This last semester, I had a class in Queer Theory with a professor who, while knowledgeable about the subject matter and able to give us an excellent rundown through some really dense, inscrutable material (Deleuze & Guattari, History of Sexuality, Sara Ahmed, and the like) would often end up clashing with the class and would borderline mock the generational gap between us. I don’t want to be mean and characterize her as doing the academic equivalent of “hey you kids, get off my lawn!” but while she saw us as “a bunch of young people overly invested in stabilizing ‘queer’ by adopting it as some sort of label and sinking it down into the mud of identity politics”, or “overly attached to these new terms like ‘cisgendered’ (sic)” we saw her as being stubborn about not wanting to respect or keep up with developments and new ideas emerging from queer theory and queer/trans activism because of how comfortably nestled she was in her own self-identification as a “dyke”. It was frustrating, especially when I wanted to write my final paper (the topic being the creation of a working definition of ‘queer’) and couldn’t use any sources that were contemporary or relevant to my own definitions and understandings of queer.
That’s something I noticed a lot, not just in queer theory, but among feminist academics in general. In spite of prizing disruption and disturbance, reappropriation and reclamation in theory, they had very little patience for ideas which came about after they’d already found their academic niche, and wouldn’t give it proper respect or consideration, or bother to keep up with non-academic discourses surrounding it.
That’s why I was so pleased to discover that perhaps one of the most famous feminist academics and one of the, if you could say so, godmothers of queer theory and how we understand gender, sex, the body, and sexuality, Judith Butler, has come out with an interview with Transadvocate, where she admits the mistakes that she made with the initial ideas/words in her most famous work, Gender Trouble.
After spending a semester wrestling with a professor who didn’t want to recognize all the ways young people were taking off with these ideas and making them work for themselves and their own understandings, I’m so pleased to see someone as famous and old-school as Butler doing the right thing and respecting how the discourse has changed, instead of clinging to what she knows best.