more thesis thinking

What follows is my half of an exchange with my thesis advisor/committee chair. I chose him, particularly, because his views are not queer, at all, actually, and his questions challenge me to really evaluate and analyze what it is I believe, say, write, and think. This, I think, is valuable. I have added some things in italics so as to explain the questions to which I am responding.

What is my philosophy of social science?

I’m not sure I have one, to be completely honest. I am very interested in how the lived experience of being poor/working poor/working class influences the way a person’s lived experience as LGBTQ plays out. Particularly, how their childhood class position influences their adult life. Quite frankly, I am open to whatever theoretical interpretation makes the most sense logically and scientifically.

To address some of your more specific questions, I think it imperative that I address what it is that “queer” means, in my own understanding of it. I do not believe that queer should be used as an umbrella term to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people – these are vastly different identity categories and they have different meanings for different people – each of them can be problematized individually, and each can be deconstructed and reconstructed in myriad ways. I take from Michael Warner’s definition of queer as “resisting regimes of normalcy,” in claiming a queer identity for myself. Thus, I think it important to look at queer theory, its claims to being inclusive of race, gender, and class as a token epitaph (please understand this is meant to be a nerdy play on words, and is not just a mental break on my part), and to tear apart queer theory’s claim to inclusivity. Specifically, to point out where queer theory misses the mark from a class[ed] perspective.

I think there are numerous ways that bodies become orientated to the spaces within which they exist. I am currently deep into Queer Phenomenology (Sara Ahmed), and am fascinated by her explanations of the importance of orientation. One of these numerous ways is, of course, biologically based. I think the only proof I need personally for the biological argument to sink in is gaydar – I have it, others have it. We couldn’t if there wasn’t something “different” about people who are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans that is biologically rooted. That said, there are other ways that bodies become orientated, and part of that is in learning to walk a “straight” line. The expression of LGBTQ identities cannot be fully understood without taking into consideration the ways in which people are told from early on that the “right” way is to be “straight,” and the way that “straight” lines are laid out in our parents’ expectations of our adult lives, and society’s expectations of what it means to contribute to society (i.e. producing genetic offspring). This may not make people LGBTQ, but it sure has an influence on our self-impressions, our self-esteem, and our opportunities to contribute to society. Same goes for class, actually.

So to answer question one (do I want to simply analyze the language and play with words or explore more scientific and theoretical routes of inquiry, outside of the postmodern perspective?): I don’t think all categories are purely arbitrary. I think people naturally seek to classify things – all things – within their social and biological worlds, and that this drive to classify is quite natural. Some classificatory schemes, yes, are scientific, and others, well, others are not. I think the important part of this discussion, however, is the way social value is placed on some categories while value is simultaneously taken away from others. Simply categorizing people as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transvestite, or transgender may not be harmful. But, creating a hierarchy of valuable identities and non-valuable identities can be, and can be and is harmful. I think if nothing else, the queer project is about pointing out the problematics of valuing some identities more than others. And it becomes even more complex when the value attached to being middle class or upper middle class or white or male comes into play. And yes, I believe that positive value is attached to all of these things: having money, being white, and being male. I could cite numerous scientifically proven examples of this happening every day in people’s lives – and this is what is important to me, the way the placement of social value on some and not others makes life easy for some and difficult for others (though this is grossly over-simplified).

To address question two: (It sounded to him as if I am deeply motivated by my own personal experiences…) Yes, I am deeply motivated by my personal experiences of being queer (homoerotic not quite the word I would choose, as lesbian porn is homoerotic and I am not a lesbian, nor a pornographer, though I might someday aspire to the latter) and from a trailer park. Yes, I do seek to place on the map this exclusion of which you speak. And yes, I do wish to create some re-connection among activists and academics, and see myself as both, and point out this gross division between the two… which, in my mind, should not exist. If there is to be a point to the queer project, it must be not only an academic masturbatory playdate, but also a project that moves people forward. Quite frankly, I’m inclined to believe the academic queer project is very much the former.

*TPQ*

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