concepts that are offered by queer theories are highly abstract and often elusive. In a sense, they are philosophical, but the question remains whether that makes them really applicable for literary analysis, also because queer theories are not a body of coherent theories so much as just a certain perspective.[32]

What I intend to do, therefore, is to employ concepts of queer theories that seem applicable for the task at hand while modifying and revising others. For instance, for the time being I will keep using certain dichotomies instead of trying to do away with them, such as homo- vs. heterosexual, but I will try to do away with the hierarchical relations governing them. (At a later point, one might perhaps dissolve some of them altogether, but I am not entirely convinced that this would be helpful at this point in time). In a way, I intend to make queer theories more concrete, to move them away from the highly philosophical plane on which they are, in the direction of ‘down-to-earth’ pragmatic literary analysis. One suggestion of how out of queer theories a tool for literary analysis can be forged is the concept of the default reader and the model of queer reading and writing strategies to which I will now turn.


[1] The plays by Elizabeth Robins, Elizabeth Baker, and Cicely Hamilton would be appropriate examples. From the point of view of queer studies, however, the first half of the twentieth century rather lacks fruitful material by female dramatists, with plays of queer significance by women playwrights not coming to the fore until the 1960s. A crucial figure of the 1960s was Shelagh Delaney. In the 1970s and 1980s Caryl Churchill became prominent, followed in the 1980s and 1990s by Sarah Daniels and Phyllis Nagy. The 1990s’ figurehead was Sarah Kane. As early exceptions of plays featuring queerness one might mention Mae West’s The Drag (1927) and Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour (1934), the latter being one of the first plays to deal with lesbianism. However, both West and Hellman were American.

[2] Not having the space for a detailed bibliography of queer American drama, I refer to the extensive bibliographies compiled by Clum (1992; 2000) and Marra (2002).

[3] Even though I do, of course, regard ‘performance’ as a crucial aspect of plays, I concentrate on the texts mainly for two reasons. The first one has to do with the fact that access to performances as a text corpus is restricted. (During the research for this book I also used the Theatre Archive in London and watched as many videotaped performances of the plays I discuss as possible but compared with the number of plays this book takes as a text corpus, this was a rather small number.) The second reason is that in a sense, a performance itself already presupposes a certain reading of a play’s text – whereas I intend to do my own readings. I will, however, make sure to keep in mind aspects relevant for performance. (In a sense, I will try to read plays as if staged, imagine them being performed and rely on the images in my head).

[4] Needless to say, the reverse is also true. Not every homosexual playwright writes plays with queer contents. During the 1910s and 1920s, for example, Beverly Nichols and Ivor Novello, both of them homosexual, wrote plays with predominantly orthodox, non-queer contents. It would be rather difficult, for instance, to offer convincing queer readings of Nichols’s Avalanche (1932) or Novello’s I Lived With You (1932).

[5] The stage societies or club theatres, founded mainly for the promotion of non-commercial ‘plays of ideas’, were an exception to this rule, among them the Independent Theatre Society of which G.B. Shaw was a founding member (cf. Woodfield 1984; Conolly 2005: 24; Sinfield 1999: 55-56).

[6] The following section was written for my MA thesis (written in 2004 published in Kubowitz 2017: 28-32). It has only been slightly adapted.

[7] There is some uncertainty as to who coined the term. While Kraß maintains that it was the Swiss Karoly Maria Benkert (cf. Kraß 2003: 14), Halperin claims that it was the Austrian Karl Maria Kertbeny (cf. Halperin 2003: 212).

[8] For three brief but detailed accounts of the history of homosexuality, I refer to Weeks (1996: 41-63) Halperin (2003: 171-220) and Gowing (1997: 53-64).

[9] It was only in 1975 that the American Psychological Association (APA) deleted from its statutes the paragraph which defined homosexuality as ‘mental-health impairment’ (cf. Zimmerman 2000: 615-616).

[10] The term ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ was coined by Adrienne Rich in 1980 (cf. Hall 2003: 45). It tries to capture the idea that contemporary Western society is not only characterised by phallocentrism, but also by heterocentrism, meaning that it is firmly based on male dominance on the one hand, and heterosexuality as the only sanctioned form of sexuality on the other hand (cf. Rubin 2003: 34; 39-47).

[11] Of course, Lacan’s account of the mirror stage is much more complex than what is presented here. It also needs to be mentioned that the mirror stage is also used by Lacan for a re-conceptualisation of the Oedipus complex introduced by Freud. In Lacan, it is not the ‘real’ father who is of significance, but the ‘name-of-the-father’ (Lacan 1975: 89), i.e. the pure signifier. The name-of-the-father is the representative of the familial order, of the incest taboo, and of the symbolic order (cf. Hiebel 1990: 59). The infant’s entrance into the symbolic order coincides with the emergence of the unconscious. According to Lacan, the unconscious is structured like a language: Condensation is likened to metaphor, displacement to metonymy (cf. Lacan 1975: 36-37; Bristow 1997: 87). To come back to the Oedipus complex, Lacan solves the difficulties of adjusting the castration complex to the girl’s development by introducing the idea of the phallus as prime symbol: On realising that the mother desires a third, i.e. the phallus, the boy and the girl infant begin to long for having and for being the phallus (cf. Lacan 1975: 119-132; Hiebel 1990: 60). As Lacan perceives it, the subject, therefore, “is by definition a subject of desire” (Bristow 1997: 99).

[12] One of the first profound introductions to Queer Theories was Jagose (1996). For more recent works, I particularly recommend Sullivan (2003) and Hall (2003), both of which are excellent critical introductions. The number of essays on queer theories has exploded in recent years, so that it becomes ever more difficult to keep track of recent developments. Nevertheless, helpful essay collections are Morland/Wilcox (2005), the older Medhurst/Munt (1997) as well as the more recent Routledge Queer Studies Reader, edited by Jagose and Hall (2012), as they provide many of the most influential essays on queer theories and gay and lesbian studies. One of the first concise essay collections in German is Kraß (2003), offering translations of some of the most influential articles.

[13] The term ‘queer theory’ became publicly known by dint of a 1991 special issue of the feminist studies journal differences, which Teresa De Lauretis edited under the title of ‘Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities” (cf. Hall 2003: 55; de Lauretis 1991).

[14] See Morland/Wilcox: “Queer as a political strategy arose in the 1980s as a hybrid of the issues raised by the gay and lesbian civil rights movements, the ‘sex wars’ over pornography and censorship amongst feminists, and the early 1980s AIDS epidemic” (Morland/Wilcox 2005: 2).

[15] Put in very simple terms, essentialist theories propose that there is a certain central ‘core’ or ‘essence’ to an individual’s identity and that the ‘essence’ of one’s identity is something fairly stable and trans-historical. Constructionist theories, by contrast, claim that identity is not something that ‘is’ but something that is continually being constructed , via systems of language, knowledge and power. In this view, there is hardly such a thing as ‘an existing identity’, but rather a permanently ongoing process of identity-formation, in which identity is always only nascent. In general, queer theories are usually conceived of as ‘constructionist theories’, whereas many (first wave) feminist theories, for instance, can be called essentialist, believing in a ‘core essence’ of woman, radically different from the ‘core essence’ of man. Moreover, queer theorists usually view essentialist notions of sexuality and sexual orientation etc. very sceptically, arguing that there is no such thing as a ‘queer essence’. Sometimes, it is even argued that one can hardly speak of queer people at all but instead only deploy the term queer as a verb. This point will be taken up again in a moment.

[16] Via some roundabout routes also the works of Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida were influential on the emergence of queer theories, as were the writings of French feminists such as Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, Monique Wittig and Luce Irigaray. A little more direct has been the impact of writings by Adrienne Rich and Gayle Rubin, as well as (Italian born) Teresa de Lauretis and Rosie Braidotti (a proponent of lesbian feminism).

[17] The most prominent among them are the aforementioned thinkers Judith Halberstam, Adrienne Rich and Gayle Rubin, as well as Teresa de Lauretis and Rosie Braidotti.

[18] Examples are Kraß (2003); Morland/Wilcox (2005).

[19] The ‘MA in Sexual Dissidence in Literature and Culture’, offered by the University of Sussex and first devised by Alan Sinfield and Jonathan Dollimore, is a case in point (cf. last retrieved 26/02/09).

[20] See the bibliographies in Jagose (1996), Sullivan (2003) or Hall (2003), for instance.

[21] Let it suffice here to say that according to some queer theorists, there is no such thing as a ‘queer identity’, no queer essence, but only ‘queer ways’ of doing things (namely questioning, querying, queering). But I would like to suspend the either/or-absolutism between acts and identities and claim, like Ruskola (2005), that it is just a question of emphasis whether to view queerness and dissident sexual orientations in terms of acts or identities: Our identity is in part shaped by the acts we commit; our acts are in part determined by our identity.

[22] There is a growing interest, for instance, in the interface between queer theories and race (cf. Fryer 2016; Barnard 2004).

[23] This was the case, for example, for England and Germany until the late 1960s and 1970s respectively (even though only for male homosexuality; female homosexuality was never included in the penal code of either country). Hence, with regard to certain countries, cultures, and contexts it still makes sense to speak of a system of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’. An example would be countries that are predominated by Muslim religion, in which the Sharia applies. Notorious examples are Saudi-Arabia and Iran, where people are still publicly stoned to death if found guilty of, sometimes even only if being suspected of, having committed homosexual acts. At the point of writing this, there are still more than eighty countries around the world in which homosexuals are legally persecuted (cf. Frank 2009).

[24] Sedgwick puts this as follows: “To draw the “homosocial” back into the orbit of “desire,” of the potentially erotic, then, is to hypothesize the potential unbrokenness of a continuum between homosocial and homosexual – a continuum whose visibility, for men, in our society, is radically disrupted” (Sedgwick 1985: 1-2).

[25] For a more detailed account of the ‘homosexual panic’, the interested reader is kindly referred once again to Sedgwick (1985: chapter 5 ‘Toward the Gothic: terrorism and homosexual panic’) as well as Peters (2007: 385) and Chuang/Addington (1988).

[26] Another striking example of attention being drawn to the process of heterosexualisation stems from A Song at Twilight. Here, Carlotta implores Hugo, the closeted homosexual protagonist, why he has actively ‘heterosexualised’ his own life story: “But why the constant implications of heterosexual ardour? Why those self-conscious, almost lascivious references to laughing-eyed damsels with scarlet lips and pointed breasts? And, above all, why that contemptuous betrayal of Perry Sheldon?” (A Song at Twilight, II, 62-63). Heterosexualisation is also referred to by Jowett, a character of Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love (The Invention of Lo ve, I, 22).

[27] Originally, the term ‘passing’ referred to racial passing. As such, it is used to describe the phenomenon of a member of a minority group, for example a person with a certain percentage of black ancestry, ‘passing’ as a member of the majority group, in this case as white. Ginsberg explains the term as follows:
The genealogy of the term passing in American history associates it with the discourse of racial difference and especially with the assumption of a “fraudulent” white identity by an individual culturally and legally defined as “Negro” or black by virtue of a percentage of African ancestry. As the term metaphorically implies, such an individual crossed or passed through a racial line or boundary – indeed trespassed – to assume a new identity, escaping the subordination and oppression accompanying one identity and accessing the privileges and status of the other. (Ginsberg 1996: 2-3).
Ginsberg also explains how the term developed: “By extension, “passing” has been applied discursively to disguise other elements of an individual’s presumed “natural” or “essential” identity, including class, ethnicity, and sexuality, as well as gender, the latter usually effected by deliberate alterations of physical appearance and behaviour, including cross-dressing.” (Ginsberg 1996: 3; cf. Sanchez/Schlossberg 2001). It is in this metaphorical extension that the term passing is commonly used by members of the LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender) community to describe the phenomenon of, say, a gay man passing as straight or of a (biologically) female transgender person passing as male.

[28] The quotation is taken from The Normal Heart (II, xiii, 109-110). It might need pointing out that The Normal Heart is a 1980s American play and hence, unfortunately, lies doubly outside the focus of this study, preventing a detailed discussion of it here. However, since it contains particularly evident examples of several of the queer textual structures on which this thesis focuses, I will nevertheless draw on it at times where this seems appropriate.

[29] The extract in question is quoted in Chapter 5 (5.1.2. It’s Getting Personal: Queer References to People).

[30] I believe that one can view these things also from the opposite direction and then speak of ‘anti-queer appropriation’ or ‘heterosexual appropriation’ instead of heterosexualisation. Underlying this re-consideration is the fact that all through history, it has been very common to assume (‘by default' but sometimes also by deliberately closing one’s eyes against certain facts or clues) that person XYZ was heterosexual; since only in very few cases we really have proof of this, this is usually also a matter of speculation.

[31] On this question, see also Thomas Laqueur’s Making Sex (1992), in which he demonstrates that the polarity of the two sexes (the two-sex-model) is a fairly recent development in our cultural history (cf. Laqueur 1992: 1-24).

[32] As I see it, also some of the notions proposed by Judith Butler pose certain difficulties. Her notion of the subject, for example, is rather problematical: it is never quite clear if Butler believes that the subject is still able to act, to be an ‘agent’ or if it is powerless because it is determined by power dynamics.

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Stages of Queerness
Representations of Sexual Otherness in British Drama between 1900 and 1968
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queerness; queer drama; British drama; queer British Drama; Noel Coward; Terrence Rattigan; William S. Maugham; queer plays; gay plays; lesbian plays; default reader; implied reader; queer reader
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