Sunday, February 27, 2011

Homostudies Conclusion: Other putative paradigms

Building upon discoveries and advances registered over a century and a half, homostudies pursued along established lines remains vigorous. Some of this work has been noticed in these pages.

There are several other paradigm candidates: the following pages address three of them. One of these putative paradigms is of long standing, while the other two are relatively new. We turn first to the older paradigm: bisexuality.


Human bisexuality is the capacity to feel sexual attraction toward, and to consummate sexual performance with, members of the opposite and one's own sex. The concept must be distinguished from androgyny and hermaphroditism, with which, however, it is historically affiliated.

Modern thinking about bisexuality stems in part from medical investigations in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, which found that during the first few weeks after conception the urogenital system of the human embryo is undifferentiated as to sex. (Bisexuality in plants had been recognized since the beginning of the nineteenth century.) Determination of the anatomical gender of the organs of the originally neutral being is triggered by the intervention of mechanisms later identified as chromosomal. This embryological discovery suggested that human maleness and femaleness is in some sense secondary, and that the puzzling binarism of our natures could be restored, at least on the level of ontogeny, to a primal unity.

Almost inevitably, these modern findings called to mind ancient Greek and Near Eastern mythological thinking about primordial androgyny. From this fertile mix of ideas it could be concluded that human sexual attraction should also be undifferentiated as to gender, since our postnatal gender dimorphism is but a secondary process superseding, but not completely effacing, an original oneness. The result of such research and speculation was to offer two complementary models, one of primordial unity, the other of a comprehensive triad: neutral, male, and female. Both the unitary and the triadic themes were destined to influence the concept of sexual orientation.

Before this medical and mythological amalgam could be applied to the psychodynamic sphere, a conceptual apparatus had to be invented and diffused that assigned human sexual orientation to two distinct poles - heterosexual and homosexual - a polarity which is distinct from, yet analogous to the gender dimorphism of male and female. In classical antiquity and the Middle Ages, as well as in many non-Western cultures today, no such dichotomy was recognized. The medieval sodomite was viewed as a departure, sinful it is true, from universal human standards which form the abiding context. Thus, although the Middle Ages had to all intents and purposes its own notion of the homosexual (the sodomite), it lacked a concept of the heterosexual as such.

As we have seen, the polarity of heterosexual and homosexual attraction was formulated in Central Europe in the 1860s by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Karoly Maria Kertbeny, who developed the homosexual concept. By the end of the century it had become widely familiar. In the work of such writers as Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Otto Weininger, Wilhelm Fliess, and Sigmund Freud, the heterosexual-homosexual contrast melded with the previously discussed medical concept of primordial gender neutrality. Hence the Freudian notion of the "polymorphous perverse," in which the individual's attraction is free-form and undifferentiated (though in mature individuals this state yields to full heterosexuality). From this family of ideas descends the contemporary popular notion that "we're all bisexual." Sometimes this view is attributed, falsely, to Alfred C. Kinsey.

In the 1940s growing dissatisfaction with such notions of bisexuality led to significant critiques. Sandor Rado's paper of 1940 signaled their abandonment by the psychoanalytic community. In 1948 Kinsey faulted the then-current concept of bisexuality on two grounds. First, in view of its historical origins, reliance on the term bisexuality fosters confusion between the categories of gender and orientation, which must be kept quite distinct. Second, Kinsey averred, the triad of heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality is too rigid, and must be replaced by his own more supple 0-6 scale. While Kinsey effectively attacked the prevailing exclusivism, his numerical scale presented its own problems and failed to gain widespread popular recognition. Its legacy was to leave the term "bisexual" with a somewhat amorphous and controversial claim to all those who could not be classified as exclusively heterosexual or homosexual.

The countercultural and social-utopian currents of the 1960s and 70s stimulated attempts at revision and par­tial restoration of the older perspectives among many innovative (or would-be innovative) thinkers, who viewed the inherited "gen­der system" of fixed roles for men and women as an albatross which kept women inferior and hindered the full self-realiza­tion of both men and women. There was thus a trend to regard the anatomical dif­ferences of men and women as a minor matter. If this be so, it makes little sense to be overly concerned about the gender of the individual to whom one is attracted, and we are all free to be simply "humansexuals."

Also in this period the vocal as­sertion of homosexual rights, often cast in the minority mold, suggested to some that bisexuals too were a neglected and victim­ized minority, suffering from the invisibil­ity which had once characterized homo­sexuality, and who should join together to fight for recognition and rights (Klein, 1978). Adoption of this "bisexual activist" view would lead to full-fledged recognition of three orientations, as seen, for example in the 1986 New York City gay rights ordi­nance, which explicitly protects hetero­sexuals, homosexuals, and bisexuals. Disregard of or contempt for the interests of bisexuals came to be termed "biphobia."

Contrasting with this triadic scheme is a unitary futurist Utopian model which posits bisexuality as the ultimate human norm, superseding both exclusive heterosexuality and exclusive homosexu­ality which would be regarded as forms of sexual restrictiveness, and even bigotry.

In support of their contention, the advocates of bisexuality point to ear­lier civilizations and contemporary tribal societies where, they claim, bisexual re­sponse is the norm. This would be true also in advanced industrial societies, which, it is held, would be also bisexual were it not for their sophisticated appara­tus of sexual repression. Here one should interject the caveat that since the concepts of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality are themselves of recent West­ern origin, it may be unwise to impose them on cultures other than one's own. Still, with all due caution, one can observe that some societies, such as ancient Greece and some contemporary Melanesian tribes do exhibit a serial bi­sexuality, in which the maturing male does undergo homosexual experience as part of initiatory rites, assuming the hetero­sexual roles of husband and father after­wards. This seriality is far, however, from the ideal of indeterminacy propounded by some theorists, that is to say, the notion that an individual must be free at all times to chose objects of sexual attraction in total disregard of their gender.

In the 1970s (and to a lesser extent in the 1980s) a number of organizations appeared in support of "bisexual liberation," modeled on the gay liberation and the other sexual freedom movements. While these groups did not establish a consensus definition of bisexuality, they tended toward a broad conceptualization in which bisexuality was thought of as a basic ca­pacity to respond erotically and emotion­ally/romantically to persons of either gender, either simultaneously or serially; the response did not have to be equal but had to be sufficient for a bisexual to feel somewhat alienated from identification as either homosexual or heterosexual.

According to the lead­ers of this movement, bisexuals faced discriminated coming from homosexuals as well as from heterosexuals, and much of the discussion revolved around a critique of homosexu­als' attitudes toward bisexuality, and the exclusion of recognition of bisexuals in the gay movement, perceived as fostering an exclusively homosexual identity. Other topics were the implications of bisexuality for such institutions as marriage and the ghettoization which leaders decried in homosexual circles at the time. Bisexuals, it was held, should be allies in a common struggle with gays against discrimination, but should function as a bridge to the heterosexual world rather than being submerged in an exclusivist subculture.

Many bisexual spokespeople advocated bisexuality as superior (for vari­ous reasons) to either form of "exclusivism" (heterosexual or homosexual); they also held it to be much more threatening to the prevailing sexual norms, precisely because it potentially involved everyone rather than a small minority which could be ghettoized.

With the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, bisexuals were targeted as the most seri­ous source of infection for the heterosex­ual majority, and "bisexual chic" passed as quickly as it had arisen. As the AIDS crisis subsided, however, the implication that bisexuals were responsible came to seem unfair. Moreover, bisexual men and women were clearly here to stay.

Honesty requires one to acknowledge that many of the prominent individuals today regarded as homosexual icons--from Sappho and Alexander the Great to Virginia Wolff and Harry Hay--have displayed behavior patterns which might be more accurately characterized as "bisexual." This issue, though, raises the question of whether it is appropriate to analyze and categorize data from such a wide spectrum of eras and cultures according to a single set of measures.

Contemporary American society exhibits a number of behavior types which may be classified as bisexual. There are, for example, macho men, basically heterosexual, who become to some degree habituated to achieving occasional gratification - employing the insertor role only - with men who would define themselves as gay. Among women, the sense of sisterhood engendered by the women's movement, accompanied in some cases by a wariness toward men, has led to lesbian contacts involving women whose previous experience was essentially heterosexual.

The United States, together with other advanced industrial societies, reveals a number of versions of serial patterns of other- and same-sex behavior. In what is sometimes termed situational homosexuality, inmates of total institutions, typi­cally men's and women's prisons, form homosexual liaisons, only to resume their heterosexual commitment on release. Some young men follow a career of male prosti­tution for a time, and then, as their looks fade or other circumstances supervene, settle into a completely heterosexual lifestyle. Yet another type of serial experience appears in "late blooming" individuals, that is, men and women who have entered into heterosexual marriages or relationships, and then find, sometimes as late as their forties, that they are strongly at­tracted to members of their own sex. It should be noted that self-reports of per­sons' sexual orientation are not always fully reliable,- for understandable reasons, some men and women who are essentially homosexual will say that they are bisexual, comforted by the belief that this label is less stigmatizing.
This form of self-disguise is particularly common among young people who are still exploring their sexual identity and its implications.

It seems clear that few individuals in today's society have actually attained the posited ideal of "gender-blindness," choosing their partners solely on the basis of personal qualities, so that they will go with a man one day and a woman the next. It is hard to say how many come close to this ideal, with gender playing a relatively small role. If they are comparable with the Kinsey "3's" (those who "accept and equally enjoy both types of contacts, and have no strong preferences for one or the other"), they are a substantial group, Kinsey "3's" representing somewhere between 4 and 5 percent of all males for at least three years of their life.

Those persons who are bisexual under the definition cited at the beginning of this article, but who have a definite preference for one side or the other, may be compared to Kinsey's "2's" and "4's", described by him as "predominantly" one way but "rather definitely . . . more than incidentally" the other way. Added to­gether, these represent about 10.5 percent of the male population at age 25, divided between 7 percent predominantly heterosexual and 3.5 percent predominantly homosexual. Add the "3's" and we see why it is said that, using a broad definition, about 15 percent of the American male population is bisexual for a significant part of their lives.

As the types selectively reviewed above and the Kinsey figures suggest, most people fall more strongly on the one side than the other, and when all is said and done may be classified as predominantly heterosexual or homosexual with at least as much justification as bisexual. Moreover, there seems to be a kind of funnel effect, whereby as an individual grows older he or she tends to focus more and more exclusively on one sex or another. Thus the number of Kinsey "3's" declines from 4.7 percent at age 25 to 2 percent at age 45. This trend is particularly evident if one contrasts adolescent "sexual experimentation" with the more settled patterns of later life. The risk, perhaps, is in sliding easily from the description "predominantly homosexual" [or heterosexual) to just plain "homosexual" (or heterosexual), thereby picking up the connotations of exclusivity often associated with those terms.

Even today, there are some researchers who question the validity of the concept of bisexuality. A 2005 study by researchers Gerulf Rieger, Meredith L. Chivers, and J. Michael Bailey asserted that bisexuality is extremely rare in men. This conclusion reflects the results of controversial penile plethysmograph testing when viewing pornographic material involving only men and pornography involving only women. Critics have pointed out that the study assumes that a person is only truly bisexual if he or she exhibits virtually equal arousal responses to both opposite-sex and same-sex stimuli, ignoring the self-identification of people whose arousal patterns showed even a mild preference for one sex. Other critics say that the technique used in the study to measure genital arousal is too crude to capture the richness (erotic sensations, affection, admiration) that constitutes sexual attraction. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force called the study flawed and biphobic.

In 1995 Marjorie Garber, a professor of Shakespeare studies at Harvard University, made the case for bisexuality in her book Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life, in which she argued that most people would be bisexual if not for "repression, religion, repugnance, denial, laziness, shyness, lack of opportunity, premature specialization, a failure of imagination, or a life already full to the brim with erotic experiences, albeit with only one person, or only one gender." While Garber's book is wide-ranging and accessible, some readers have found it superficial.

In the study of historical and non-Western cultures, some scholars have found the concept of bisexuality more useful than that of homosexuality. One example of this approach is Eva Cantarella, Bisexuality in the Ancient World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), who has examined Greco-Roman variant behavior (if that is the right term) in the lens of bisexuality. In some contemporary societies, as in South Asia many men who might otherwise elect a gay lifestyle, choose to accept marriage with a woman in exchange for a certain amount of freedom as they “spread their wild oats.” Sometimes these persons are called “men who have sex with men” or MSM for short. There is a parallel category for women who have sex with women (WSM).


Yet the closing decades of the twentieth century saw the emergence of two competitors, proffering paradigms that purport to surpass the canons observed by the earlier schools of research. These trends are Social Construction and Queer Theory. The two found their main support among younger scholars and graduate students. By the beginning of the first decade of the present century, it was clear that both had receded significantly, lacking the power to sustain themselves as productive paradigms. Accordingly, these two latter-day trends will be treated concisely.


The Social Construction (SC) approach arose in the 1980s. Denying the existence of any "transhistorical" definition of same-sex behavior, the SC scholars hold that sexual behavior is, in all significant aspects, a product of cultural conditioning, rather than of biological and constitutional factors. Thus same-sex behavior would have an entirely different meaning, say, in ancient Egypt or Tang China from what it would have in nineteenth-century Europe. In the view of some proponents of this approach, the "modern homosexual" is sui generis, having come into existence in Europe and North America only about 1880; hence it is vain to conduct comparative research on earlier eras or non-Western societies.

The Social Constructionists contrast their own approach with that of the "essentialists" (a hostile label of SC origin), who ostensibly believe in an eternal and unchanging homosexuality. Yet most critics of social construction are not essentialists, and to label them as such amounts to a caricature that has proved tactically useful for polemical purposes but has advanced understanding very little. One should also bear in mind that the discussion is not current in the gay/lesbian community as a whole, but is confined to scholars.

What is valuable about the SC approach is that it alerts researchers to the dangers of anachronism. It makes no sense, for example, to refer to such ancient Greek figures as Socrates and Alexander the Great as gay without noting that their erotic life was conducted in a framework in which pederasty, the love of an adult man for an adolescent boy, was the rule, and not the androphilia - male adult-adult relationship - that is dominant today.

Granting this point, Social Construction errs too far on the side of difference in denying any commonality whatever among same-sex love in ancient Greece, in the Middle Ages, and in contemporary Western society. This denial of commonality and continuity would deprive scholars of the fruits of cross-cultural study of same-sex behavior. Another consequence of social construction orthodoxy is to exclude biological factors from any role in the shaping of sexual desire. Some extreme adherents claim that the body itself is a mere social construct - implying a rejection of material reality itself.

It has been suggested that the conflict between Social Construction and its opponents is another version of the old debate about nature versus nurture, between those who believe that human conduct is largely conditioned by biological forces and those who attribute the leading role to culture (the environmentalists). One's first response is to say that human behavior is the result of a confluence of the two forces, but this compromise is usually rejected by those in the environmentalist camp. In similar fashion, the social constructionists hold that culture is supreme, and are little prepared to concede biological constants. The social construction debate has also been compared to the medieval philosophical dispute between the realists and the nominalists, those who believed that the world contained real essences as against those who believed that we know only names for primal qualities. The parallel is inexact, however, since few social constructionists would be willing to adopt the nominalist views they are said to hold. Indeed, thoroughgoing nominalism would render the Social Constructionist claims meaningless, since there would be no stable social categories to contrast with the purportedly labile ones of sexual orientation.

The actual roots of Social Construction as a theory are twofold. First is the heritage of German historicism, which (emerging in the late eighteenth century), saw successive historical epochs as each having a distinct character, radically different from those that precede and follow. This trend, which posits a series of historical eras almost hermetically sealed from one another, accounts for the social constructionist belief that there is a "modern homosexual," a type that has existed only since ca. 1880. These antecedents show that the social construction approach is not as new as its proponents suggest.

The second source is the tendency of modern sociology and anthropology to attribute human behavior solely to cultural determinants. In some social constructionists this tendency is tinged with late Marxism - which may itself be regarded as a sociological doctrine. These two main sources were given focus by the writings of the French social thinker and historian Michel Foucault, who though not self-identified as a social constructionist seminally influenced such proponents of social construction as Kenneth Plummer and Jeffrey Weeks. These and other adherents picked up Foucault's ideas of historical discontinuity, of "ruptures" radically segmenting periods of historical development.

A major objection to the social constructionist position is that same-sex behavior existed in Western society during the hundreds of years in which its existence was formally denied by the dominant culture; the authorities imposed obligatory heterosexuality upon the entire population and subjected anyone known for "sodomitical" behavior to economic boycott and social ostracism, if not to criminal prosecution. A curious outcome of these centuries of oppression is that when the first writings on homosexuality reached the general public at the end of the nineteenth century, some individuals revealed to psychiatrists that, although they had responded solely to members of their own sex since adolescence, until then they imagined themselves unique in the whole world. They had "constructed" their own sexual consciousness without any social input - a feat that should be impossible according to social constructionist postulates.

Another fact that contradicts the social constructionists is the abundant evidence for gay subcultures in Europe and the United States for at least a hundred years before the modern, political phase of homosexuality began - a subculture whose participants, however, merely thought of themselves as members of an erotic freemasonry from whose forbidden pleasures the vulgar mass was excluded. (While the evidence becomes sparser as one goes back in time, in some sense these subcultures can be traced back to the twelfth century in the Middle Ages.)

The "modern homosexual" is a political concept; the phenomenon began when individuals oriented toward their own sex, in the wake of trials such as those of Oscar Wilde and Prince Philipp zu Eulenburg, came to regard themselves as part of an oppressed minority cherishing a grievance against late Victorian society and its norms of sexual morality, and demanding their own "place in the sun." This trend was for a long time characteristic of northern Europe (where generally homosexual conduct was criminalized) and was foreign to the dwellers of Mediterranean lands. Since the 1960s, the "gay" identity has had an undeniable component of political activism; it was the badge of the individual who proclaimed his sexual nature openly and campaigned for the liberation of himself and others like him from the unjust prohibitions and discriminations of "straight" society. One can readily grant that in ancient Greece and Rome no one was "gay" in this sense. Such a political stance arose only in dialectical opposition to the Judeo-Christian attitude toward homosexual behavior and those who engaged in it. Even today many of those who participate in homosexual activity far from the mass meetings and rallies of the "gay ghettoes" are heedless of this political aspect of homosexuality, which they perceive as irrelevant to their desires for erotic gratification.

As has been noted, Social Construction theory has made a contribution in warning against anachronism, the tendency to project back into the past one's own familiar experiences and life ways. Yet the idea that cultural climates shift, changing the expression of sexuality with them, is scarcely a new discovery. What is disappointing about social contraction is that it offers no explanation of the "grounding" of such change. What mechanisms - economic, political, intellectual - cause a society to move from one dominant cultural climate to another? Moreover, social construction has gone too far in seeking to discourage transhistorical and cross-cultural investigations of homosexual desire. Implied roadblocks of this kind must not stymie the investigator, for comparative studies across time and across social systems are a vital prerequisite to the emergence of a satisfactory concept of human homosexual behavior in all its fullness and complexity.

Some leading scholars who have been identified as social constructionists are Mary McIntosh, David Halperin, Gayle Rubin, Randolph Trumbach, and Jeffrey Weeks.

The most important limitation of the SC approach is that it has tended to narrow its purview to recent centuries of Euro-American society, in effect erasing what transpired beyond these boundaries. This limited focus has in turn been tendentiously exploited by antihomosexual pundits and politicians in non-Western societies. These individuals deny that the stigma of homosexuality ever besmirched their communities--at least until Western colonialism “forced” it on them. This mistaken view is common in sub-Saharan Africa. It also underlies the categorical statement of Iran’s President Ahmedinajad at Columbia University in 2007, to the effect that there are “no homosexuals in Iran.”


Queer Theory may be regarded as a branch of critical theory, The immediate sources of critical theory lie in Continental Europe, as reflected in the works of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan. Some, however, emphasize older source strata stemming from Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and the Neo-Marxist thinkers associated with the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research (Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and others).

In some respects Queer Theory parts company with these influences because it tends to focus on “discourse” (often as seen in literary texts) instead of behavior. With a strong input from feminism and gay/lesbian studies, it foregrounds such issues as identity, self-presentation, and sexual orientation. In its broadest sense, however, Queer Theory goes beyond sex, positing a world-view that emphasizes the “slipperiness” and indeterminacy of consciousness as we actually experience it.

In solidarity with the previous approach--Social Construction--Queer Theory challenges the idea that gender is part of the essential self, stressing the social origin of sexual acts and identities. Whereas gay/lesbian studies had (in this view) been unable to go beyond the traditional contrast of "natural" and "unnatural" behavior with respect to sexuality, For one thing, this contrast is a “binarism,” a kind of dichotomy that, following Jacques Derrida, Queer Theory distrusts and “problematizes.” With some practitioners, Queer Theory expands to encompass any kind of activity or identity that falls into normative and deviant categories.

Tentative as they are, many would take exception to these preliminary distinctions. In fact, it is notoriously difficult to define Queer Theory. This difficulty may reflect the fact that it relatively new. Yet some adepts say that it must always be so, as the essence of Queer Theory is instability, especially the way it compels us to recognize the role of uncertainty in evaluating issues of human significance.

The first use of the expression “queer theory” has been traced to the film critic Teresa de Lauretis, who proposed it at a working conference on theorizing lesbian and gay sexualities that was held at the University of California, Santa Cruz in February 1990. Barely three years later, Lauretis “jumped ship,” abandoning the term. Other academics, however, such Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Michael Warner, happily embraced it.


Some background on the word “queer” is needed. Known from 1508. the adjective’s primary meaning is odd, eccentric, or unconventional. During the twentieth century it was a common epithet hurled by straights against gay and lesbian people; it was, however, adopted by some of these people themselves, especially in England.

This meaning, formerly falling into province of slang, is probably rooted in the use of "queer" for counterfeit (coin or banknote) in the mid-eighteenth century, with an antonym "straight"; hence an expression popular in the recent past, "queer as a three-dollar bill." As a verb, "to queer" means "to spoil, to foul up." At one time the adjective could be used unself-consciously to mean "queasy" ("This muggy weather makes me feel ever so queer."). The word can also be used in a less pejorative sense with the meaning "fond of, keen on." e.g., "she's queer for exotic cuisine."

As used for homosexuals, the term queer has long connoted strangeness and "otherness," rooted in the sense that gay people were marginal to society's mainstream. It has also conveyed the sense of fear and aversion that many heterosexuals felt for emotions that they could not share and acts that they could not understand. The term served to express (and reinforce) a kind of heterosexual ethnocentrism that branded difference as per se alien and unacceptable. The ignorance in which the establishment media kept the general public reinforced all these anxieties.

Until the late 1980s, the word queer seemed to be in decline. Then it was spectacularly revived by a group of enthusiasts some of whom believed that it could be "reclaimed" as a positive term. In the view of these proponents, it had the advantage of brevity, eliminating the need for more cumbersome expressions, such as "gay and lesbian." It also served to include such groups as bisexuals and trans people.

Many older gay persons cringed in horror as the vogue of queer spread in gay circles (and even in some straight ones) during the eighties and nineties. Middle-aged and elderly people retained painful memories of how the q-word had been deployed against them in acts of public shaming.

The recuperation of queer has been sold as part of a larger campaign of detoxification of negative terms. Ostensibly, "black" is the model. Yet the term black never bore the negative charge of queer. In fact there are sharp limits to the viability of the detox principle. There have never been any attempts to sanitize such terms as "k*ke" and "c*nt" for such purposes.

In its heyday, the closing years of the twentieth century, no such problems attended queer—or so its enthusiasts claimed. It was touted as inclusive, serving to bring into the fold transsexuals and transvestites, who did not necessarily regard themselves as homosexual. And other eccentrics of various kinds could find shelter under the Big Queer Tent--at least up to a point. Needless to say, gun-toting survivalists and Holy Roller evangelists were not welcome—though they too, by the lights of mainstream American society, are also queer.

Why this insistence on a term that, contrary to assurances, has not shed its negativity? Some aver that the negativity is part of its charm, so to speak. It reflects the enduring appeal of rebellion and in-your-face tactics.

To outsiders, though, this current fashion signals abjection, the deliberate embrace of self-disparagement. Such self-contempt looks very much like internalized homophobia.

At all events, the term was mainly popular among academics and some movement types. Chapters of the organization known as Queer Nation or Queer Planet, never very robust, seem all to have expired. The q-word never enjoyed much popularity among the gay and lesbian masses, for whom recourse to queer seemed, well, "queer."

The promulgation of the queer label had a subtext. This was disapproval of assimilationism, the tendency of many younger gay men and lesbians to adopt coupled, suburban lifestyles that are outwardly little different from those of their heterosexual neighbors. This "bourgeois" trend is a tempting target, yet proponents of free choice should welcome a development that expands the horizon of lifestyle choices. By the same token, though, this acknowledgment should not involve a historical and cultural falsification that seeks to suppress the camp exuberance and nonconformism that gay men and lesbians have evolved over the generations as coping strategies. In that sense some element of queerness will always linger. What is objectionable, though, is the pars-pro-toto strategy that identifies this strand of gay tradition with the whole.

It seems that both "queer" and "bourgeois," taken as exclusive, are extremes. Each individual should have the right of pursuing the particular segment of the spectrum of lifestyles that offers the greatest satisfaction.

There is a further question. In Queer Theory has the adjective in fact been detoxified? Some would say no, regarding the persistent negativity as a red flag. However, some advocates of Queer Theory hold that no detoxification is needed. The negativity is essential, signaling a transgressive refusal to accept society's norms. And that is a good thing--or so these theoreticians claim. (For further discussion of the term queer, see the critiques gathered by John Lauritsen at



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