Queer theory states that people should not be defined by the sexual acts they engage in, just like the things we do fail to define our gender. The current labels we have on people based on queer theory do not work. It suggests that it would not be meaningful to discuss a group of people in general since so many elements make up an identity, such that it would be wrong to see people collectively on such basis. There are a lot of people who oppose queer theory because they see it as inappropriate and deviant. They argue that queer theory focuses on cultural texts instead of real life, where gender and sexual ambiguities would be readily found.
In the field of education there has been increasing interest in making classrooms and curricula more inclusive and affirmative of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, and issues. This interest has been evident across a range of educational areas and levels, including secondary level English, Social Studies, and sexuality studies, tertiary level composition; and women’s studies. Similar efforts to make learning environments more ‘gay-friendly’ have also been occurring within English language teaching. This paper emerges from my recent phd research on teaching lesbian/gay content in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.(Nelson, 1993).
An ESL perspective on lesbian/gay/bisexual issues in education may be useful; to educators, trainers, social service practitioners, and other who are not themselves language teachers. This is because many groups, not just ESL classes, are international, intercultural, and linguistically diverse. Also, focus on communication and culture that typifies ESL classes, is of central importance across a range of educational contexts. Therefore, those whose work involves dealing with lesbian/gay issues that arise within linguistically and culturally diverse groups may have an interest in how such issues are being approached in ESL (Foulcolt, 1990). Ways of theorizing sexual identities may also be of interest to teachers and practitioners because the theories that underpin teaching practices are an important aspect of those practices. The major argument of this discussion is that queer theory offers a flexible, open-ended framework for addressing lesbian/gay issues within linguistically and culturally diverse groups.
Making teaching practices and learning environments more gay-friendly involves addressing heterosexual discrimination in educational institutions and homophobic attitudes among teachers, administrator, and students. It also involves making curricula, resources and teaching practices more gay-inclusive, for example, by integrating the topic of lesbian and gay relationships within discussions of families, or homophobia within the topics of social discrimination. Learning can also be made more gay-inclusive by considering the educational needs of learners who themselves identify as lesbian, bisexual, or gay and those who encounter gay people or issues in their everyday lives.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual behavior integration into learning can also be integrated by creating working and learning environment where any learner or teacher (not just straight ones) can be open about their sexual identity without fear of reprisals.
Such measures seek to make the existing curricula (or policies) more inclusive by adding representations of subordinate sexual identities. The aim being to promote what Britzman(1995) calls ‘pedagogies of inclusion.’ The theoretical framework underlying this gay-inclusive approach is a lesbian/gay identity framework. However, over the decade, this theoretical framework has been challenged by queer theory, an emerging body of work which draws on post cultureless theories of identity. In recent years, educators have begun to consider the educational implications of queer theory in tertiary education. In order to consider the key concepts of queer theory and what they might offer teachers and social service practitioners, it would be important to understand the origin of queer theory.
As a result of theoretical and practical challenges to identity-based social movements, in the mid 1980s queer theory and activism were developed. Whereas sexual identity formed the very basis of lesbian/gay movement and community, queer theory makes sexual identity the subject of critique. The word ‘queer’ is used to encompass ‘Lesbian,’ ‘gay,’ ‘bisexual,’ and ‘transgender,’ but ‘queer’ is also used to challenge sexual identity clear-cut notions, purposely distracting the boundaries between identity categories (Garber, 1994). The paradoxical tension between the two meanings of queer- on the one hand, including all ‘minority’ sexual identities and on the other protesting the very notion of sexual identity- is central to queer theory.
According to queer theory, gay identity is not discovered and then expressed, but is actually produced through repeated discursive acts. In other words, sexual identities are not descriptive but performative-what people do not what they are. In this view, sexual identities are not personal attributes or individual constructions but culturally readable acts that are being created or ‘performed’ during social interactions(Livia & Hall, 1997).
There are several advantages to theorizing sexual identities as culturally readable acts rather than, inner universal essences, from a teaching or training perspective. For one, this situates sexual identities in the realm of the ordinary day-to-day negotiating interactions occasionally involves ‘performing,’ in addition to interpreting sexual identities. It also keeps focus on observable behavior- the things people do and say rather than who they feel that they are. This becomes useful in teaching contexts(such as ESL) in which a major objective is to make social interactions unfamiliar to those who are new to, or outside of, a particular culture or sub culture, clear. With queer theory, it becomes possible to examine the linguistic and cultural patterns through which sexual identities are communicated, even constituted. Finally, the notion of ‘performativity’ makes it obvious that sexual identities have not become universally accomplished but may be produced or ‘read’ in different ways in different cultural contexts. Acknowledging this diversity, and being able to examine it, is crucial to achieving intercultural understanding.
Queer theory also advocates for the problematizing all sexual identities rather than legitimizing those that are subordinate. Lesbian/gay activism seeks to make sure that people who do not identify as heterosexual are not denied the same rights and privileges that are automatically accorded to those who identify as heterosexual. Inherent to such efforts is the idea that it is possible, and even desirable, to classify people according to identities. Though queer theorists warn that sexual identities can be liberating as well as limiting, for they depend on inclusion as well as exclusion. In this view, affirming subordinate sexual identities reinforce a hierarchical system, one that asserts on solidifying sexualities into sexual identities, that can then be split into those that are regarded socially unacceptable and those who are. Rather than affirming sexual identity categories, queer theory problematizes all sexual identities(Harris, 1990).
Problematizing sexual identities does not mean presenting them in a negative way, in terms of teaching and learning. On the contrary, it makes it possible to scout how acts of identity are not necessarily transparent or straightforward but can be dynamic, complex, and contested. For a myriad of reasons, it also acknowledges that not every-one relates to clear-cut identity categories. The application of queer theory to teaching or training context allows for acknowledgement that issues relating to sexual identities might be relevant to anyone, not just gay people, and for a wide range of reasons. Such wider focus enables everyone, what their own positioning with regard to sexual identity, to participate in and contribute to the discussion. This may also assist to counter any tendency to reductively constructed people as either tolerated or tolerant.
Pointing out norms and analyzing how they work may prove useful educationally for several reasons. First of all, the focus is not on whether a particular sexual identity is natural or normal, or even whether it should be considered natural, but on what makes it seem natural(or unnatural).
Queer theory should be allowed in institutional institutions since it advocates for equal treatment of the subordinate and the dominant grouping sin the society.