What is Queer Theory?

Hello dear readers!

I have had a few questions recently about some of the terms that we use here often at Looking For Pemberley. Although many of the terms that I use range from academic to very informal, made-up words, there area  few that I think you should know about when you are reading posts here. I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

So, I’ve decided that I will start a “definitions” post series, so you can familiarize yourself with some potentially unfamiliar terms.

In the future, look under the “defined” category to find the posts in this vein.


Let’s start with the term Queer Theory, as I have had a few questions about that.

For many people who grew up when the word “queer” was pejorative, this term may seem a little alarming. Really, queer is not a bad word.

Queer theory came out of gender studies, which derived from feminism, and is used as a lens or framework to view different media or texts, such as works of art or books, for example.

It is a type of theory that challenges binary constructions like “male” and ‘female,” but is not at all limited to gender. One of the reasons many people may be confused about what queer theory actually is, is because it has so many applications. Scholars and others often use the ideas from “queer theorists” such as Judith Butler and Jack Halberstam and Chandan Reddy (as mentioned previously here) to understand and question any given text, ideology, simplistic construction, or social situation.

Queer theory can be a very freeing tool, and remains politically important, because it also allows for personal identity to fluctuate, and resists definition of who we are as people, what makes us the way we are, and what we can or should prescribe to.

I myself am very interested in queer theory and studied it in school, so if you have questions about it, feel free to continue asking!

Also, if you have anything to add, please pitch in through the comment section or e-mail me from the “about” page! I would love to hear your personal definitions.

I also have some resources that I think will help you understand the purpose and goals of Queer Theory listed below that might help.

Queer Theory

Theory Org

Queer by Choice link database


Have a great weekend!

Miss E


11 comments on “What is Queer Theory?

  1. babso2you says:

    I think that I understand this. My professor in Human Sexuality quickly showed 3 slides in rapid succession. Then she asked us what we saw. The slides were boys and girls in non-traditional settings. One was a slide of a boy and girl in the kitchen. The girl had on a baseball hat and uniform the boy was wearing the apron and held a spatula. Most folks saw the girl baking the cookies and the boy in the baseball hat. The slide rejected the traditional categories of gender. I know that this covers part of it, and leaves out the sexuality, or does it?

    • Right on the money! That exercise is definitely an example of queer theory at work, and sounds like it was really interesting and effective in class! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      • babso2you says:

        I learned so much in that class and it was just amazing! I was also in my early 30’s when I finished up, and I walked into the class and everyone got quiet. They thought I was the teacher!

  2. Doug says:

    I never studied Queer Theory, but it sounds pretty manageable to apply. If I’m getting this, it only asks you to erase one boundary– view a situation independent of gender– and see what emerges. (As opposed to, say, existentialism which erases all boundaries, demands that you see a situation independent of everything, and your head explodes.)

    What would you say are good novels for applying Queer Theory, besides the obvious Middlesex by Eugenides?

    • I actually think that Queer Theory has the potential to subvert and destabilize any mode of identity that is shown to be fixed, because a “queer” element lies outside definition of any kind, so in some ways it can be viewed as similar to existentialism. However, I do think that gender (especially because it is the example that Queer Theory began with) is the easiest one to deconstruct.

      Queer theory is actually applicable to any novel. For example, with the gender role confusion, Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels are great for gender bending characters.

    • Carmen says:

      I’m doing a few “queer theory” projects right now and came across Queer Theory an Introduction by Annamarie Jagose and it is a very accessible read about the creation of queer theory and critical debates (up to 1996 when the book was published). It is a little dated but still very useful. I’ve been looking into queer literature lately and in addition to Middlesex there are many novelists and poets who identified as gay or lesbian who wrote about gender. I keep thinking of the cross-dressing scene in Charlotte Bronte’s Vilette and the close friendship in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The writers Djuna Barnes, Charlotte Mew, and Sarah Orne Jewett might be useful. There are also many books that have traditionally been interpreted as heterosexual but can be looked at through a queer lens, like Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I haven’t yet read Lover by Bertha Harris but I’ve heard its good too.

  3. Cool idea. I’m sure there are words and phrases throughout my blog that are obscure or composed deep within my head.

    Personally, I still find the word “queer” to be offensive. I guess when you hear it a gazillion times as a child it holds a special meaning.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yeah, that is definitely understandable that you feel a negative association with “queer.” I was messaging with another reader who had a similar reaction,because of how it was used when she was growing up. Words have a lot of power, and although the meaning we apply to them changes over time, I know that if I grew up hearing that word as pejorative I would probably feel uncomfortable with it for life.

  4. matchsoul says:

    Just wish to say your information is as astounding. The clearness in your post is just cool and i can assume you are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the rewarding work.

    • Hi! Wow- thank you so much for the compliment! It is one of my many interests, and I actually feel like I am still a student learning more about QT and how it applies to life and texts every day- this is a whole body of work that you could spend a lifetime studying. Thank you for stopping by, and please do follow the blog. I hope you like it!

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