Queer: A Graphic History

Image of Queer: A Graphic History (Graphic Guides)
Release Date: 
November 14, 2016
Icon Books
Reviewed by: 

“Overall the book achieves its aim most efficiently and pleasurably, serving as an introduction to the academic world of Queer Theory . . .”

Queer: A Graphic History is a lucid little book that manages despite or because of its light-hearted format to provide clarity on the varied, sometimes contradictory, and still evolving meanings of the term queer, which can be used as a verb or a noun. Probably its most common usage as a verb is in “to queer the pitch” (not mentioned here); while as a noun it popularly denotes a male homosexual.

The authors are to be congratulated for recognizing that queer can be used as “a snappier and more encompassing word than the ever-extending LGBTTQQIA etc. alphabet soup,” though no doubt that proposal will not suit everyone. Perhaps only when we have a 26-letter acronym can everyone breathe a sigh of relief.

They also daringly suggest LG (BT) more accurately represents the reality that “LGBT rights agendas are usually driven by gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians.” One might also add that the full acronym is a convenient way for the dedicated heterosexual mainstream to lump together the dissidents, even though the agendas of the constituent parts, particularly BT, and let’s not forget, I, can be  rather different.

The book clearly illustrates the different strands of thought and disciplines that come together in queer theory by depicting influential thinkers and their thought bubbles. The graphic format lends itself very well to this approach and provides flexibility for the user who might want to read from beginning to end to get the full picture, or just to check on, for example, Gayle Rubin’s influential essay “Thinking Sex” or what Foucault or Butler really said.

The essence of queer theory is to break down binary thinking—such as man/woman, heterosexual/homosexual, right/wrong—and to challenge the notion of fixed identities based on gender or sexuality. In general queer theory uses queer as a verb; queer is something that we do, not what we are or are not. This approach also highlights the need to question and deconstruct hetero-normativity, and not make the “minority” the only subject of study, requiring explanation as an illness or a crime.

The book explores the tensions between queer theory and some feminisms, particularly between trans people and the TransExclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), who claim that trans individuals should challenge rigid gender roles rather than capitulating to the male-dominated society by mutilating themselves!

Queer theory is often challenged as being inaccessible and (believe it or not) simplistic in dismissing people’s lived realities with respect to discrimination based on race or poverty, and also to ignoring the power of and need for “identity” in people’s lives.

Overall the book achieves its aim most efficiently and pleasurably, serving as an introduction to the academic world of Queer Theory, and at the same time encouraging less binary and rigid thinking on a host of topics; just remember, “whatever you are considering is probably plural rather than singular (or binary?), and in process, rather than fixed or immutable”!