A recent request for clarification of a response I made during an interview has prompted me to delve more deeply into “performance of queer desires”…The questions focus on the terms – why queer? why performance?
Gauntlett (n.d.) writes
Queer theory is a set of ideas based around the idea that identities are not fixed and do not determine who we are. It suggests that it is meaningless to talk in general about ‘women’ or any other group, as identities consist of so many elements that to assume that people can be seen collectively on the basis of one shared characteristic is wrong. Indeed, it proposes that we deliberately challenge all notions of fixed identity, in varied and non-predictable ways.
Klages (1997) writes
Queer theory emerges from gay/lesbian studies’ attention to the social construction of categories of normative and deviant sexual behavior. But while gay/lesbian studies, as the name implies, focused largely on questions of homosexuality, queer theory expands its realm of investigation. Queer theory looks at, and studies, and has a political critique of, anything that falls into normative and deviant categories, particularly sexual activities and identities. The word “queer”, as it appears in the dictionary, has a primary meaning of “odd,” “peculiar,” “out of the ordinary.” Queer theory concerns itself with any and all forms of sexuality that are “queer” in this sense–and then, by extension, with the normative behaviors and identities which define what is “queer” (by being their binary opposites). Thus queer theory expands the scope of its analysis to all kinds of behaviors, including those which are gender-bending as well as those which involve “queer” non-normative forms of sexuality. Queer theory insists that all sexual behaviors, all concepts linking sexual behaviors to sexual identities, and all categories of normative and deviant sexualities, are social constructs, sets of signifiers which create certain types of social meaning. Queer theory follows feminist theory and gay/lesbian studies in rejecting the idea that sexuality is an essentialist category, something determined by biology or judged by eternal standards of morality and truth. For queer theorists, sexuality is a complex array of social codes and forces, forms of individual activity and institutional power, which interact to shape the ideas of what is normative and what is deviant at any particular moment, and which then operate under the rubric of what is “natural,” “essential,” “biological,” or “god-given.”
Lamberth (n.d.) writes:
Cultural performances are set aside from normal life, and act as “a counterpoint to everyday life” (Kapchan 1995). In contrast to performances as marked and separate events of heightened awareness, performance of the self in everyday interactions is theorized as a means of constituting identity. In The Performance of Self in Everyday Life Erving Goffman defined performance broadly, as any public activity that influences other people (Goffman 1959). Goffman extended performance to the moments of theatricality found in face-to-face interaction as the politics of identity are negotiated through performance of the self
The notion of performance in everyday interaction stimulated scholarship on ethnic and gender identity. Anya Peterson Royce writes on the performance of ethnic identity as well a cultural performance of the arts of dance, mime, and theater. She sees different levels of performance happening depending on the situation (Royce, personal communication). Royce proposes the term “style” to explain processes involved in the presentation of ethnic identity (Royce 1982). The notion of style allows for an accounting of agency and change in the performance of ethnic identity (Royce 1982).
Judith Butler, following Foucault, developed the notion of the performativity of gender in which “gender identity is a performative accomplishment compelled by social sanction and taboo” (Butler 1988). For Butler, the construction of a gendered identity is achieved through stylized repetition of acts (Butler 1988).
Barnhart (n.d.) follows:
The pressure of idealized conduct is most clearly seen in marginalized people, whose deviance forces them into “discredited” or “discreditable” groups, based on the nature of their stigma (Goffman 1963, 42). The importance of impression management is most visible with these individuals, as those who are discredited must assuage the tension their stigma causes in order to successfully interact with others, while those suffering from a discrediting stigma are forced to limit the access of others to information about the stigma or assume the character of a discredited individual. The emphasis on idealized, normative identity and conduct limits the ability of the discredited individual to achieve full acceptance by the population that he or she is forced to assimilate into. For the discreditable individual who attempts to “pass” and employ “disidentifiers” to establish him/herself as “normal” (44), feelings of ambivalence and alienation emerge as a result of limited social intercourse. Ultimately, the existence of a stigma of any type, a part of the existence of a large segment of the population, changes the nature of impression management and, hence, interaction.