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The Effect on Gay and Lesbian Writers and Creative Artists

Gay and lesbian writers and creative artists have begun seriously to explore the possibilities inherent in a post-modern understanding of gender and gender roles. Judith Butler argues in Gender Trouble that gender and gender roles are manifested as self-conscious performances.

For Butler, gender roles are performances through which we negotiate social and sexual relations; they have meaning only within particular cultural contexts, and they are learned and articulated as part of the cultural production of meaning.

We see this understanding of gender as performance explored in director Jennie Livingston's poignant film portrait of amateur black and Hispanic drag artists, Paris is Burning (1992), in which gender performance is the focus of a subset of contemporary gay subculture in New York.

A literary example of self-conscious gender-play is the manipulation of first person narrative voice by Jeanette Winterson in Written on the Body (1992). In this novel, the author sets out deliberately to problematize the sex-gender dialectic by teasing the reader with the narrator's fluid gender identity; though the narrator is in all likelihood female, Winterson is careful not to provide clear gender markings, in fact naming her Lothario, so that the nature and significance of gender identity are repeatedly interrogated.

Even as much contemporary literature by gay men, such as David Leavitt's The Lost Language of Cranes (1986), attempts a realistic portrayal of the emotional complexities of gay life in a heterosexual world, films by gay men have often proved to be more technically daring and intellectually exploratory.

Films like Queer Edward II (1991) by the late Derek Jarman and Gregg Araki's The Living End (1992) are notable examples of the current flourishing of a gay post-modern cinema, perhaps a late-century development following the earlier work of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Europe.

A few younger gay writers use post-modern techniques to explore unorthodox subjects, as does the minimalist Dennis Cooper in his novels Closer (1990) and Frisk (1991), in which he uses a fragmented consciousness to explore the connections between self-destruction, death, and desire.

Literature by lesbians, however, has more self-consciously adopted a post-modern and assertively transgressive stance in its representation of lesbian culture and erotic life. Monique Wittig's novels, especially Les Guérillères (1985), Sarah Schulman's novels After Dolores (1989) and Empathy (1992), the fiction of Jeanette Winterson, the poetry of Olga Broumas, and the mixed-genre work of Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, for instance, may all be said to exemplify the formal experimentation and complex mixture of tones characteristic of post-modern culture.


It is, of course, impossible to predict the future course of literary and artistic production by gay men and lesbians. But it is apparent that the coming of age of queer theory, queer politics, and the maturation of a self-conscious artistic and literary enterprise have been enabled by and have contributed meaningfully to post-modern culture.

Harriette Andreadis

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social sciences >> Overview:  Cultural Identities

A growing body of scholarly and other work on Cultural Identities challenges the "naturalness," and even the political necessity, of a unitary gay and lesbian identity.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cultural Studies

The field of cultural studies has significance for glbtq people because of its concern with social and sexual politics, its focus on subcultural production and consumption, and its commitment to progressive social change.

social sciences >> Overview:  Etiology

The earliest etiologies--or theories of causation--of homosexuality date from European antiquity, but the search for a universal etiology has intensified as homosexual behavior has come under the scrutiny of science.

literature >> Overview:  Gender

The theory that gender relations are socially constructed categories of meaning has opened up a number of new areas in lesbian, gay, and queer studies.

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 >> Overview:  Modernism

Despite the widespread homophobia in the Modernist movement, several of its practitioners were homosexual; some of them wrote openly about homosexuality, and the groundwork was laid for the gay liberation movement.

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.

arts >> Araki, Gregg

The poster boy of radical and militant queer cinema, Gregg Araki disdains the ghettoizing label of "gay filmmaker."

literature >> Broumas, Olga

Greek-born lesbian poet and translator Olga Broumas writes openly erotic poems that combine ancient Greek echoes and late twentieth-century idiom.

literature >> Cooper, Dennis

Controversial writer Dennis Cooper is best known for his series of strikingly original, critically acclaimed, albeit transgressive and contentious, novels exploring the nature of sexual obsession, alienation, brutality, and death.

arts >> Fassbinder, Rainer Werner

Responsible for bringing the much-acclaimed New German Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s to the attention of international audiences, Rainer Werner Fassbinder used cinematic conventions of Hollywood to deliver ideological arguments of the New Left.

literature >> Jarman, Derek

In both his films and his writings, Derek Jarman's explicit project was to celebrate gay sexuality and imagine a place for it in English culture.

literature >> Leavitt, David

Novelist and short story writer David Leavitt is one of the brightest stars of the gay literary world today.

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 >> Paglia, Camille

The frequently outrageous cultural commentary and caustic criticism of Camille Paglia have made her both famous and controversial.

literature >> Pasolini, Pier Paolo

Most of the fiction and much of the poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of the great Marxist homosexual artists of the twentieth century, was shaped by his fascination with the lives of subproletarian youths.

arts >> Pasolini, Pier Paolo

One of the most important cultural figures to emerge from post-World War II Italy, Pier Paolo Pasolini was a versatile man-of-letters, but he was foremost a filmmaker.

literature >> Schulman, Sarah

Author and playwright Sarah Schulman is concerned with constructing a lesbian identity around and against the multicultural identities of New York.

literature >> Winterson, Jeanette

Jeanette Winterson's prize-winning novels exploring lesbian and gender issues have quickly gained a following not only among lesbian and gay readers but also among mainstream readers as well.

literature >> Wittig, Monique

The controversial lesbian author and theorist Monique Wittig has produced some of the most challenging fictional and theoretical work of second-wave feminism.


Abelove, Henry, Michéle Barale, and David Halpern, eds. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1993.

Altman, Dennis, et al., eds. Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality?: International Conference on Gay and Lesbian Studies. London and Amsterdam: GMP Publishers and Uitgeverij An Dekker/Schorer, 1989.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge, 1990.

_____. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex." London: Routledge, 1993.

Doan, Laura, ed. The Lesbian Post-modern. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Dollimore, Jonathan. Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

Fuss, Diana. Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature & Difference. London: Routledge, 1989.

Greenberg, David. The Construction of Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Halperin, David M. One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love. London: Routledge, 1990.

Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Post-modernism. London: Routledge, 1989.

Levay, Simon. The Sexual Brain. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993.

Sandoval, Chela. Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Stein, Edward, ed. Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy. London: Routledge, 1992.


    Citation Information
    Author: Andreadis, Harriette  
    Entry Title: Post-modernism  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 29, 2004  
    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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