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Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer  
 
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French feminist Monique Wittig has carried the separatism of Rich a step further. Reacting against the French feminism that amalgamates lesbianism within a broader metaphoric schema, Wittig argues that the very concept of woman is a political category constructed by men for their use. Therefore, lesbians, who refuse to participate in this economy of masculine use, defy gender. In her most famous essay, "The Straight Mind" (1980), Wittig ends with the bold pronouncement, "Lesbians are not women."

Wittig's strident claims have infuriated many critics, but they nonetheless can be seen as an important step in liberating the axis of sexual difference from that of gender difference.

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This admittedly brief sketch of the emergence of lesbian theory needs also to recognize an important and complementary movement, the development of a lesbian practice within film studies. Film studies, perhaps more than any other academic area, has been responsible for interrogating the construction of the psychoanalytic subject, and lesbian intervention into this field has led to substantial innovations in Freudian and Lacanian theory.

The first intervention in this field, Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975), appropriates psychoanalytic theory to explain how traditional Hollywood cinema constructs woman in order to embody and contain threats of castration, and to thereby posit a unitary and solidified masculine spectator position for the audience.

Mulvey's argument does not engage lesbianism directly, but her recognition that the very form of looking inherent in film encodes strategies of gender and power has enabled the formation of a lesbian critique.

Teresa de Lauretis's Technologies of Gender (1987) and, especially, her recent article "Sexual Indifference and Lesbian Representation" (1990), expand Mulvey's notion of a gendered power within the form of cinema (as opposed to the thematic content of cinema) in order to demonstrate how the cinematic apparatus subsumes differences such as lesbianism in order to construct a male, patriarchal form of representation.

Precisely because lesbian theory has been both empowered and disempowered by its relationship to feminist theory--which itself bears both an empowered and disempowered relationship to feminism itself, that is, to the politics of women in the world--it has also typically and understandably been concerned with the lesbian subject, that is, with the politics of lesbians in the world. Such a statement may seem to go without saying, were it not for the ways in which gay male theory has worked in an opposite direction.

Gay Male Theory

The initial stages of gay male theory seem to derive predominantly from the social constructionist precepts of Michel Foucault, whose influential The History of Sexuality sketches the construction of sexuality as a technology of social control, an effort to construct an identifiable meaning for people in Western societies. As such, gay male theory emerged, ironically enough, with a notion of ignoring the gay male altogether and looking instead at the category of "the homosexual" as a disembodied social construct.

The intersection of gay theory and social constructionism had its canonical moment in British sociological writings of the early 1970s. In 1968, Mary McIntosh published an article, "The Homosexual Role," that both predated and anticipated Foucault's work in arguing that "the homosexual" was a social role that emerged in England in the seventeenth century. A number of important early essays spurred by this work are collected in the anthology The Making of the Modern Homosexual (1981).

McIntosh's stance, along with the emerging work of Foucault, resulted in a number of sociological studies of sexuality that examined sexual roles as effects of the configurations of power in culture; most notable among these are Jeffrey Weeks's Sex, Politics and Society (1981) and Sexuality and Its Discontents (1985), and Dennis Altman's The Homosexualization of America (1982), which focuses on the construction of gay male culture in contemporary America.

One problem implicit in much of the social constructionist work is, again, the issue of subsuming the lesbian. Work such as that of Foucault seems to avoid an undue attention to gender difference by examining the categories of heterosexuality/homosexuality in cultural formations; yet, in practice, the terms homosexual and gay--unless specified as female--generally connote male homosexuality. And with only a few exceptions, social constructionist work has done little to undermine this territorializing gender assumption.

The social constructionist movement also highlights the strong current of Marxism underpinning much gay theory. One central but often overlooked voice in this respect is that of Guy Hocquenghem. In 1968, Hocquenghem published his book Homosexual Desire, which is a radical Marxist revision of Freudian analysis.

Strongly influenced by the French leftist rebellions of 1968, and also deeply indebted to the theory of "schizoanalysis" proposed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, Hocquenghem's theory examines the historical and psychological construction of "the homosexual" as a displacement and repression of society's own homosexual desire.

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