Queer and Now

1993. "Queer and Now", Tendencies, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.

Queer Writing and Teaching

Sedgewick starts off this chapter discussing the myriad of ways American culture would sooner prefer "their children were dead" than gay, from the AIDS epidemic to the firing of gay teachers to conversion therapy to youth homelessness and suicide rates. The messsage from the nation is: "Conform or Die." The survivorhood of queer people leads to a myriad of effects: survivor's guilt, survivor's glee, and survivor's responsibility (pg. 3). She uses this sense of queer survival to discuss the role of queer writing and teaching, and the divisiveness she has seen in the classroom, not solely over experience, but also over "issues of methodology and disciplinarity" (pg. 5). Undergrads in her queer courses have taken issue with the heavy lean into text, and non-gay students felt personally affronted that the classes were designed with queer students, not straight students, in mind. Segdewick highlights the "sense of entitlement" straight students displayed in wanting to quickly access an "inalieable right" to queer experiences and histories, quickly (pg. 5).

What is queer?

Sedgewick questions what queer is through questioning the elements of family and sexual identity (pg. 6-7), positing queer as "the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone's gender, of anyone's sexuality aren't made (or can't be made) to signify monolithically" (pg. 8). She highlights recent uses (as of 1993) of queer, beyond same-sex desire, to dimensions and criss-crossings of race and ethnicity and nationality interact with all other identities. The complex history of queer means all denotations and connotations differ---the use of queer for oneself differs from the use of queer for someone else. Through reading Foucault, Sedgwick counters that heterosexuality, through its naturalization and normativity, may not be a sexuality at all (pg. 10). Its normativity has made it invisible, private, and unaccountable. Perhaps this has only changed recently, and explains the pushback from anti-gay straights (and similarly, anti-trans cis) who disagree with labels like straight because they are used to being the norm.