The winners and losers may change, but the game is always the same: to dethrone whatever today’s dominant categories might be, whether of heterosexuality, whiteness, or the gender binary. It is categorical stability, not the categories themselves, that is the real enemy.
In a recent New York Times opinion column, Pamela Paul makes an impassioned argument for why we should continue to use the word “gay” rather than “queer.” Not all gay people identify as queer, she correctly claims, and the Q-word’s rise to dominance thereby risks downgrading or eliminating them. Paul is not the first to notice this issue as affecting gay individuals. And her point is similar to that made by gender-critical feminists such as Germaine Greer and J. K. Rowling, who see trans ideology as destroying female identity, and therefore as inflicting harm upon women.
Who could have seen any of this coming? The answer, of course, is anybody who was actually paying attention. The theoretical foundations of the sexual revolution always and unabashedly aimed at dismantling traditional sexual codes and identities. And there is a fundamental incoherence in an alliance that requires affirmation of the gender binary in the L, the G, and the B whilst emphatically denying it in the T and Q.
The problem is, of course, that despite the rhetoric of inclusion with which queer theory cloaks itself, queerness is not very inclusive. It is not the category that includes all other categories. Quite the contrary. It is the category that destabilizes, subverts, and thereby ultimately excludes all other categories. A more imperious, imperialist, and all-corrosive concept is actually difficult to imagine. Indeed, it is hard to put the issue more pointedly than Paul does herself:
Queer theory is about deliberately breaking down normative categories around gender and sex, particularly binary ones like men and women, straight and gay. Saying you’re queer could mean you’re gay; it could mean you’re straight; it could mean you’re undecided about your gender or that you prefer not to say. Saying you’re queer could mean as little as having kissed another girl your sophomore year at college. It could mean you valiantly plowed through the prose of Judith Butler in a course on queerness in the Elizabethan theater.
In short, queer theory means that you could be saying anything you want about yourself and are therefore communicating nothing stable or meaningful at all.