- Queer Bodies of Knowledge: Constructing Lesbian and Gay Studies
As the newest kid on the interdisciplinary block looking for legitimation (with not a little attitude), Lesbian/Gay or Queer Studies (depending upon one’s political affiliations) poses a number of obvious challenges to academia and publishers. One of these, of course, has to do with the strategic, if not essential, reliance of lesbian and gay studies on a particular kind of identity politics that parallels the institutional maneuvering of other “minority studies” programs. Indeed, lesbian and gay studies can be charted along much the same trajectory as Women’s, African-American, Asian-American or Latino/a Ethnic Studies, all of which were institutionalized (however tenuously in these times of “down-sizing” colleges) at historically specific moments at the conjuncture of their respective (and overlapping) political activism, cultural production, and scholarship. Indeed, lesbian/gay studies shares more with these other emergent subdisciplines than a certain path toward discursive legitimation within the academy (though this is not to suggest that the struggles of every field of study have all been identical). It also often shares theoretical frameworks, and even some specific objects of study. The Harlem Renaissance, for example, has been a recurring area of focus, as queer studies has sought to rethink cultural history in terms of the intersections of sexuality, class, gender, and race.
Begun as an inclusion of queer contributions to history here, a special topics course on lesbian and gay “coming out” literature there, and a rigorous theoretical interrogation of sexuality as a constitutive category of subject formation elsewhere, queer studies has reached critical mass in the “gay nineties.” This is evident in the increasing number of gay and lesbian studies undergraduate programs in and across the various humanistic disciplines; the special collections at university and large public libraries from coast to coast; and the critical/theoretical work on the cultural inscriptions of sexuality, much of which would be far more difficult to assemble without the explosive production of identifiably, often “in your face,” queer culture, most especially in literature/comics, theater/performance, music, the visual arts, film/video, and popular style/fashion. My emphasis here on popular cultural productions should not indicate that queer studies traffics exclusively in the popular (though the intersection of queer and popular is an intriguing one), as any study of homoclassics or anthrodrag surely indicates.
Perhaps nothing suggests the critical materiality of lesbian and gay studies more substantially than the queer line of critical and theoretical work coordinated by Routledge, cagey publisher to the stars of queer theory. Indeed, as hefty as Routledge’s two anthologies delineating the field of Cultural Studies, and with much the same cutting-edge rationale guiding its journey through the contestatory fields of academic discourse, the compendium anthology, The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, establishes itself as an indispensable introduction to the field, at least as it is determined within the (inter)disciplinary boundaries of the arts and humanities. Published just two years after Inside/Out (a collection of essays theorizing lesbian and gay sexual politics and culture edited by Diana Fuss and published by Routledge in 1991), How Do I Look? (the conference proceedings from “How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video” organized and edited by Bad Object Choices) and the “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities” issue of the journal differences (edited by Teresa de Lauretis), The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader collects forty-two contemporary essays from a variety of disciplines, many of them no doubt known to readers from their previously published incarnations in journals. I mention the earlier collections because they were all distinguished by a theoretical approach that might be broadly defined as that of “cultural studies,” an approach that The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader has not merely adopted but sought to extend by encompassing an even wider range of disciplines and sites of investigation.
Indeed, The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader is in many...