- Religion Trouble
Queer theorists have trouble paying enough attention to queer religion—especially if the religion is Christian and the theorists Anglo-American. Their neglect is overdetermined. It results in part from the lingering disdain for religious topics in English-speaking, secular universities—from the suspicion that any familiar piety is a sort of dullness and theology a fancy name for irrational assertion. It owes something as well to the antireligious models that have governed so many strategies of queer activism from the late 1960s on. "The church is the enemy": a slogan equally useful for responding to Anita Bryant, the Catholic hierarchy's rejection of condoms despite AIDS, and today's "faith-based initiatives." The neglect can even act out the theorist's need to forget a religious upbringing or to reverse an embarrassing conversion during adolescence. [End Page 563]
However plausible these motives, they cannot justify neglecting religion at a moment when queer lives in many places are instructed and surrounded by it. One index of these circumstances is quantity of publication. An admittedly selective bibliography on religion and spirituality by the GLBT Round Table of the American Library Association lists some 220 books published just from 2000 through 2005.1 Many of them cover topics or questions that otherwise preoccupy queer theory. The most practical or pastoral of them gives evidence of the disciplined performance of sexualized subjectivities in rite, ritual, or sacrament; in sermons and moral correction; in hymn and icon. Even if the books were fewer or failed to treat topics central to queer theory, some of them would still be required reading for queer theorists. Religious discourses are often the medium, the atmosphere, for the rhetoric of sex-linked identities. In the United States, for example, all available languages for describing homoerotic desire are deformed by the polemic of the religious right. The polemic has shown a remarkable capacity for co-opting secular categories of sexuality (including psychoanalysis) and even liberatory programs for better sex (so long as they are blessed by marriage). Disdain for religion—or contempt for its crimes—is no longer enough, if it ever was, to protect one's thinking from the effects of religious polemic on basic terms.
The ubiquity of religious discourse about sexuality makes its relative absence in queer theory all the more puzzling. There seems to be some trouble here. Queer theory's avoidance of religion leads "time and again to a certain sense of trouble," as if the persistence of religious power to construct sex and gender might show that theory was so much revolutionary fantasy.2 As if the analysis of the historical constitution and mutability of sexed subjects or the diagnosis of heterosexual melancholy would be subsumed under religious speech once again and so reinscribe a religious power to make and manage desire. Trouble comes because queer theory means to occupy territory long held by religion, but also because it wants to deploy all-too-familiar habits of religious diagnosis and tropes of religious rhetoric. If "Saint = Foucault," could it be that queer theory = theology?3
That troubling question leads to others. In fact, there is more than enough disciplinary trouble to go around. Both queer theory and that privileged, normative religious speech known as theology are tangled in jealous relations with positivist cousin-disciplines: LGBT studies and religious studies, respectively. Studies means roughly the opposite in the two cases. In LGBT studies, the word has signaled an inclusive, affirmative discourse conducted chiefly by insiders, by those who claim one of the listed identities. In religious studies, the term has often implied the exclusion of insider perspectives. Queer theory can usually fit within LGBT studies, so long as it isn't too cerebral or strategically disruptive. Theology, [End Page 564] by many definitions, cannot fit within...