What follows are fragments. They form a partial, piecey exploration of queer. That feels right. A monolithic unity doesn’t feel very queer. At least it doesn’t to me.
This throuple of fragments sketches different, sometimes dissonant, senses of queer. (I like the word sense. When you read it, I hope you’ll keep in play “a sense of,” “sensing,” “making sense” – maybe other things, too.)
Queer, I think, should remain different, differing, dissonant, and plural. It shouldn’t contract or calcify into anything singular or solid.
But I worry that it has. I worry that queer has become a static identity, rather than a provisional positionality. And I worry that queer has become too tethered to non-normative genders and/or sexualities.
I’m all for non-normativity, in all kinds of ways. But I don’t think queer should be tied down, or up. Queer, I think, should keep moving and morphing. It should persist as, in Judith Butler’s words, “never fully owned, but always and only redeployed, twisted, queered from a prior usage and in the direction of urgent and expanding political purposes.”
That’s how queer can continue to be critical, in multiple senses. And, I think, queer should remain critical for political theologies. So I offer three fragments. Each fragment engages a particular text, as an opening for queer involvement and movement. I hope they’ll keep queer unmoored, and on the political theological move.
For Cathy Cohen, the radical potential of queer politics remains a question. Will queer realize it? Cohen isn’t sure. It’ll depend on which directions queer moves in. And it’ll depend on who or what could count as queer – and who or what wouldn’t.
Cohen’s intersectionally queer counting would include marginalized genders and sexualities, but not only them. Queer would be more a matter of norms and survival.
Survival isn’t about a way of life. It’s about staying alive.
That would make queer a question of power. And power might be political, theological, political theological, biopolitical, necropolitical, private, public, individual, institutional, erotic, troubling, divine, human … the list goes on. (I hope you’ll continue it.)
To realize its radical potential, queer would need more nuanced senses of power, in and across identity-categories. They would let queer move, and build movements, based on politics and positionalities, instead of exclusively on identities.
Then queer could move differently. It would counter-move in resistance to dominant and dominating, heteronormative and heteronormalizing powers. And the question “who or what could count as queer?” would morph into “who is truly on the outside of heteronormative, heteronormalizing power?”
Maybe, Cohen suggests, most of us?
But who is us? And how could queer remake us?
(It’s a question of “how,” not “whether.” Queer’s radical potential is its transformative potential.)
Us is always collective. So, for Cohen, is queer. It’s not an individual matter. It’s not a matter of personal freedom. It’s not a matter of categorical freedom: liquifying categories in the name of individual fluidity. Queer enacts a deconstruction, not a destruction, of categories.
So queer becomes a matter of collectivities and liberation. Queer brings together, in Cohen’s words, “all those deemed marginal and all those committed to liberatory politics.” That makes queer room for punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens—among others.
What, I wonder, would a queerly political theology of or for punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens—among others—look like? What political theological moves might it make? How might it queerly move what we call, or how we do, political theology?
Queer, for Juana María Rodríguez, is social. It’s a sociality. It involves fantasy, futurity, and failure as potential, queer openings.
For Rodríguez, they’re sexual openings. That makes them social openings. Sex and sexuality are social. They involve sociality at its most intense.
And they involve, and happen through, bodies. Queer sociality, as Rodríguez imagines it, becomes “a place where bodies not only touch but are pushed and pulled into one another, a coming undone predicated on a coming together.”
In this queerly social place, bodies and acts can disentangle themselves from prescripted significations. They can make meaning and pleasure, together, differently (even if they can’t completely free themselves from racial and colonial formations stuck to embodied queer erotics).
They can do so interactively. They can, for example, unmake and remake our senses of submission and service. They can do so, for example, according to a Latina femme experiential epistemology.
That’s powerful work. It can unmake and remake how power works.
So queerly corporeal sociality can critique existing social relations. It can also imagine creative, collective possibilities. It can imagine, and perform, possibilities other than “ideal citizen-subject.”
That’s promising, especially for marginalized communities threatened by violent erasures. It invokes and involves the promise of fantasy. Queer sociality, for Rodríguez, is fantastic – in multiple senses.
And fantasy opens futurity. It opens possibilities that futures might be different from pasts and presents. Fantasy animates, and is embedded in, queerly utopian longings for what might yet be. Fantasy can fashion an elsewhere. This elsewhere can act as, in Rodríguez’s words, “a utopian nexus of critique and potentiality, available to everyone, where sex and recognition touch and cum together.”
Such a fantasy might never be. And it might never be fully understandable, fully epistemologically metabolizable, even for its fantasizers.
Fantasy can fail. It probably will fail if it’s driven by queerly utopian longings. But failure can still be useful. Failure can offer opportunities for new, critical interventions.
What critical, creative opportunities can queer sociality—even if fantastic, even in failure—offer political theologies? (What would sociality, queer or otherwise, be without fantasy and failure?)
What about other animals? What if we count them as queer, too? What if we let queer go beyond humanisms? What might queer feel like unconfined by anthropocentrisms?
For Harlan Weaver, these questions are pressing. They’re questions whose urgency Weaver feels in animal shelters, especially when working with pit bulls. Animal shelters might not be where we’d expect to feel queerly political pressures of kinships, racializations, and sexualities. But there they are.
Do they feel differently in these spaces? Do they feel differently queer?
They do for Weaver. Weaver senses there “a different kind of queerness, an inhuman queerness, and another way of doing kin.” Particularly across species lines, kinship is something fabricated, not found.
An interspecies kinship is definitely a doing. It’s done by practices (which are done by bodies) that make ties. In Weaver’s case, they’re ties among humans and pit bulls. And they’re ties among humans in relation to pit bulls.
(It matters that they’re pit bulls, and not just dogs. Pit bulls, especially in U.S. contexts, pose categorical and genealogical problems. And they’re linked to problematic processes of racializing and gendering particular humans.)
These ties aren’t heteronormative or homonormative. They’re not anthroponormative, either. Because they’re not, they expose ways that many queer kinships remain exclusively human – and tied to historical, human sexualities, genders, races, classes. These ties expose ways that kinships among queer humans don’t automatically make kinship queer.
They do so by letting go of “kinship.” These kinships aren’t about “kinship.” They’re about intimacies and relations. They’re specifically about what Weaver calls “intimacy without relatedness” and “relatedness without kinship.”
These practices are nonheternormative, nonhomonormative, nonhumanistic. They’re queerly inhuman. And they happen by inhuman touches.
These touches make way for interspecies intercorporealities. They remind us to take cross-species corporeal interactions seriously – because corporeal interactions can, queerly, do things.
They can also undo things. And these inhuman touches undo us. They undo us as human. These touches reveal that a human us always, inevitably, constitutively, necessarily, queerly includes what we (decide to) call the inhuman.
What other ways of worlding might they make possible, and then make? What roles might these worldings play in political theological projects of multispecies justice?
I’ll stop there. That’s enough fragments from me. (I’m out of space anyway.) Now it’s up to you.
Karen Barad, “On Touching—The Inhuman That Therefore I Am,” differences 25, no. 3 (2012): 206–23.
An article that uses quantum field theory to explore radically queer inhuman touches that complicate identities and intimacies. See also Barad’s “Transmaterialities: Trans*/Matter/Realities and Queer Political Imaginings,” GLQ 21, nos. 2–3 (2015): 387–422.
Judith Butler, “Critically Queer,” GLQ 1, no. 1 (1993): 17–32.
A classic article in queer studies, calling for queer to continually queer itself and attending to gender, sexuality, performance, and their interpellating interrelations.
Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).
A book that refigures queer through improper affiliations and extrahuman exceptions to conventional norms of sex, reproduction, and intimacy.
David M. Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
A book that formulates queer as whatever is non-normative or non-dominant, detaching queer from any necessary tethering to gender and/or sexuality.
José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and Now of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009).
A book that figures queer, in intersectional ways, as always futural, always horizonal, always not yet. See also Muñoz’s posthumous The Sense of Brown, ed. Joshua Chambers-Letson and Tavia Nyong’o (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020).
Nic John Ramos et al., “Twenty Years of Punks,” GLQ 25, no. 1 (2019): 137–93.
A multi-authored forum (including a piece by Cohen) on the ongoing effects and significances of “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens” two decades after its publication.
Siobhan Somerville (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Queer Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).
A “state of the field” collection, including essays on queer genealogies and politics, queer kinships and ecologies, queer of color and queer indigenous critiques, disability and trans* studies.
Kent L. Brintnall, Joseph A. Marchal, and Stephen D. Moore (eds.), Sexual Disorientations: Queer Temporalities, Affects, Theologies (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017).
A collection of essays that use theological and temporal perspectives to demonstrate the kinds of questions queer thinking can address to theology.
Laurel C. Schneider and Thelathia Nikki Young, Queer Soul and Queer Theology: Ethics and Redemption in Real Life (New York: Routledge, 2021).
A co-authored book that, beginning by reexamining “redemption,” uses queer lives to reimagine and revalue queer virtues, ethically and epistemically.
Linn Marie Tonstad, Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2018).
A book that unfurls a creative, constructive, queer theology, attending to corporeality and mortality and, especially, to theological interconnections of sex and money (and engaging Cathy Cohen, among others, along the way).