C.W.Young responds to Annamarie Jagose

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Read Annamarie Jagose’s essay¬†Queer Theory

My local postgrad study group is about to begin AnnaMarie Jagose’s “Queer Theory”. As part of that group, I share some of the annoyance of Dennis Altman and David Halperin at the current status of some versions of QT as an apolitical enclave within the Humanities. However, I wonder if the picture painted here isn’t overly bleak.

As a New Zealander, I believe we have a particular relation to HIV/AIDS- for us, the decriminalisation of male homosexuality occured in 1986, effectively deconstructing a whole series of discourse relating homosexuality and abjection. Moreover, in a curious paradox, the alignment of authoritarian populism here with economic policy was antipodal to the situation in the North Atlantic- and it was the lesbian and gay movement which took advantage of the managerial/professional turn in New Zealand governmentality, securing resources and statutory protection for our communities, and engaging in strategic planning which acted to marginalise the impact of the US Religious Right. I know Dennis described something familiar in the Australian context, but I also note that the process ofrationalisation in the Australian context is complicated by demographic factors and political strategy- ALP corporatism and communitarianism, and the presence of a retardant rural conservative political party that resists undiluted neoliberal economic policies.

I have found the work of some of the Great Names of QT useful to my own political work- for instance, Judith Butler’s work on the instability of gender identity has been worked into a current activist sideline helping to set up a transgender rights organisation. I do get somewhat frustrated by an older generation that seems to be the victim of its own political habitus and formative experiences- that isn’t the present, when our communities have won some extent of political legitimisation. There have been costs involved- in New Zealand, there is no discourse on the linkage of queer political strategies and distributive justice. However, at the same time, the local Religious Right is impotent, and has no correlation with the fiscal austerity regimes that are official policy here.

To be honest, I sometimes despair when I look at Australian queer media. When I read about an inadequate response to NSW’s paedophile inquiry that doesn’t recognise the strategic cost of maintaining earlier libertarian attitudes toward that constituency, and the human cost of not securing welfare services for sixteen to eighteen year old gay men, then I am somewhat grateful for NZ’s centralised and compact queer networks. My own mercifully brief Queensland experience of QAC taught me that Australia needs to look outside its American theoretical and left-political captivity.

I find the work of Canadian queer theorists such as Didi Herman, Gary Kinsman and Mariana Valverde to be particularly interesting, related as it is to the concrete articulation of queer strategy in a context that is very much like Australasia’s. This isn’t to decry the relevance of some US political work, David- a local Feminism and Queer Theory course that I helped to design has the recent Hunter and Duggan text “Sex Wars” as its course text. Moreover, the work of CIndy Patton is viewed as essential reading in HIV/AIDS service provision work, given her fusion of concrete practise and a wide range of theoretical influences.

Similarly, there’s the inimitable Simon Watney, Jeffrey Weeks and AnnaMarie Smith- luminaries of UK queer politics and vital sources for the politics of transition between the North Atlantic populist past and the neoliberal present.I have a copy of Saint Foucault at home- an interesting text, David, and I appreciate the context that you were writing in. How would you change the text if you were writing it now- it’s probably because I’, a recovering political scientist, but what about Foucault’s work on governmentality and its relationship to queer strategy and theories?I’m currently at work on a Ph.D. on the subject.

One thing that I’d enjoy seeing is some sort of Transtasman queer dialogue. It may become strategically neccessary, given the recent publication of a Focus on the Family Australasian RR networking guide, Reclaiming the Culture.”

As for this side of the puddle, the queer dialogic interpretative community is having to deal with indigenous postcoloniality- the re-emergence of specifically Maori queer identities and cultural practises, adding that to the mix of gender liminality, morphological and constructed gender, desire, identity, and sexual practise currently circulating in local queer discourse.

C.W.Young is a postgraduate student at Massey University, New Zealand


Dennis Altman et al (ed) (1989) Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality? London: GMP.
Judith Butler (1993) Bodies That Matter: New York: Routledge.
Cindy Patton (1990) Inventing AIDS: New York: Routledge.
David Halperin (1995) Saint Foucault: New York: Oxford.
AnnaMarie Smith (1994) British New Right Discourses on Race and Sexuality: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Simon Watney (1994) Practises of Freedom: London: Rivers Oram Press.
Jeffrey Weeks (1995) New York: Columbia University Press.
Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon et al (ed) (1991) The Foucault Effect: London: Harvester-Wheatsheaf
Andrew Barry et al (ed) (1996) Foucault and Political Reason: London: University College of London Press.

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