I have been enrolled in WGS.700, a course on queer theory and politics. As a queer person, I took the course because I was interested in learning more about the fundamental works that structure queer activism today, and to become equipped with theoretical knowledge of what shapes the way I interact with the world.
We read a ton this semester (including ~8 full books, and chapters from many others). Here are some of the texts that really resonated with me and I think are worth reading if you are interested in queer theory and/or politics. In rough order based on our syllabus:
- The Woman-Identified Woman by Radicalesbians - I think this piece captures the energy within radical lesbian feminism quite well and set the tone for the rest of our semester.
- Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence by Adrienne Rich - this was one of the first and classic pieces we read that challenges heterosexuality as normal, and casts lesbianism as an extension of feminism
- Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex by Pat Califia - we read excerpts of this book. Califia’s arguments in favor of lesbianism, and lesbian sadomasochism present an interesting and compelling critique to anti-porn, anti-sex feminism.
- Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality by Gayle Rubin - Gayle Rubin introduces the idea of the “charmed circle,” within which one’s sexual practices are considered “good” and outside which one’s sexual practices are considered “bad.”
- Queers Read This - This leaflet contains some of the most raw writings about being queer in society, aimed at rousing fellow queers to action.
- United in Anger - this actually a film. A great film about ACT UP, an AIDS advocacy group.
- The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 by Michel Foucault - yes, I did invoke the F word. I did not necessarily appreciate it when I first read this, but this work is actually very important to future queer theoretical critique and analysis. Foucault introduces the idea that sexuality is constructed through discourse, and that power over the queer subject is more complex than the power of the state over a subject.
- Black Queer Studies, A Critical Anthology - we read a number of essays from this anthology. A number of the essays examine the intersection of race and sexuality, particularly to critique early queer theoretical works.
- Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category by David Valentine - this is one of the best and most accessible books we read. David Valentine explores the meaning of the phrase “transgender” and how it has been used as an identity category and for political activism.
- Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality by Margot Weiss - One of the chapters in this book examines the potential of BDSM as a transgressive act through interviews with heterosexual male dominants (HMDs). Weiss argues that many HMDs employ a neoliberal narrative of choice to justify their actions, but that ultimately it is impossible to free ourselves of the social structures of race and class through choice and acts.
- Marriage Will Never Set Us Free by Dean Spade and Craig Willse - Dean Spade and Craig Willse present a radical queer criticism of gay marriage. This article does a great job at theorizing what queer activism should look like, and how the “gay and lesbian” narrative of equality and fight for gay marriage is actually very oppressive to queer people.
- Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times by Jasbir Puar - Jasbir Puar presents a ruthless criticism of “sexual exceptionalism” and “homonationalism” in the United States and abroad. She argues that tolerance of certain queers at home leads to greater oppression of racial “others” abroad. This text is very challenging, but very interesting. Puar also gave a great talk on this subject that is worth watching.
- Their Laws Will Never Make Us Safer in Against Equality: Prisons Will Not Protect You **by Dean Spade - ** this is a great critique of the prison system. It argues in favor of prison abolition and against the idea that criminalization of hate crimes will reduce violence against queer people.
There are a number of other texts that we read that I have not included here for brevity, but would be happy to discuss further if this is of interest.