Critical practices that consider instability and indeterminacy as characteristic of discourse and subjectivity. Theories that problematizes “’normal’ heterosexuality” and valorise “a variable, contingent, and multiple sexuality whose mobility and potentiality is signalled by the worlds of possibility opened up by gays and lesbians”. There is a close and natural affiliation between this and the previous section in that feminism posits the semiotic or “pre-Symbolic Imaginary order [as] a realm of bisexual/androgynous/polymorphous sexuality” prior to the subject’s entry into the male-centred Symbolic order where, among other things, sexuality undergoes a process of normativization towards ‘normal heterosexuality’.The problematization of sexuality contained in such theories as the semiotic or écriture féminine suggested a departure from a fixed, imposed binary heteronormativity (man/woman) in favor of the notion of sexuality as something that is constructed by such variables as social norms and exigencies, ideology, culture, history. Foucault’s declarations in The History of Sexuality (1976) that “Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy to a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species”, inspired much of gay theory.
This section will deconstruct and explore (explodes), the masculine/feminine binary supporting patriarchal assumptions about sexuality, gender and sex. And as Barbara Smith, makes clear, academic inquiry into the nature of feminism and sexual identity cannot be disengaged from other contingencies such as race.
Gender designates the dynamic that accommodates a provisional, fluid identity in which biological (or genital) identity and socially constructed (or performed, according to leading theorist in gender studies, Judith Butler) masculinity or feminity need not concur: “There is no guarantee that what one is identified as being (biologically or culturally male or female) will line up in a predictable and necessary way with a particular set of sexual behaviours or psychological dispositions or social practices”. Studies that focus on gender also challenge essentializing feminist discourse and its proposition that (women’s) gendered identities are ‘real’ or ‘natural’ or occupy a pre-social or pre-civilizational realm which lies in close bond with nature. Judith Butler proposes gender be considered as a signifying practice: we ‘do’ or ‘perform’ gender, relying on the repetition of words and acts.
Gay and lesbian studies have found common cause with the feminists as well as with gender theorists, gay and lesbian theory has trained its sights on gender formations as a whole, arguing that “heterosexuality can be understood as forming a continuum with homosexuality” since “the male bonding that sutures patriarchy is necessarily homophilic and forms a continuum with homosexuality”
Traditional gender or sexual binaries were unstable, variable and historically contingent (indeed, that everyone was potentially gay) pointed the way towards queer theory.
‘Queer’, a heterosexist term of abuse designating homosexuals, was reclaimed by gay and lesbian militants as a self-referential term or token of pride to describe their (marginal) positionality with regard to the dominant heterosexist culture. By the 1990s queer theory was operating as an expression and exploration of “sexual plurality and gender ambivalence” in the field of cultural production. Analytic inquiry was no longer –or not only- limited to gay and lesbian orthodoxies or fixed sexualities but broadened to consider alternative sexualities such as drag or camp], cross-dressing or transvestism which in turn, through their representational or performative nature, uphold the non-biological nature of gender construction. Throughout, ‘queer’ scholars have pushed the argument that hetero- and homosexuality operate on the same continuum on which the point demarcating normativity from non-normativity is variable and contingent. The intersection among gender, gay/lesbian and queer theories, and that of these theories with New Historicism, cultural studies and feminist theories underline the interdisciplinary nature of poststructuralist critical theory.


Gender Studies, Queer Theory, Gay/Lesbian Studies

In the late 1960s, gay and lesbian scholars silent regarding their sexuality or the presence of homosexual themes in literature began to speak. Their work brings into being a new school of gender theory in the 1980s. Gender critics, inspired by Foucault’s work on the history of sexuality, began to study gender and sexuality as discursive and historical institutions. Gender Theory and Gay/Lesbian Studies,–Queer Theory- which linked gay/lesbian scholarship to such public concerns as HIV/AIDS. Gender and gay/lesbian theorists are concerned with unearthing a hidden tradition of homosexual writing and with examining the gender dynamics of canonical literature.
The building of a counter-tradition is difficult. There have been many gay writers –from Sappho to Tennessee Williams- but few of them wrote openly about their lives and experiences. Heterosexual culture was intolerant of gay perspectives; women were put in the attic for being “mad,” gays were put in jail for being “perverse.” Wilde is the most famous example, but Elizabeth Bishop and Henry James who remained “in the closet” were more common.
Much gay/lesbian work is concerned with tradition building, but gay critics also interrogate the very notion of sexual identity and question the logic of gender categorization. They question the relation of gender categories to sexuality and physiology. The relation of such categories as masculine and feminine to such stable bodily and psychological identities as male and female or man and woman is contingent and historical. Traits like masculine and feminine circulate quite freely in combination with biological appearances and sexual choices, but the meaning of each of the terms is variable and changes both culturally and historically. If class and race are included, the meanings proliferate further. There is no guarantee that what one is identified as being (either biologically or culturally male or female) will line up with a particular set of sexual behaviours or psychological dispositions or social practices. The normative alignment of male and female with heterosexual masculinity or femininity in the dominant gender culture must be seen as a political rather than a biological fact. They question the opposition between heterosexual and homosexual, interrogating the identity of each and the hierarchical relation (mainstream and margin) between the two; they are differentially connected moments of a continuum that includes numerous other possible variations. Heterosexuality contains a moment of homosexuality, when the child identifies with the parent of the same sex, or when heterosexual men relate to each other while competing over women, and homosexuality comprises both masculinity and femininity, in mixed and variable amounts.
Such possible variations are crushed by the dominant, normative discourses regarding gender and sexuality, which enforce what they describe. The dominant discourses assume that there are stable identities such as masculine and feminine or man and woman or heterosexual and homosexual, that give rise to the discourses that describe them. But such identities are produced by discourse and by cultural representation. The alignment of dominant discourse with stable identities –as in compulsory heterosexuality- is the result of a politically enforced naturalization of a particular contingent style or form of sexuality that comes to be mistaken for an originating ground through constant repetition and rote learning]. Normatively heterosexual men are masculine and heterosexual women are feminine because the reigning cultural discourses instruct them in behavior appropriate to the dominant gender representations and norms, stigmatizing non-normative behavior. Alternative sexual practices to heterosexual genital contact, for example, are in certain places strictly enjoined. The identities of male or female and the norms of reproductive sexuality are effects of enforcement procedures that operate through cultural and legal discourse, privileging certain object choices and psychological dispositions while denigrating others. Gender identities as “woman” are not pre-discursive foundations but normalizing injunctions produced by discursive performances.
Continuities between a variety of sexual practices across a variety of possible gender formulations (masculine lesbian, masculine heterosexual woman, feminine gay man, feminine heterosexual man, etc.) are erased and subsumed to enforced norms of oppositional identity (either masculine heterosexual or feminine heterosexual, either heterosexual or homosexual). Connected, related terms are displaced in favor of essential, total identities. They substitute an entire representation –lesbian- for a plurality of connected gender and sexual possibilities that might include lesbian as one moment but that are not fully reducible to such categorical singularity. Lesbian is internally differentiated into a plurality of possibilities (varieties of feminine, varieties of masculine, etc.) and externally differentiated through its connection to or disconnection from a plurality of other possibilities. It is not a singular totality that stands opposed to another singular totality –the normative heterosexual woman, for example, who in any event generally engages in relations that contain homosexual components, as do men with men.
Gender Studies also examines the structures of male heterosexual oppression, both cultural and social, that have contributed to the marginalization and exclusion of homosexuality. The more rigorous forms of heterosexual masculinity originate in sexual panic, a fear or anxiety in heterosexual men regarding their sexual identities. The cultural and social violence exercised against homosexuals originates in part from the instability of heterosexual identity, a fear that such identity may be a contingent construct that serves as a defensive bulwark against a potentially overwhelming reality of diverse sexual choices and identity possibilities that exist simultaneously in the self and in society. Gender Studies has analyzed the repressed “homosocial” strains that motivate the heterosexual tradition’s construction of compulsory heterosexuality and normative masculinity.
One of the most interesting and subversive approaches to develop out of gay/lesbian and gender theory – Queer Theory- pushes this point even further. Homosexuality is not an identity apart from heterosexuality. Everyone is potentially gay, and only the imprinting of heterosexual norms cuts away those potentials and manufactures heterosexuality as the dominant sexual format. Yet latent and suppressed homosexuality is queered into being in the various kinds of homophilia central to heterosexual culture, from football to film star identification. Sexual transitivity is stilled for the sake of the labor of large-scale species reproduction, but in the realms of cultural play, the excess of desire and identification over norm and rule testify to more plural potentials.


Feminist and Queer Theory
Feminist criticism: part of the broader feminist political movement that seeks to rectify sexist discrimination and inequalities. Feminist theory and criticism: revolutionary change to literary and cultural studies by expanding the canon, by critiquing sexist representation and values, by stressing the importance of gender and sexuality, by proposing institutional and social reforms. Theorists of a “feminist aesthetic” argue that women have a literature of their own, possessing its own images, themes, characters, forms, styles, and canons. Elaine Showalter: Women writers form a subculture sharing distinctive economic, politic, and professional realities, all of which help determine specific problems and artistic preoccupations that mark women’s literature. Sandra M. Gilbert & Susan Gubar: 19th women writers had to negotiate alienation and psychological disease to attain literary authority, which they achieved by reclaiming the heritage of female creativity, remembering their lost foremothers, and refusing the debilitating cultural roles of “angel” and “monster” assigned to them by patriarchal society. Countering Bloom’s masculinist “anxiety of influence”, their “anxiety of authorship” depicts the precursor poet as a sister or mother whose example enables the creativity of the latecomer writer to develop collaboratively against male literary authority. Diseases common among women in male-dominated, misogynistic society include: agoraphobia, anorexia, bulimia, claustrophobia, hysteria, and madness in general, and they recur in the images, themes, and characters of women’s literature.

Judith Fetterley: Women read differently than men. She examines classic American fiction and points out that this is not “universal” but masculine literature, which forces women readers to identify against themselves. Such literature neither expresses nor legitimates women’s experiences, and in reading it women have to think as men, identify with male viewpoints, accept male values and interests, and tolerate sexist hostility and oppression. Under such conditions, women must become “resisting readers” rather than assenting ones, using feminist criticism to challenge male domination of the institutions of literature and to change society.
Psychoanalysis is fundamental to a great deal of feminist theory and criticism. However, feminist psychoanalysis is typically revisionist. It has had to work through and criticize the phallo-centric” presuppositions and prejudices of Freud, Lacan, and others. Feminine anxiety of authorship, in its opposition to the masculine anxiety of influence, reconfigures the “oedipal” relationship between writers as cooperative and nurturing rather than competitive and rivalrous. Écriture féminine transforms Lacan’s idea of the Imaginary, casting it not simply as an infantile sphere of primary drives superseded on the way to the patriarchal Symbolic order, but as a liberating domain of bodily rhythms and pulsations associated with the mother that permeates literature, especially modern experimental poetry. The pre-Symbolic Imaginary order, a realm of bisexual/ androgynous/polymorphous sexuality, opens the possibility of sexual liberation from the suffocating confines of the “compulsory heterosexuality” that dominates patriarchal culture.
Within feminist circles, there are political differences and conflicts of interests: colour/white women, different classes, different sexualities, different nations and groups. The “politics of difference” opens onto a world of differences and multiple identities among and within women themselves. The politics of difference promotes two ideas: there are many women’s literatures across the globe and there are many modes of resisting reading. Some criticise that the emphasis on the multiplicity of female identities undermines the united front of feminist but advocates of the politics of difference think that herding all women into a homogeneous category is reductive and unlikely to disturb the dominant order.
An influential field built on ideas from feminist criticism, gender studies, women’s studies, and lesbian and gay studies is queer theory. It begins by criticizing the dominant heterosexual binary, masculine/feminine, which enthrones “the” two sexes and casts other sexualities as abnormal, illicit or criminal. Queer theory attacks the homophobic and patriarchal basis of heterosexuality. It aims beyond lesbian and gay rights philosophies to study other so-called perverse, deviant, and alternative sexualities (sodomite, hermaphrodite, homosexual…), stressing the socially constructed character of sexualities. Of particular interest are transgressive phenomena such as drug, camp, cross dressing and transexuality, which highlight the nonbiological, performative aspects of gender construction. To be masculine or feminine requires practicing an array of rituals which cross-dressers parody in the production of gender identity.