Queer political work might appear to be grounded in a theory of structurelessness, at least as it relates to the making of an imagined queer community/movement organized around the need to alleviate the unbending boundaries and centers of sexual identification. Yet it is also true that queer communities can be limited by the very ways they are structured by and constituted through race, class, ability, and other forms of social categorization. Critics have rightly asked, for example, what is at stake in the life of the queer who is not white, able bodied, cis-male, or “naturalized” as a U.S. citizen within a queer (mostly U.S. based) political movement organized around supposed visions of structurelessness? To what extent does this “structureless” politics of identity attend to the needs of those who exist within the margins—the structure of the other—of an already interstitial space? What is a stake for the queers of the queers within a movement that might easily establish centers even as it seeks to destabilize the same?
E. Patrick Johnson offers the following query in response to the failures of academic queer theory in the way that it attends to the material needs of the multiply marginalized: “What, for example, are the ethical and material implications of queer theory if its project is to dismantle all notions of identity and agency? The deconstructive turn in queer theory highlights the ways in which ideology functions to oppress and to proscribe ways of knowing, but what is the utility of queer theory on the front lines, in the trenches, on the street, or any place where the racialized and sexualized body is beaten, starved, fired, cursed—indeed, where the body is the site of trauma?” (2001, 5).
In what follows, I revisit Jo Freeman’s essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” [End Page 257] and complicate her specific turn to structure. More specifically, I offer thoughts on queer political work and the ways that the “queer” serves as a sign for structurelessness even while queer movements might easily prompt tacit and direct forms of remarginalization through a privileging of structurelessness. In other words, queerness seeks to raze some structures and fortify others. But what is the utility, if any, of structures within queer movement work when “structurelessness” is something of a byword for queer culture and politics? I argue that rethinking the development of structures helps to theorize forms of intervention, which allow for the naming and organizing against forms of remarginalization, in a queer theoretical project that is predominantly organized around whiteness.
Queer Theory and Queer Political Work: Against Structure
Queerness, in theory, is poststructural. Quite literally, queer theory is a theoretical project that is shaped by the critical insights of philosophers like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler (among others) who criticized structuralist paradigms by calling into question the limiting and rigid notion of conceptual structures (i.e., binary oppositions and its reinforcement of the sign/signifier/signified dynamic) imposed by and evidenced through language, discourse, and law.
Queer theory also illuminates the ways that ideology (and its structuring impulses) works itself out in the domain of the material. In the Derridean poststructuralist sense, queerness implies a theoretical process of deconstruction or, rather, a move to interrogate and unknot rigid hegemonic sexual logics and representations perpetuated by and sustained through discourse and state regulation. Indeed, queerness is antagonistic to processes of order and regulation. And in the ACT-UP protest model, queerness similarly guided counterhegemonic resistance—a move to protest against and destabilize structures of “normative” sexualities and relationality as they shape the ways we exist in the world as gendered beings. Queerness, in praxis, is antistructure.
Thus, queerness is a political posture that ostensibly seeks to redress, if not wholly resist, structure at the level of ideology as well as the level of the material, that is, human life. In this regard, Michael Warner notes, “The preference for ‘queer’ represents, among other things, an aggressive impulse generalization; it rejects a minoritizing logic of toleration or simple political interest-representation in favor of a more thorough resistance [End Page 258] to regimes of the...