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Queer Theory


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Contents and Abstracts Introduction chapter abstract

The notion of gender was debated in France long before the 2013 law on marriage equality. In 2004, a mayor in the south of France celebrated the first gay marriage. One year later, a court denied two trans women the right to marry because they did not behave as husband and wife. The introduction locates public debates on gender in France, and shows that they have heavily weighed on the 2013 law, which maintains discriminations against LGBT people with regard to parenthood, trans rights, and nationality. From this standpoint, France has experienced no clear "before-and-after" watershed. French conservatives indeed see themselves as majority victims of a system devised to benefit minorities. They credit the idea that LGBT rights are the product of a "theory" to legitimize their own doctrine. References to the United States become all the more potent since they accredit the idea of a foreign plot.

1Who's Afraid of "Gender Theory"? chapter abstract

The first chapter deals with manifestations of opposition to gay marriage in France: roots, organization, activist tactics (street demonstrations, posters, social media), and discourse. It shows how opposition to the concept of gender arose in the Vatican during the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, and was then developed under the label of "human ecology." Catholic parents' associations protested against gender equality and non-traditional gender roles in school programs. Chapter 1 shows that demonstrators, such as La Manif pour tous, played simultaneously on fear of the enemy within (by establishing a parallel between Judaism and homosexuality) and on racism (by placing sexual minorities in the same category as foreign, uncivilized freaks). They notably targeted the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, because she is a black woman from French Guiana and the author of a law that made slavery a crime against humanity.

2The Many Meanings of Queer chapter abstract

The second chapter examines how queer theory was variously employed in France. Queer theory arrived in France in the early 1990s thanks to several French activist groups-such as ACT UP Paris and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The 1990s were also marked by research seminars that trained a new generation of scholars but also promoted the translation of American publications. Chapter 2 shows that the English word queer, previously meaningless in French, has become more common. Use of the term nevertheless remains ambiguous. It enables certain radical activists to distinguish themselves from an institutional LGBT culture. But queer is also adopted by the mass media, to find new audiences without offending their traditional ones. Chapter 2 ends up with Les Tordu(e)s, a group that organized an alternative event to the official Pride parade, and a student movement called Queer Week at the elite university Sciences Po.

3Transatlantic Homecomings chapter abstract

Chapter 3 addresses one of the most controversial debates among queer movements and theorists across the Atlantic today, concerning homonationalism and gay imperialism, which both refer to an instrumentalization of the gay and lesbian agenda to the benefit of nationalist and racist policies. Although the critique may be valid, in its current form it turns out to be contradictory in so far as it re-essentializes sexual categories (the "homo" in homonationalism) and dismisses hybrid identities forged across the north/south divide. Chapter 3 provides the critical tools to counteract excessive drift of these concepts. It examines the rise of the far right in France, the transatlantic fantasy of a global theory of sexuality, the limits of intersectionality, and the fear of the ordinary in queer studies. Chapter 3 shows that minority claims are not a synonym for local claims, opening new ways to resist oppression in a global context.

4The Specter of Queer Politics chapter abstract

Chapter 4 analyzes political resistance to queer theory in France. It traces the fear of homosexual betrayal since the First World War, and shows that the fantasy of betrayal is now echoed in the left-wing ideals underpinning the French Republic. It examines more specifically the role of France's socialist party in the development of an "anti-communitarian" discourse. In this context, several philosophers-notably Maurice Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy-have strived to rethink the notion of "common." They argue that a community always escapes all attempts to grasp it, since we have only death in common. Chapter 4 argues that minorities do not have the luxury of disavowing their sense of belonging. In the wake of Didier Eribon's work, it suggests that "community" is not a constantly receding horizon but a critical return to an experienced event.

Conclusion chapter abstract

Debate over queer theory in France is not a carbon copy of the one in America. Nor can it be encapsulated as a strategy of empowerment vis-a-vis the nationalist trend of sexual politics in France. The conclusion argues that queer theory destabilizes the very concepts of global and local in so far as it sheds light on the concomitance of affiliation and disaffiliation with the group. It muddies the picture of a national sense of belonging. Whereas the nation-state seeks to objectivize the framework of citizenship by linking genealogy ("vertical" affiliation to a lineage) to community ("horizontal" affiliation to a group), queer theory views kinship as a way of simultaneously belonging and not belonging.

About the Author

Bruno Perreau is Cynthia L. Reed Professor and Associate Professor of French Studies at MIT. He is the author of The Politics of Adoption (2014).


"A signature contribution to contemporary political and critical theory, Bruno Perreau's book aptly situates the fears that haunted the French imagination during the bitter opposition to the "marriage for all" bill in the twin fears of cultural invasion by the United States--via gender theory--and of contagion by a minority culture. In deconstructing queer theory's "return" to France, Perreau gracefully navigates the challenge of diagnosing the cultural fantasies at play without succumbing to the binaries, French/American, local/global, and majority/minority, that the social movement had itself reified."

-- Bernard Harcourt * Columbia University *

"Bruno Perreau's brilliant and compelling analysis of queer theory's controversial arrival on the French scene covers the full range of repercussions of this cultural encounter and translation. Not only does he offer glimpses into the outer reaches of French public hysteria over the unwanted cultural import called "gender," but he reveals how debates on sexuality, gender, and parenthood strike at the heart of national belonging. Taking into account the various anxieties about French and European inclusion that come to over-determine the so-called gender debates, his book demonstrates that queer theory becomes something new and foreign when it seeps into French soil. The consequences are at once alarming and illuminating."

-- Judith Butler * University of California, Berkeley *

"Bruno's Perreau's book offers fascinating and original interpretations of the nationalist discourses informing public protests against 'marriage for all' in France. His insights into the 'straight mind of the nation' and the parochialism of 'homonationalist' critiques connect fantasies of sovereign geographies to demonization and systemic violence. Anyone interested in contemporary queer theory and post-colonialism must read this book."

-- Jacqueline Stevens * Northwestern University *

"Queer Theory: The French Response is an excellent contribution to the field of gender studies, queer theory, and political theory, and it will interest anyone concerned with the evolving political landscape in Europe and the United States. It should be essential reading for scholars and students in gender studies and queer theory who are also committed activists interested in thinking beyond 'homonationalism' and the 'gay international.' Perreau's new book encourages us all to seek and create new narratives where being queer means simultaneously 'coming and going' instead of simply 'coming out.'"

-- Denis M. Provencher * EuropeNow *

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