The Languages of Sexuality

Weeks, J. (2011). The Languages of Sexuality. London: Routledge,



This short essay explores the term "queer," discussing its history from representing an abberration to becoming grand theory through political activism. It is a term "fluid and full of multiple meanings" about both sexuality and the world (pg. 144). Weeks discusses some of these multiple meanings.

Queer 1: A term primarily used in Britain to describe homosexuality as a condition and homosexuals as individuals, until the rise of "gay" after 1969 (pg. 144). In the London of the 1950s and 60s, it was most often used by self-identified homosexuals to describe an internalized meaning about your homosexuality as diverging from "normal" society.

Queer 2: Rising primarily in the U.S. of the late 80s, queer became used to denote a "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender militancy" stemming from the anger of the AIDS crisis. It also radically challenged the "assimilationist and ethnicizing policies of the gay movement" of the 1980s. The reapproprition of a stigmatizing word like "queer" sought to push back against mere tolerance and identity representation. Queer was no longer being used as a negative, even in "Queer 1," where homosexuals used it to denote their own "perverseness" to others like them, but became a term representing "collective agency and militancy" (pg. 145). Weeks pointed out this militancy arose in countries with a rise in conservative politics, like the U.S. and Britain, but not so much in countries with increasingly liberal perspectives on gay rights, like Denmark and the Netherlands.

Queer 3: The new use of the term was closely tied to Queer 2, particularly in questioning the rigidity of terms like gay and lesbian, but queer 3, or Queer Theory, became the "often esoteric, language in the academy rather than on the streets, despite its transgressive commitments" (pg. 145). Teresa de Lauretis is coined with first using the term in 1990, before disowning it 3 years later when it became used by the dominant theorists it was designed to critique. Weeks writes: "The lineage of queer theory lies in early gay liberationist and feminist theory and in the radical implications of social constructionism, in post-structuralist theory, in the deconstructionist writings of Jacques Derrida, and in the analyses of discourse and power of Michel Foucault" (pg. 145). Originally more closely aligned with sociology, queer theory became aligned more with philosophy and literary theory, before moving back into sociology, critical theory, cultural studies, post-colonial and critical race studies, human geography, psychology, and biology (pg. 145). Earlier constructionist work focused on the category of homosexual itself, but queer theory focused more on how power shaped the category in the first place through heteronormativity.

Weeks points out the tensions and possible hypocrisies of queer theory critiquing identity representation policies like same-sex marriage and "sex changes," pointing out that queer theorists then align with anti-LGBT conservatives. He argues that "queer theory has become so wrapped up with academic subversion that it is in danger of forgetting the sexual worlds it grew out of and originally sought to address" (pg. 146).