Here’s the thing: I’m queer in a number of ways. I’ve known I was attracted to multiple genders for a long time, but good old childhood shaming and being called “Lizzie the Lesbo” was enough for me to squash that side of me until I reached adulthood and eventually felt safe enough to think about it. I’ve known I was not a girl and not a boy either for my whole life, existing in the in-between and struggling with intermittent social and physical dysphoria. It was only in my late twenties that I started to find the words for this, having finally met other genderqueer, trans and nonbinary people.
Part of my own coming out was through learning about queer politics, and in turn theory. But I’m going to be really honest with you here — I did not understand a lot of it. When I say understand, I don’t mean politically align with. I mean the language was so often complex, so very different from the English I speak or have heard throughout my life, that I would be thrown off entirely.
There’s been discussions around this on Twitter, quite rightly pointing out that academic language can be alienating for people, particularly working class people who haven’t studied humanities. The amount of times I’ve had to google words like “hegemony” and “praxis” in order to understand a sentence are innumerable.
The same thing has happened to me with feminist theory. I have tried quite a few times to read works by Nancy Fraser, or sections of Judith Butler’s writing, or even try and access philosophy through a beginner’s course, and I never managed to get very far. Until today.
A few weeks ago, myself and Alice were walking through Soho, talking about the DIVA book conference she’d recently been to and how revelatory it was that an event devoted to queer female literature was not protested any more. We got onto the topic of Section 8, the problems of a discourse centring around “always knowing” about your own queer identity, and a few other connected topics. She mentioned Queer, A Graphic History to me, and I decided there in the rain in Soho that we would march to the bookshop and I’d buy it.
I’m really pleased to say that having read Queer, A Graphic History I actually think I have a handle on theory! Barker takes the reader through the evolution of queer theory and the main contributors, right up to the present day and the futures directions of study that are developing. Thanks to Scheele’s wonderful illustrations, concepts are broken down simply, faces given to mysterious names and summarised quotes attributed to those faces.
As I suspected, I knew a lot of these fundamentals of queer theory — intersectionality, gender perfomativity, the black feminists who correctly challenged much of the original white thinkers — but I didn’t have the faces, the names, the language behind the concepts. Never again will I shrink when I hear someone attribute a concept to Lacan or Foucault, because I now have a loose understanding of their positions and a Scheele portrait to put their name to.
Barker has also provided a resources section at the back with accessible further reading on sexuality and gender, and queer theory, which is incredibly useful as so often I pick up a book and fall into the inaccessible language pit.
Queer, A Graphic History is an informative, affirming, hopeful and essential read for anyone who wants to know more about queer theory, politics and activism. However, irrespective of your own identity, Queer is also a great introduction to examining binaries and biases in our daily lives and media. This is a thoughtful and powerful book to spend an afternoon reading and a lifetime acting upon.
Interested? Get it here: Hive (UK) / Book Depository (Int)
What to read next:
Dr MEG-JOHN BARKER is a writer, therapist, and activist-academic specialising in sex, gender and relationships. Meg-John is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and a UKCP accredited psychotherapist, and has over a decade of experience researching and publishing on these topics including the popular book Rewriting the Rules. @megjohnbarker
JULIA SCHEELE is an illustrator, graphic facilitator and comic book artist. She runs One Beat Zines, a feminist zine collective and distributor. @juliascheele