PRIDE. The contemporary period, in which we live, is surely the time of concern and value for marginalised, differentiated or alienated individuals. There is a huge rise in the representations of gay, lesbian, transsexual, queer individuals in literature, cinema and media. Instagram has been flowing with LGTBQ+ accounts, RuPaul has created 11 seasons of Drag Race with an immensely growing number of audiences, Queer Eye has gone viral since its first episode. However, the rapid development of technology harms the mindsets of our people and we see them using queer vocabularies without knowing the meaning of words. I go along with the idea that academy can be boring sometimes, but I’ll at least try to summarise or storify the source of which queer theory has taken its inspiration and, in this desire, I’ll give place to some important names and concepts.
Have we forgotten about the patriarchy?
To say that women are naturally inferior, irrational, dependent, wives and mothers is nothing but a social construct.
First and foremost, one of the most influential movements for queer theory to come out was the female resistance starting from the 18–19th century. The protests against oppressive patriarchy were groundbreaking events for history to change its course. Many people were in the streets to question the unfair marginalisation and disdain towards the female sex. While activists, writers and theorists were inquiring why the females were treated as inferior, why they were not given voice to speak or what the real female identity meant; these groups found themselves in the conclusion that the representation of female, until that period, was nothing but a political reflection in the patriarchal discourse. Moreover, gender roles had nothing to do with being female or male; they were given by culture just to construct male and female in the way that the society in question wanted to see them. Then, several feminist activists were out to declare a very simple fact: to say that women have two breasts and one vagina is to say something about their biological nature; however, to say that women are naturally inferior, irrational, dependent, wives and mothers is nothing but a social construct.
The perception that women’s identity was constituted by the artificial norms of society such as they had to be obedient, stay at home to produce children and take care of domestic responsibilities led individuals to two important turning points. First of them, they asked why on earth women were allowing the patriarchy to suppress them. Weren’t they aware of these artificial constructs? How could they accept that they were inferior? Secondly, who decided the roles which male and female were supposed to take on?
Language as the Most Effective Weapon
So, there was a heaven-sent philosopher, historian, theorist and literary critic: Michel Foucault, who dedicated himself to expose false hierarchies, artificial borders and illegitimate usurpations of power. As Foucault stated, we were internalised with cultural artefacts due to our culture’s discourse. We had to use knowledge to get rid of our ignorant state; however, we used it to spy on and categorise others and ourselves. Thus, the language had been used as instruments of power and social oppression. Because of discourse, women and coloured people were regarded as inferior. Binary oppositions that asserted the white men’s superiority were turned into factual knowledge. In its consequence, we all became instruments of the discourses of our cultures in which we were internalised. What’s more, we reproduced the power of discourses in our everyday lives.
Well, since it was already recognised that the attributed domestic roles of women were constructed by culture, this recognition led theorists to a more precise awareness: if women, I emphasize not females, were formed artificially; so were men. If women were forced to be seen as weak, inferior, dependent and childish; then men were carrying the burden that they had to be powerful, superior and rational. They were not allowed to feel and cry.
The aforementioned superficial cultures have created borders for the central and marginal groups beyond any doubt. We’ve started to see cultures as natural and powerful enough to govern us. Such as women in a patriarchal culture, coloured persons in a white supreme society; the non-heterosexual group was also marginalised, labelled and isolated. But we know we’re born naked, nobody comes to the world with a label written on their foreheads. So, the terms such as homosexual and the assertion, which homosexuality was abnormal and it was a disease, were created by authoritarian and oppressive groups to be able to have power over different individuals. The word “homosexual” indeed was coined in 1869. For Foucault, sexuality was also turned into a discourse by dominantly Western culture to operate as an instrument of power. In other words, homosexuality became a new type of knowledge with regard to sexuality in the 19th century. At this point, comes one of the most prominent theorists comes into the play: Judith Butler.
Our Genders as Theatrical Performances
Departing from Foucault’s power and discourse, Judith Butler has made clear that all terms regarding sexuality were not natural, in fact, there is no natural sexuality. The term ‘natural sexuality’ has been just randomly and traditionally attributed to heterosexuality and there is no stable relationship between biological male and female. Neither it means that a specific gender has to have a specific desire. So, the categorisation of gender has been deconstructed to get rid of its binary frame. Eventually, Butler asserts that since heterosexuality is not the ‘normal’ type of sexuality, it is a performance. Why do we mean by ‘performance’? Well, she means that heterosexuality is just a repetition of certain acts, which have been dictated specifically for both sexes. There is no real gender identity within ourselves, we just behave according to the norms that the institutions have created for us, without our willing and knowing. We just express these norms’ results.
The features of being a man and women are just theatrical effects which we perform in our everyday lives not to be separated from society. We can determine our sense of gender to the extent that social norms enable us. In other words, the terms to define our gender are always beyond ourselves in an environment that has no single author. The livability of our personhood is made dependent on social norms, we try to adopt the heterosexual identities because we want to be visible as ‘real’ person. Since the meaning of ‘real’ is given heteronormative society, what we adopt is just inauthentic identities. Long and the short of it, we become fake in the desire to validate ourselves. Naturally, the terms such as masculine and feminine and their meanings change depending upon their cultural constraints. Sexuality can never be captured by any regulation, that’s why gender designation becomes something never to be settled.
Taken together, it is an undeniable fact that sexual categorisation has been used as a tool of power against humanity and those who haven’t met the condition of the heteronormative category have been abused, harassed, victimised. Queer theory’s contribution to our cultural understandings has become to denaturalise and destabilise all sexual -artificial- categories. Moreover, it has deconstructed the centrality of heterosexuality and it has demonstrated that there is nothing to prove heterosexuality’s naturalness. It has taught us that we do not need to conform to the heterosexual norms. In this special month, we appreciate queer theorists, activists, academics once again for paving the way for us and we return our thanks to them.
Happy Pride, folks!