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WGST Blog Series #2: How Defining Queerness Taught Me That I Couldn’t

As a bright-eyed queer in an Intro to Sexuality class, I felt like I knew it all. I mean, looking at my own life, I was far past the introduction to my own sexuality, and I figured that the class was just an extension of that. I was wrong, and looking back on it, carrying with me some sort of disconcerting queer elitism.

Our first assignment was to write an analytical paper with our own definition of queerness, using the readings we’d done for class so far. I’ll admit it: my paper was pretty great. I think I did a good job writing it; I received the best grade in the class. It’s undoubtedly an analysis that I should be proud of. And yet, I don’t think I’ll let anyone else read it - looking back on how narrowly I defined queerness, I’m reminded of how much I had to learn. I’m reminded that attempting to define queerness stands in direct opposition to what queerness is all about.

I think that was part of my professor’s purpose in assigning that paper. We can all look back and see how much we had to learn, and it taught me that any good writer is supposed to want to go back and revise their old work. Queerness’ utility comes from its ambiguity, and although making identity categories is politically and socially useful, queerness serves a better purpose as something that can be applied to many ways of thinking.

When I started my Intro to Sexuality class, I grouped queer in with gay and lesbian and straight, as an identity category and not much else. But that’s not all that it is. To me, queerness is a tool, something I can use to describe the space that I’m in, to explain the construction of my environment, and ALSO to name myself. I fancy a term without well-defined limitations, and I learned, through trial and error, that queerness is one of those words.

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