How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Gender and sexual preference are often assumed to be fixed and unchanging things. This is a paradigm that feminists and homosexual writers have taken as an unchallenged assumption as they seek to shift and establish fixed positions within the sexual spectra.
Queer Theory challenges this assumption, reframing sexuality as being socially constructed and hence varying with context. It is 'anti-essentialist' in rejecting an gender as being in a person's unchanging essence. Thus a person in a gay club may act and feel a lot more homosexual than when they are out with work friends.
Even at the biological level, there is not a strict male-female divide, for example with various combinations of X and Y chromosomes and varying genetic influences.
The construction of identity is influenced by a wide number of factors, from Lacan's notion of language and symbolic codes in the symbolic register to social pressures of conforming. Queer Theory simply adds gender and sexual preference to an already long list of variables.
Queer Theory originated in Judith Butler's 1990 book Gender Trouble and was first described with the term in Case (1971).The immediate effect of Queer Theory is to destabilize all other notions of gender and sexuality. Even various forms which are commonly seen as perversion may be framed as temporary destinations.
Butler was influenced by Michel Foucault, who argued that homosexuality was a subject position within culture, rather than a personality type per se. He argued that this position developed within 19th century psychological sciences.
Queer Theory bumps into the 'nature vs. nurture' debate. Critics point to the relatively fixed aspects of genetics, whilst queer theorists focus on interactions with others. As with many young fields, there are subdivisions within the school of thought and different theorists have their own viewpoint that often conflicts with others.
Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble, Routledge
Case, S-E. (1991). Tracking the Vampire, Differences: a Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 3: 2, p 1-20
Foucault, M. (1978) The History of Sexuality Vol. I: An Introduction, Harmondsworth: Penguin