In which an academic explains how the Academic Elite became absolutely obsessed with the sexual predilections of a tiny minority of people and elevated them to become the central focus of the humanities.
The TLDR version is this. In the 1990’s, a bunch of liberal white college professors seized on gay rights as a way of taking up or re-living the black civil rights cause of the 1960’s. One-upmanship followed as professors tried to prove they were more into the cause than their colleagues. Over time, ‘Queer Theory’ became the dominant mode of all academia; because it was trendy and liberal professors wanted to be perceived as “with it.”
From this 30-year vantage point, the intrepid idiom and bold disclosures that thrilled and emboldened the 1990s faculty look less descriptive than hortatory. Take away the magnification and we have a more modest and accurate assessment of parts of our culture—and a less thrilling and theoretical one. Only when we define queerness as anything outside simple and straightforward heterosexual behavior, and only when we interpret homophobia as anything less than full political and personal support of homosexuality, do the sweeping contentions of queer theory hold up. Without that extension, queerness slips back into the margin—not by an act of power, but as the consequence of relative lack of interest.
That’s what we see today, the fatigue that afflicts any theory once the universal claims lose their emotional force, as inevitably happens over time and with repetition. The enclave of humanities research has always had its rituals and taboos, and they lead inhabitants to think that what holds true and proper within also holds without. Reading queer theory and attending queer lectures is to enter an impassioned universe fraught with sexual complication and risk. But most people don’t share the outlook. Representations of sexual variation are common in higher education today, not to mention in movies, TV, and the news, but the vast majority of Americans are firm in their basic sexual aims and selves, and homosexual impulse and homophobic fear and hate aren’t part of their condition. We still have heteronormative attitudes. They are the natural result of nearly all Americans having heterosexual feelings. Queerness is part of the human condition, a small part. Queer theory began with an exaggeration, an overestimation of homosexuality and anti-homosexuality, and the emotional and political and institutional contexts of its origination allowed the exaggeration to stand uncorrected. Queer theory is now a part of American intellectual history, but it will be remembered more as an advocacy effort than as a school of thought. [Emphasis added]