Historically, humans living outside of the heteronormative construct are silent and tyrannized. These marginalized “Other” suffer under the oppression of structures of tradition, culture, religion, politics, economics and education. They function within an androcentric-heteronormative construct. The term queer “refers to anything outside the norm,” according to Laurel C. Schneider.[i] Within this oppression a queer community rises up and with it the voice of the marginalized cries against the Empire.[ii] An epic struggle against injustice, ostracism, and subjugation exists wherever the dynamics of power meet the forces of queer.
Schneider defines Queer theory in the following statement: “Queer theory is not just for and about so-called homosexuals. It is critical theory concerned principally with cultural deployments of power through social constructions of sexuality and gender.”[iii] Queer theory’s roots appear in the writings of Michel Foucault, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, David Halperin, and Judith Butler. Queer theory also owes its existence to the result of work done by North American academic Teresa de Lauretis and others during a working conference in 1990.[iv] The goal of the conference “was based upon a speculative premise that homosexuality is no longer to be seen simply as marginal with regard to a dominant, stable form of sexuality (heterosexuality) against which it would be defined either by opposition or by homology.”[v] The conference, according to de Lauretis, “was intended to articulate the terms in which lesbian and gay sexualities may be understood and imaged as forms of resistance to cultural homogenization, counteracting dominant discourses with other constructions of the subject in culture”.[vi]
The term “Queer Theory” was coined “in the effort to avoid all of these fine distinctions in our discursive protocols, not to adhere to any one of the given terms, not to assume their ideological liabilities, but instead to both transgress and transcend them-or at the least to problematize them”. [vii] Since the 1990 conference, queer theory continues to “develop in dynamic and unpredictable ways,” being well-known for “interrogating the boundaries and categories that structure the discourses of sexuality and gender” as well as bringing a “critical lens to bear on the intersection of sexual dynamics with other dynamics such as race, class, nation, and culture”.[viii] Queer theory strengthens the voice of the “Other” while considering the unique perspective and intersectionality of the “Other”. In the struggle against Empire, queer theory provides the foundation upon which queer communities now stand. Providing fuel to this struggle is the desire of the “Other” to problematize or “trouble” the structures long held normative. To “trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it (trouble), what best way to be in it (trouble)”.[ix] Creating a theory from studies focused on the lives of LGBTQ people lead to the expansion of those studies to include anyone outside of the androcentric-heteronormative structures.
The troubling of androcentric-heteronormative structures includes a critical review of the oppressive tools used within the power structure. One major source of repression is sacred texts of religious communities/faith traditions, including the Bible. Queer Hermeneutics is the field of study focused on interpretations of the Bible. Within the framework of queer hermeneutics, passages long used to intimidate and oppress are no longer interpreted through the lens of the oppressor. Ellen T. Armour describes those assuming this task as “attending not only to the fine nuances of ancient language and cultures formative of biblical origins but to interpretive context writ large (religion and science) and small…”[x] Armour confirms the importance of the work when she states, “The Bible matters in our contemporary context because of its status within certain communities as holy writ”.[xi] Queer hermeneutics utilizes the foundational principles of queer theory to interpret sacred texts from the point of view of the “Other”. Queer hermeneutics is a hermeneutical approach that further develops the biblical hermeneutical tradition that tries to decipher what the Bible says about homosexuality. Thanks to the work of queer theorist like de Lauretis, queer hermeneutics takes seriously that queer does not apply to sexuality but is grounded in the stance of resistance against hegemonic powers. [xii]Authors such as Teresa J. Hornsby and Ken Stone tackle specific biblical texts, like Leviticus 18, utilized against the LGBTQI community in an effort to reverse injustices suffered and offer a more inclusive reading. Queer hermeneutics breathes life into the damaged souls of many LGBTQI identifying individuals who turned away or were driven away from God by conservatively interpreted biblical text.
The future of queer theory and queer hermeneutics is uncertain because of its own self-troubling. Queer theory widens the discourse to the point that everyone exists within a spectrum. There is no essentialism in queer theory. If everyone fits into queerness and every topic can be “queered,” the purpose of practicing a queer hermeneutics becomes oblique. If resistance to the androcentric-heteronormative hermeneutical tactic is not the goal, queer theory does not apply to our world objective and queer theory organizes around categories that it resoundingly rejects. Jessica Coblentz reports, “Many have wondered whether the lack of a unifying, stable collective identity undermines the practicality of queer activism”. She further asks, “If the content of the ‘queer’ label is forever subject to change, how do people mobilize around a common aim?”[xiii] Her question is valid when one considers the damage that would ensue if the purpose of Queer hermeneutics became lost in the inclusivity of queer theory. How does one help the marginalized or “Other” if the tools used to do so are lost in ambiguity?
Queer refers to anything that resists normativity. It does not always refer to sexuality. Ellen Armour claims that “to queer’ is to complicate, to disrupt, and to disturb all kinds of orthodoxies”.[xiv] Queer theories, born in the 1990s as part of gay/lesbian studies, now live in a world much larger than any identity discourse. Queer theory also considers the intersectionality of race, class, and economic status. Queer theory continues to morph. It broadens its own inclusivity and its queering of androcentric-heteronormative constructs about sexuality, race, class, economic, and educational status. However, queer inclusivity risks becoming so very broad that specific injustices and the means to right those wrongs are lost in the obscurities of identity. Queer hermeneutics, founded in queer theory, must continue working to raise the voices of the oppressed while simultaneously resisting the move from being a theory capable of concrete actions to a philosophy too broad and ethereal to explain anything, much less sexual identities and practices. Still, the conversion of the androcentric-heteronormative hermeneutic with which the Bible has been read to queer hermeneutical readings transforms the Bible to a guide for cultural, compassionate human behavior.
[i] Laurel Schneider. “queer theory.” In Handbook of Postmodern Biblical Interpretation, edited by A.K.M. Adam, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2000), 206-212.
[ii] Empire= the power structure upheld by androcentric-heteronormative values.
[iii] Laurel Schneider. “queer theory.” In Handbook of Postmodern Biblical Interpretation, edited by A.K.M. Adam, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2000), 206-212.
[iv] Teresa de Lauretis. 1991. “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities an Introduction.” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies iii-xviii.
[v] Ibid, iii-xviii
[vi] Ibid, iii-xviii
[vii] Ibid, iii-xviii.
[viii] Teresa J Hornsby and Ken Stone. “Already Queer: A Preface.” In Bible Trouble: Queer Reading at the Boundaries of Biblical Scholarship, (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011), xi.
[ix] Judith Butler. Gender Trouble. (New York: Routledge, 1990), xxix.
[x] Ellen Armour. “Queer Bibles, Queer Scriptures?” In Bible Trouble, edited by Teresa J. Hornsby and Ken Stone, (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011), 1-7.
[xi] Ibid, p. 5.
[xii] Susanne Scholz, “Toward a Future of Queer Bible Hermeneutics” (lecture, Perkins Theological Seminary at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, April 26, 2016).
[xiii] Jessica Coblentz. “Queer Biblical Scholarship in Christian Activism,” Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa 34, no. 2 (2010): 1-17.
[xiv] Ellen Armour. “Queer Bibles, Queer Scriptures?” In Bible Trouble, edited by Teresa J. Hornsby and Ken Stone, (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011), 1-7.