Return to Recent Articles menu

On the Reactionary Roots of Queer Theory

28 February 2021

“The Left adopts Queer Theory at its peril. Not only because of its foundations in apologism for paedophilia, but because its trajectory has not strayed far from those roots. We are now faced with the sexualisation of children in the form of ‘drag queen storytime’ and the demonisation of feminists who consider BDSM and prostitution forms of sexual violence against women.”
From Foucault to San Francisco: The Enduring Roots of Queer Theory - Jen Isaakson

Postmodernism has its roots in the crisis and deconstruction of Ferdinand De Sassure's theory of structural linguistics, semiotics, which sought to assess the ability of language to convey meaning, the 'signifier' and the 'signified' respectively.  Both the language and the thing described by that language were either given equal weight or had the emphasis put on the 'signifier' side by postmodernists who questioned the ability of language, or “text”, to convey objective reality. Every argument was as objectively true as its opposing argument and no ideology or “meta-narrative, could contradict that without being “deconstructed” to reveal hidden meanings beyond the text.  The driving force for its popularity was to be found in its usefulness in opposing a Marxist analysis at a time when Marxism was in retreat in academic institutions and the working class during a period of defeat had produced no independent intellectual  Marxist locus.

While the primary focus of some of its varied adherents was on what they considered to be the most dangerous meta-narrative, dialectical materialism, it attacked any analysis emanating from what Lyotard defined as the  “Enlightenment project”.  In his argument against “meta-narratives” Jean Baudrillard echoed Frederick Nietzsche's existentialist diktat “down with all hypotheses that have allowed the belief in a true world”.   After arguing that the Gulf War could not take place, he later produced a publication denying reality and announcing; “The Gulf War did not take place”.

Its opposition to any theory categorised as a meta-narrative led to its “deconstruction” of all progressive theories and concepts considered “modern” and it achieved its reactionary apogee in Fukuyama's declaration, during the Thatcher era, of the “end of history”, unsurprisingly a position since revised.  The economic and political decay underlying it and the success of its attacks on the “enlightenment project” has led to the evolution of an ideology that considers itself radical because it falls in to what they self proclaim to be an “anti-normative” category.  In reality it serves to destroy all progress, and attacks all attempts to understand objective reality in any wholistic way as rooted in “an unjustifiable rationalism”.  It has largely remained unchallenged within academia and has been increasingly accepted by liberalism, finding its way into the ideologies of the centrist and reformist left, as it increasingly exposes its, and their, absurdities as any obvious lie, without challenge, can be presented as plausible.

The practical consequences of many of Postmodernism's victories are now feeding through in to front line politics.  This expresses itself in academic institutions acceptance of the veracity of the plainly untrue accusations made against pro Palestinian academics, Jewish critics of Zionism and lifelong anti racists have been labelled “anti semitic” and gender critical feminists have been sacked, pilloried and in some cases physically assaulted for questioning Transgender ideology.  In the case of the latter the origins of the politics which permit such attacks lie in a debate that took place 50 years ago.  In a debate on sexual politics that emerged in San Francisco in the early 1980's postmodernist ideology intervened with a political attack on radical feminists who argued that sexuality was socially constructed under patriarchy, more particularly under capitalism, and that power hierarchies in society are reproduced in sexual relations and are at the root of the fetishes of domination and submission.

These radical lesbian feminists were subject to a political attack that drew on the theorists most centrally identified with postmodernism; Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard and particularly, Foucault. This may be to flatter them however as while Foucault may have provided the theoretical arguments the “Kink” faction opposing the lesbian feminists, as wittily described by the author, “whacked each other with bits of leather and called it politics”.

Emerging from this debate was queer theory's founding work, Gayle Rubin's 1984 document “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.”  The document is described as spending half its time arguing for sexual contact with children and included people “whose eroticism transgresses generational boundaries” at the bottom of her pyramid of “sexually othered” people.  In defending her position she quotes Foucault's “A History of Sexuality” where, as the author notes, his  “categories of ‘precocious schoolgirls’ and ‘ambiguous schoolboys’ as ‘perverts’ are surely identifiable as a thread of paedophile culture.”

Rubin sees opposition to this as a kind of moral panic, an “erotic hysteria” and feminists then who respected sexual boundaries were painted as “repressed prudes” who were “unconsciously excited by that which we [sic] disavow”.  This, again as the author points out, is indeed only one short step from the reactionary trope that “feminists just need a good shagging”.  As part of the attack on her radical feminist opponents Rubin, disgracefully, glosses over the sexualisation of children and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by inferring that feminists who want to protect children from being sexualised are comparable with parents who practice FGM to prevent their daughters from enjoying sex.

Queer Theory, a product of postmodernist thought, has been defined by its removal of all boundaries from sexuality.  This in turn is expressed in the current denial of objective reality by the so called “sex spectrum” at the heart of transgender ideology, which includes homosexual people on a spectrum with straight transgender males who 'identify' as queer and which, as Rubin's theory infers, implicitly extends to the sexualisation of children.  In this article the author warns of the perils of adopting queer theory for the left.

Return to top of page