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Similarly, in Epistemology of the Closet (1990), Sedgwick attempts to denaturalize modern conceptions of male-gendered sexualities by exposing the unstable, dynamic yet interdependent relationship between male heterosexual and homosexual identities. In addition, she argues that the inconsistencies in conventional oppositions between male heterosexuality and homosexuality significantly shape twentieth-century Western knowledge systems.

Sedgwick's innovative explorations of male bonding have established the theoretical basis for a number of important studies in gay male theory.

Ed Cohen, for example, analyzes Victorian literary texts in order to denaturalize male heterosexual identities. In Talk on the Wilde Side (1993), he analyzes newspaper accounts of the Oscar Wilde trials and other nineteenth-century popular writings to demonstrate that heterosexual masculinity developed in reaction to the invention of "the homosexual."

In Homographesis (1994), Lee Edelman takes this trajectory even further and examines what he calls the "homosexual difference," or the arbitrary division between heterosexual and homosexual masculinities.

Drawing on Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Proust's Cities of the Plain, and other male-authored literary and filmic texts, Edelman demonstrates that this arbitrary division is created through a system of external markings that defines as gay the mannerisms and dress of particular male bodies.

These external inscriptions work to contain the threat of male homosexuality. According to Edelman, by severing the presumed connection between anatomy and sexual desire, male homosexuality destabilizes male heterosexual self-identity. Gay men function as a disavowed, intolerable masculinity, or as what Edelman calls "the other face of gender."

Lesbian Sexualities

Given the restrictive descriptions of female sexuality and feminine desire, it is perhaps not surprising that less work has been done on lesbian sexualities. Indeed, according to Teresa de Lauretis and other women-feminists of sexual difference, in patriarchal cultures there is no adequate representation of female-gendered desire.

Thus in "Sexual Indifference and Lesbian Representation" (1988), she draws on Luce Irigaray's description of "hommo-sexuality" and critiques the lack of gender differentiation in theories of male homosexuality and lesbianism. And in "Film and the Visible" (1991), she calls for the development of autonomous representations of lesbian sexuality that go beyond binary male-female gender categories.

However, by positing an irreducible difference between male and female, she inadvertently reinstates the heterosexual presumption she attempts to escape.

Similarly, in A Lure of Knowledge: Lesbian Sexuality and Theory (1991), Judith Roof examines the intersection between gender and sexuality and argues that filmic and literary representations of lesbian sexuality create an uncertainty that undermines the stability of rigid male-female binary gender systems.

Blurring the Boundaries between Male-Female Gender Categories

The final approach, which attempts to complicate male-female gender categories by blurring the boundaries between them, is most fully illustrated by Judith Butler's theory of gender performativity.

In Gender Trouble (1989), Butler maintains that because male-female gender categories inevitably reinforce Western cultures' heterosexual social contract, theorists should attempt to go beyond this binary meaning system. By positing "woman" and "man" as stable categories of identity, gender representations naturalize heterosexuality and support conservative constructions of normative masculinity and femininity.

Butler's theory of gender performativity destabilizes this heterosexist binary by redefining gender as a process, a series of discontinuous acts that must be repeatedly performed. Drag, for example, creates a disjunction between sex and gender that denaturalizes heterosexist norms and suggests that sexual identities are far more fluid than generally assumed.

In Bodies That Matter (1993), Butler both clarifies and extends this notion of gender performance to claim that sexed bodies, like gender, are created and regulated by social norms. This examination of the ways language structures our understanding of material bodies allows her to suggest that bodies are simultaneously engendered and racialized.


As this brief survey indicates, the recognition that gender relations are socially constructed categories of meaning has opened up a number of new areas in lesbian, gay, and queer studies. Although--or, perhaps, because--the relationship between gender and sexuality is quite slippery, the distinction between them has led to a number of important theoretical breakthroughs.

By exposing the arbitrary nature of the rigid division between homosexuality and heterosexuality, recent gender theories complicate contemporary descriptions of human identity.

AnnLouise Keating

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literature >> Overview:  Identity

Although the question of homosexual identity is a complex one, it has polarized activists, theorists, and literary critics into two primary camps, essentialists and constructionists, both of which can contribute usefully to an understanding of the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

literature >> Overview:  Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

Although gay, lesbian, and queer theory are related practices, the three terms delineate separate emphases marked by different assumptions about the relationship between gender and sexuality.

literature >> Anzaldúa, Gloria

American Latina lesbian editor and writer Gloria Anzaldúa connected racism and homophobia to posit a political queerness that interconnects with all struggles against oppression.

literature >> Foucault, Michel

One of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, Foucault has had an enormous influence on our understanding of the lesbian and gay literary heritage and the cultural forces surrounding it.

literature >> Lorde, Audre

The work of African-American activist and writer Audre Lord was greatly influenced by her lesbianism.

literature >> Moraga, Cherríe

In her own works, CherrĂ­e Moraga defines her experience as a Chicana lesbian; and in her capacity as editor/publisher, she provides a forum for traditionally silenced lesbians of color.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

literature >> Rich, Adrienne

Adrienne Rich, who aestheticized politics and politicized aesthetics, is America's most widely read lesbian poet.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Alarcón, Norma. "The Theoretical Subject(s) of This Bridge Called My Back and Anglo-American Feminism." Haciendo Caros/ Making Face, Making Soul: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color. Gloria Anzaldúa, ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation, 1990. 356-369.

Bristow, Joseph, ed. Sexual Sameness: Textual Differences in Lesbian and Gay Writing. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On The Discursive Limits of "Sex." New York: Routledge, 1993.

_____. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Cohen, Ed. Talk on the Wilde Side: Toward a Genealogy of a Discourse on Male Sexualities. New York: Routledge, 1993.

de Lauretis, Teresa. "Film and the Visible." How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video. Bad Object-Choices, eds. Seattle: Bay Press, 1991. 223-263.

_____. "Sexual Indifference and Lesbian Representation." Theatre Journal 40 (1988): 155-177.

Edelman, Lee. Homographesis: Essays in Gay Literary and Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Vol. I. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House, 1978.

Herdt, Gilbert. Third Sex, Third Gender. New York: Zone Books, 1994.

Rich, Adrienne. "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence." Signs 5 (1980): 631-660.

Roof, Judith. A Lure of Knowledge: Lesbian Sexuality and Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Rubin, Gayle. "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality." Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. Carole S. Vance, ed. 1984. New York: Pandora, 1992. 267-319.

_____. "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex." Toward an Anthropology of Women. Rayna R. Reiter, ed. New York: Monthly Review, 1975. 157-210.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

_____. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

_____. Tendencies. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.


    Citation Information
    Author: Keating, AnnLouise  
    Entry Title: Gender  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 21, 2002  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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