"Quare" studies, or (almost) everything I know about queer studies I learned from my grandmother

E. Patrick Johnson (2001) "Quare" studies, or (almost) everything I know about queer studies I learned from my grandmother, Text and Performance Quarterly, 21:1, 1-25, DOI: 10.1080/10462930128119

Quare vs Queer

Johnson describes the multi-faceted use of the term "queer" (or "quare") by his grandmother, to denote both something odd and also something excessive, in the cultural sense of African American ritual. He finds this latter use of the word queer absent from so much of queerness, particularly academic queer theory. He highlights Anzaldua's critique of the word queer as homogenizing, arguing that the use of the term quare instead articulates differing identities. He focuses on his grandmother's vernacular use of the term queer to theorize racialized sexuality and how some strands of queer theory fail to incorporate racialization. How can we build queer theory from homphobic places? How can we rework ideas to make them generative for us?

Like others, he critiques the contemporary rise of queer theory as ignorant and dismissive of race and class. Queer theorists have often argued it is more than a reappropriation of a slur, but also a challenge aimed at dominant cultural norms. Some, like Butler, posit the identification with anything as inherently caught up in the cycle of powerful structures. Johnson questions what the ethical and material implications for a queer theory that dismantles all notions of identity is. Broadly, queer theory is problematically unfocused on materiality where the lived experience is often experienced as a site of trauma. It has similarly ignored the political and theoretical contributions of queers of color in the struggle against queerphobia. Even when white queer theorists do acknowledge these conditions, they rarely contend with how whiteness shapes their own work, even as positionality becomes a standard in queer theory (as of 2001).

White Sovereignty Over the Queer Black Experience

Queers of color are often accused of essentialism and anti-intellectualism when grounding their work in the politics of lived identity. This often ignores the strategic and purposeful adoption of cultural identity as important to queer survival. In an effort of disidentification, even homophobic elders must be drawn into the fight against bigotry, for they offer valuable knowledge on anti-sexism and anti-racism. He argues that the white supposition of anti-heterosexuality is unaffordably sacrificial to communities of color. Further, as Audre Lorde states, there is no liberation without community. Liberation cannot fall on the individual.

To highlight the invalidation of lived experience by white queer academics, Johnson criticizes John Champagne's readings of black queer writers as overly emotional, deriding experience as non-evidentiary. Champagne expressed discussions of white positionality as "masochistic." Bodily experience is considered anti-intellectual, and the Black bodily experience manipulative, while white experiences go uninterrogated. Champagne renders himself a sovereign observer over the Black experience.

Epistemology of the Body

Johnson proposes quare studies as a "theory in the flesh," focusing on the lived experience, the body, and difference within and between groups. Quare studies interrogates identity politics with exclude and allegiance to "isms." Johnson proposes embracing performance, the historically situated act of expressing identity - along with performativity, which is focused on the repetition of discursive acts. He states that queers of color must transgress responsibily, or else performances do run the risk of reifying oppressive realities. He states that quare theory offers a utilitarian queer theory, focused not just on performers and effects but on contexts and historical situatedness.