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April 04, 2013


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I. Glenn Cohen

Great post Jeff. Two questions: (1) Can you offer us a succinct definition of what you mean by "queer" (which seems for you to be interestingly identitarian). I think many people who encounter the term outside law and sexuality or sexuality studies don't know what it means, or think it means something different from what you think it means. (2) From what normative frame would we determine with the break up of the LGBTQ coalition would be a good or bad thing?

Orin Kerr

Glenn asks two very good questions. If I may ask a third: What do you mean when you say that you have been "dismayed at the ongoing attempts to erase those of us who are queer (Q)." Specifically, what does it mean to "erase" a person?


Since almost everyone has a sexuality and gender how can there be a caucus of something that is universal? It's like having a caucus of human vertebrates - in their effort to be inclusive they've erased themselves.

Jeff Redding

Glenn, thanks for your questions. I understand queer to involve a perspective that is interested in exploring the non-normative (which, like the normative, shifts over time) and also one that places a high value on social diversity and pluralism and is, hence, suspicious of assimilation. In that sense, queer is ideological, and also, yes, often identitarian; unlike many queer theorists, I'm not afraid of identity and don't think it is necessarily a threat to queer politics. The queer critique of mainstream gay/lesbian (or 'GL') politics understands 'gay' and 'lesbian' to also be, at least in part, ideological identities, namely ones interested in preserving and propagating conservative institutions (namely marriage and the military). That being said, I don't mean to essentialize, and there can be intersectionality even here; so you might see, for example, 'queer lesbians,'gay queers' (GQs!), etc.

I don't have a good answer for your second question, but me say that I don't see anything inevitable here other than that the Human Rights Campaign et al. ("Gay, Inc.") will never fight as hard for an independent right to "civil unions" as they have for "marriage." Let me also say that, to be honest, I'm not sure what ties G&Ls with the Qs anymore *at all,* though the situation is different in different states, with there perhaps being more affinity between everyone in 'conservative' states (e.g. Missouri) and less affinity in liberal states (e.g. Massachusetts).

Thoughts? Thank for your questions again!

Jeff Redding

Orin, thanks for your question. I am using 'erase' more in the pencil/gum eraser sense than the Microsoft word sense... the pencil marks never get completely erased by the gum eraser, and continue to speak even when others don't want them to and are dismayed and angry at their existence (hence the furious rubbing action with the gum eraser). With Microsoft Word it's easier to just completely get rid of the offending sentence/remarks/typos. Not sure if that helps...

Jake Stevens

I couldn't agree more. My take, which I shared both with the head of the Caucus, and with friends, was : "I just was notified the Harvard Alumni Gay and Lesbian Caucus has renamed itself "the Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus." "Gender and Sexuality" sounds like an academic department, not a community. I fought for visibility and proud self-definition as a member and co-chairperson of the then Gay and Lesbian Student Association in 1982-86. The new name obscures that we are defined (many of us) by a specific sexual orientation or transgressive gender identify. All humans have gender. All humans have sexuality. But not all are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Perhaps we have reached some post-queer world where the Caucus can dive into a tepid pool of universal inclusiveness. But the name of the Caucus will no longer be a clear statement that "we are here and we are queer." I'm not sure I can get used to it."

Orin Kerr

Thanks, Jeff. So to "erase" a person means to marginalize them in a debate, I gather?

Jeff Redding

Orin, yes, 'marginalize' is a good alternative way of getting at what I was trying to express here.

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