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Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Studies  
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Gay, lesbian, and studies are separate but related fields of cultural inquiry that attempt to establish the analytical centrality of gender and sexuality within a particular area of investigation. Significant works in the field of gay, lesbian, and queer studies have been undertaken in a variety of disciplines, such as philosophy, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, classics, law, government, art, literature, popular culture, family, and education.

As a school of scholarly and critical thought, however, gay, lesbian, and queer studies is complicated by the fact that it is not limited exclusively to the exploration of the glbtq community, nor does the term refer simply to studies undertaken by, or in the name of, lesbians, bisexuals, or gay men. Moreover, not all research into the customs, cultures, and lives of lesbians and gay men necessarily qualifies as gay, lesbian, or queer studies. Therefore, gay, lesbian, and queer studies cannot be defined exclusively by its subject matter, practitioners, or topics.

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While related, gay, lesbian, and queer studies define separate areas of inquiry, marked by different assumptions made about the connections between gender and sexuality. Very broadly defined, gay studies examines sexual difference as it is applicable to the male gender, lesbian studies examines sexual difference as it is applicable to the female gender, while queer studies examines sexual difference separate from gender altogether.

Gay and Lesbian Studies

Just as the civil rights movement to some extent spawned the interdisciplinary field of African-American studies and the rise of feminism produced women's studies, the field of inquiry known as lesbian and gay studies emerged from the gay liberation movement.

Gay and lesbian studies has existed, in any organized form, only since the late 1970s. With the advent of the gay liberation movement gay men, lesbians, and their allies began openly and self-consciously to study themselves and how they were represented in history and culture, which led them to inquire how gender and sexual orientations have been, and are, constructed and conceptualized.

Research in gay and lesbian studies has focused attention on the importance of historical and cultural factors in situating gender and sexual orientation. In two landmark essays, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex" (1975) and "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality" (1975), Gayle Rubin developed a theory central to gay and lesbian studies: that gender difference and sexual difference are related, but not the same.

Gender difference refers to the spectrum of meaning defined by the binary terms "man/woman," while sexual difference refers to those defined by the binary terms "heterosexual/homosexual." Gay and lesbian studies investigates the kinds of social structures and constructs that define ideas about sexuality as expressive acts and sexuality as an identity.

Gay and lesbian studies looks at how notions of homosexuality, and its binary opposite, heterosexuality, have been defined historically. Gay and lesbian studies also investigates how various cultures, or various periods of time, have enforced ideas about what kinds of sexuality are "normal" and which are "abnormal," which are "moral" and which are "immoral."

As Rubin's essays argue, once a category has been identified as "normal," its opposite category, labeled "deviant," is automatically identified as well. The specific acts or characteristics that are contained within those categories get linked to other forms of social practices and methods of social control. Gay and lesbian studies attempts to understand how these categories of "normal" and "deviant" are constructed, how they operate, and how they are enforced, in order to change or end them.

Some noteworthy works within gay studies include Henry Abelove's 1985 essay, "Freud, Male Homosexuality, and the Americans," which shows that Freud's view of male homosexuality was much less pathologizing and much more complex than has usually been supposed; "The Spectacle of AIDS" (1987), Simon Watney's examination of the representations of AIDS in the United Kingdom that characterized gay men as the cause of AIDS and as deserving of punishment and marginalization; and Phillip Brian Harper's essay, "Eloquence and Epitaph: Black Nationalism and the Impulse in Response to the Death of Max Robinson" (1991), in which the social and cultural contradictions that surrounded the figure of Max Robinson, an African-American television anchorman who died from AIDS in 1988, are examined.

Significant works within the field of lesbian studies include Monique Wittig's essay "One is Not Born a Woman" (1981), which offers an alternative to previous explanations of the historical causes of gender oppression; "Sexual Indifference and Lesbian Representation" (1988), in which Teresa de Lauretis explores the problems of lesbian visibility and feminist definitions of gender; and Danae Clark's 1991 essay, "Commodity Lesbianism," focusing on the relationship between capitalism and lesbian identity politics.

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Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick helped lay the foundation of Queer Studies in her book Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985). Photograph created by David Shankbone in 2007.
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