Queer theory is an interdisciplinary field of study that emerged in the early 1990s and has become a major area of research within the humanities and social sciences.

The term “queer” in queer theory is used to refer to sexual acts and/or identities that are considered outside of the norm.

Queer studies is not limited to LGBT literature, film, and art. It can be applied to many things.

Queer studies look at how systems of power affect society and its members.

queer theory

What Is queer theory?

Queer theory is a field of post-structuralist critical theory that emerged in the early 1990s out of the fields of queer studies and women’s studies.

Queer theory includes both queer readings of texts and the theorization of ‘queerness’ itself.

Queer theory is closely related to gender studies, LGBT studies, and sexuality studies, and similarly, queer theorists draw on a range of disciplines including sociology, anthropology, history, literary criticism, art history, psychoanalysis and philosophy.



What Is Queer Theory?

“Queer theory is a set of critical theories, originally developed by LGBT people, which examine the intersectional construction of sexual identity and its political, cultural, legal and historical expression” (Bowman). Queer theory is an area of study that examines the fluidity of sexuality and gender.

By doing so, it explores the social construction that assigns gender identity to physical sex.

The study of gender, sex, and sexuality was largely dominated by the work of feminists for the first half of the 20th century. By the 1980s, feminist scholars began shifting their focus to consider masculinity as a potential area for study.

This shift prompted men’s studies to emerge as an interdisciplinary field of academic research.

As knowledge spread about men’s issues, there was also a growing awareness that feminism did not fully address male-dominated issues.

Men’s studies were often looked at with skepticism by other feminists and women who believed that these studies could be used to further oppress women.

Partially in response to this skepticism, a group of scholars formed the Queer Studies Group at UC Berkeley in 1990.

Implications Of Queer Theory

Queer theory is a relatively new intellectual movement that has exploded in the last two decades. The term queer itself was coined in the late 1980s as a political act, to reclaim sexual orientation from the medical establishment and political forces that had sought to contain it to heterosexuality.

Queer theory is, at heart, an approach to studying sexuality that seeks to destabilize binary categories like gay/straight and male/female. It first emerged out of a critique of existing theories of human sexuality by gay activists who were largely white, male, and middle-class.


The framework was soon adopted by academics in the field of gender studies, who were seeking to understand how cultural assumptions about sexuality impact all aspects of our social lives: work, family life, politics, etc. It’s important to note that queer theory is distinct from other schools of thought around gender and sexuality.

In its early years, it was sometimes confused with postmodernism because both were critical of traditional notions of sexual identity. However, queer theory takes a more activist approach than postmodernism; it seeks to challenge normative ideas about sexuality rather than simply pointing out their contradictions.

Queer Theory In Popular Culture

Queer theory is a movement that seeks to break down the binary opposition of heterosexuality and homosexuality. The queer theory challenges the idea that there is an inherent “right” or “wrong” way to be queer.

One of the core concepts of queer theory is the idea that gender expression and sexuality are fluid, not fixed. Queer theory has many challenges for feminists because it challenges the idea that there is one, singular gender identity (constructed from a male/female dichotomy) as well as challenges the concept of essentialism, which assumes that masculine equals masculine, feminine equals feminine, gay equals gay, and so on.

The development of queer theory can be traced back to three key figures: Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, and Michel Foucault.

Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble” was published in 1990; this text supported the notion that gender was constructed through repeated performance of behaviors associated with what we consider to be masculine or feminine.

Eve Sedgwick was an early advocate of queer theory who emphasized its usefulness as a tool for understanding sexuality and society at large.

Michel Foucault coined the term “Queer Theory” in 1969. He studied power structures in society, which he theorized were interconnected with sexuality.

Examples Of Queer Theory

We all have different ways of learning and understanding things. These examples show what other people think about Queer Theory.

The examples in this article are just a few of the many that you will find when searching online. Some people may not agree with everything that is said or done, but they show how many people see queer theory.

One example of queer theory is the idea of gender performance. Gender performance shows how we act a certain way because of our sexual identity.

For example, people who are gay may act in a way similar to those who are straight, but maybe more feminine or masculine than what others think is normal for their sex.


Queer Theory In Film

You’ve probably already heard of Eve Sedgwick’s groundbreaking “Epistemology Of The Closet”, which was published in 1990. In it, she lays out the central premise of queer theory in film criticism: namely, that “the most important feature” of homosexuality is its suppression as a discourse.

Now, this kind of suppression doesn’t stop queer people from existing—it just means that their presence is often felt only as an absence of texts.

This absence can take the form of an erasure (a character who could be queer is more likely to be straight), or a distortion (queer themes are repressed and changed into something more palatable to mass audiences).

Theorists such as Sedgwick have pointed out that one way of thinking about this repression is through the metaphor of the closet.

If homosexuality is suppressed as a discourse, then it makes sense for queers themselves to metaphorically “come out” as LGBTI people—to reject the closet and speak openly about their sexuality and gender identity.

It’s not just film critics who have taken up this idea; many activists have found it useful too.

Examples Of Queer Theory In Film

Tobias Segal wrote an article for the Huffington Post about queer theory in film.


He discusses how having two mainstream lesbian or gay characters in a film does not make it queer. Segal argues that only by having characters who don’t fit into the binary gender system can we consider a film queer.

A truly queer film is one where different aspects of sexuality are allowed to be explored and presented in new ways. We can see this in cinema through many examples, but most notably in “The Crying Game”.

This movie can show that sexuality lies on a spectrum between heterosexuality and homosexuality. The main character falls in love with a man but ultimately falls for his girlfriend because of her feminine qualities.

It is shown later on in the film that she had been assigned a male at birth but identifies as female.

Future Of Queer Theory

Queer theory is a school of thought that considers how gender and sexuality are constructed in different social, cultural, and historical contexts. Toward the end of the 20th century, queer theory emerged as a critique of the limitations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) studies.

The field considers how power and oppression are contingent on gender and sexuality in any given culture. The emergence of queer theory as an academic field was unexpected; its origins lie in LGBT activism.

In particular, it has its roots in the AIDS activism of the 1980s and 1990s. Activists made a connection between their experiences with homophobia—in particular, how their sexuality was policed by both legal systems and social norms—and those of past oppressed groups such as African Americans.

Those connections led to a reconsideration of sexual orientation itself, particularly within feminist circles. For example, some feminists argued lesbians were not merely women who didn’t want to be burdened by men, but that they were potentially men who were being forced into a subordinate role for the good of society: namely, by reproducing.

Queer Theory Terminology

A lot of the jargon that is used in queer theory can seem intimidating at first. This can be confusing for anyone who is trying to learn about the topic for the first time.

Here are some definitions of common terms that you will see when reading about queer theory.

Targets and Subjects: Targets are people who are accepted as valid by society. They are also known as “ablers” because they can function within a society because of their normative gender and sexual identities.

A subject is someone who does not fit into the normal target role, meaning they do not identify with the gender or sex they were assigned at birth. Other words that fall under this category include transgender, transsexual and intersex.

Subculture: A subculture is a group of people who identify with each other based on similar things such as race, sexual orientation, religion, or hobbies. The term was derived from the word culture, which refers to the shared beliefs and behaviors of a group of people, according to Dictionary.com. Examples of subcultures include goths, hippies, and rockers.

Substruction: Substruction refers to a process that involves subversive activities or ideas designed to undermine, overturn or overthrow social norms or institutions to create a new reality or change current trends.