“Queer” causes confusion, perhaps because two of its current meanings seem to be at odds. In both popular and academic usage in the United States, “queer” is sometimes used interchangeably with the terms “gay” and “lesbian” and occasionally “transgender” and “bisexual.” In this sense of the word, “queer” is understood as an umbrella term that refers to a range of sexual identities that are “not straight.” In other political and academic contexts, “queer” is used in a very different way: as a term that calls into question the stability of any such categories of identity based on sexual orientation. In this second sense, “queer” is a critique of the tendency to organize political or theoretical questions around sexual orientation per se. To “queer” becomes a way to denaturalize categories such as “lesbian” and “gay” (not to mention “straight” and “heterosexual”), revealing them as socially and historically constructed identities that have often worked to establish and police the line between the “normal” and the “abnormal.”

This essay may be found on page 198 of the printed volume.

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