Whenever nature is invoked to support our human divisions, [we have] every right to be suspicious, nature having betrayed only the most perplexing and untrustworthy interest in man and none whatsoever in his institutions.

-- James Baldwin, "Preservation of Innocence"

It is the class struggle between men and women which will abolish men and women . . . If we, as lesbians and gay men, continue to speak of ourselves and to conceive of ourselves as women and as men, we are instrumental in maintaining heterosexuality.

-- Monique Wittig, "The Straight Mind"

After World War II, a time during which homosexual identity politics began to emerge with Harry Hay's Mattachine Society and a growing gay/lesbian bar culture, gays and lesbians were forced to remain closeted if they wished to lead "normal" (i.e., harassment-free) lives. As queer historians like Allan Berube have explained, it was not until the late 1960s--and most memorably in 1969 with the famous Stonewall riots at a New York gay bar--that "Gay Liberation" became an open public issue. Since that time, the term "queer" has been accepted in many circles as an all-encompassing idea that identifies a wide range of sexual minorities. "Queer" includes homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgendered people of all varieties. It also includes individuals who, for whatever reason, feel that their sexual preferences have more in common with queer forms of sexual expression rather than "straight" ones.

Queer theory, perhaps more than queer fiction, has been changing the way we understand literary and aesthetic expression since the early 1980s. Philosophers, activists, and critics such as Judith Butler, Adrianne Rich, and Alexander Doty have suggested ways that supposedly "straight" culture might be "queered" and seen from the perspective of socio-sexual outsiders. Queer readings involve, for instance, ironic reconstructions of traditional gender roles, reimagining supposedly heterosexual characters in literature as, in fact, closeted gay lovers, and agitating to make formerly marginal forms of pleasure and desire into perfectly acceptable, mainstream ones. Queer theory and queer literature remind us that there is always a subtext, and subtexts can be sexy. On a more serious level, queer theory problematizes dominant modes of experiencing social intimacy and ways that institutions enforce highly restrictive sexual roles on individuals and families. Literature which is queer includes any writing concerned with the themes of queer theory and queer life experience.




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