Tag Archives: Q

Q is for Queer Theory

I was about to say that lots of people ask me questions when they hear that I have studied queer theory, but it’s not quite true. Some people do. Other people just look at me for a minute and then change the subject.

People who do ask questions often begin with something like, “do they really call it that?” Well, yes, it’s genuinely in the title of courses and indeed my degree. It is a provocative name, and I know many people are uncomfortable with the use of the term ‘queer’. The thinking behind its use here has, I think, two¬†main strands. Firstly, using an insult to refer to yourself takes the sting out of it; this process is called ‘reclaiming’. Pagans, especially women, who call themselves witches are doing some of this; religious groups, such as Quakers or Methodists, who take on originally offensive or sarcastic nicknames are also doing this. It turns the power of the word to your advantage – with the disadvantage that a lot of people are going to raise their eyebrows and say things like, “do they [whoever they are!] really call it that?”

The second strand is the need for a clear but not too specific term. ‘Gay’, although sometimes used for all homosexuals or even everyone who experiences same-sex attraction, is more often associated with men – as ‘lesbian’ is with women. Terms like ‘homosexual’ don’t make sense when you’ve noticed the existence of people outside the gender binary – what’s ‘same-sex’ if you’re intersex or third-gendered? Abbreviations – LGBTQIA… – build up into long lists and can never include everyone. ‘Queer’ – people whose sexualities are oppressed under the use of offensive terms like ‘queer’ – can include, as someone memorably put it in questioning me about my course, “gays and stuff”, with a very wide scope on ‘stuff’. Polyamory, kink, BDSM, asexuality, heteroqueer, and a whole array of gender identities can be included under the suggestive-but-not-definitive term ‘queer’.

What does queer theory do, then? Two main things: it theorises queerness and it offers queer readings. Queerness – whatever that is – has often been medicalised and sexuality and gender treated reductively (I refer you to whatever debate about ‘gay genes’ or the existence of ‘female sexual dysfunction’ is happening at the moment). Working from a perspective which takes the experiences of queer people seriously, queer theory can open up new ways of looking at these questions.

Similarly, queer readings of texts – literary works, TV shows, archaeological evidence, whatever – offers insights from contemporary and historical queer experience. Again, this can open up new perspectives on all kinds of questions: the relationships between characters in a novel, the burial of a body with ambiguous gender markers, the ways that gay marriage is depicted in advertising.

Lots of people ask me whether queer theory is really called that, and what it’s about. Sadly, I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me why I’d want to study queer theory or what makes it a useful subject – things I do get asked about theology and philosophy in particular. That’s sad because I’d have a lot to say about how enriching I found it as a discipline.

Q is for… Quiet

Quiet. Silence. Stillness. Quakers are certainly associated with sitting quietly, and to quite an extent that’s right – we do make a habit of sitting regularly in silence. Being quiet, we find in everyday life, helps you to listen, and listening is what we’re after in our worship, so quietness seems like a good idea.

It’s not all we’re about, though. Although ‘peace and quiet’ go together in a traditional phrase, they don’t always go together in life; a busy city street, in which people are chatting, laughing, buying what they need and sharing what they have – isn’t that a vision of peace, too? A lively institution (a church, a university, a social club) that welcomes people of all ages, races, and genders, which involves them all in conversation – that can be a kind of peace, but there’s no way it’s quiet. If you sit still and use your ears while Quakers are sharing food or tea, it’s obvious that we know this really!

Another way in which we’re not quiet is in speaking out about things which are important to us. You can use silence as a way of drawing attention, sometimes – not speaking when speech is expected, for example – but sometimes you need to tell people what you’re on about. Besides doing this nationally, as with the campaign for same-sex marriage*, it has to be done locally and personally, usually over and over again. I tell myself that as I explain again that I’m a vegan, that yes it means I don’t eat milk or cheese or eggs – and then try and explain that I do eat free range organic eggs sometimes especially if they’ve come from within walking distance, and that it isn’t that I have a moral objection to drinking cow’s milk, and that I do eat honey – not even organic honey! – because I want to support British bee-keepers. And that yes, I know soy can be problematic too. I would make a difference to my carbon footprint if I was a vegan in secret, remaining vegetarian outside the house, but I make more of a difference if I try to be vegan in as many places as possible, and I might make even more of a difference if I let people know that it’s because it’s the only part of my carbon footprint I have much control over at the moment.

Sometimes I’m quiet about it, when I just can’t face explaining or when I don’t think it will go down well with the audience – usually, when just the act of choosing to be vegan has already spoken loudly about my unusual lifestyle. It can be true that ‘actions speak louder than words’, although I think there are quieter and louder actions. Generally, going along with the crowd is not a loud action – although if you’ve joined a crowd at a protest, your presence is still a voice for your cause.

I’ve heard stories about Quakers whose friends and work colleagues didn’t find out about their religion until after their death. I hope that those friends and colleagues discovered that so-and-so was a Quaker and said to themselves, ‘well, that fits, I should have seen it all along’. I’d like people to be able to ask me about Quakerism while I’m still here, though (anyone ever done a seance for outreach?), and I don’t think we’re well-known or distinctive enough for people to actually deduce my identity from the way I behave. I like peace and silence, but I choose not to be quiet.

* I don’t call it equal marriage for the reasons Kat Gupta outlines in this post.

Q is for… Questions

There’s nothing Quakers like quite like a question. Previously on this blog I’ve tried to suggest some of my answers, even when the post had a question at its core, but in this post I want to share some of the Quaker or related questions for which I do not presently have any answers.

What is the nature of the divine? Can we know?

Is it possible or sustainable for me to be a Quaker and an academic or even a Quaker academic?

How can we inform and enthuse Friends about our central work, making them feel involved with it and excited by it without threatening their attachment to local and area meetings?

Will our membership go Wooosh?

How can we help nominations committees to give those they ask to consider service an accurate idea of what that service involves?

Is sharing Unwilling, Unable with my non-Quaker friends an acceptable form of outreach?

Can you learn to tell those Friends who answer email from those who don’t at a glance, or at least before you’ve waited a week and tried again and eventually resorted to the phone?

What makes Yearly Meeting such a dramatically different experience to other Business Meetings? Is it really spiritually richer or do I just like it better?

Why do I find tea and coffee after Meeting such an awkward experience?

If I dyed my hair grey, would Friends stop saying how much they like seeing ‘young people like you’ at Meeting/on committees/not being drunken drug-taking layabouts or whatever it is they think other people my age are doing?

Can we expand our appeal? What make my friend who would be a Quaker if he wanted to go to church at all decide to come to Quaker events?

Can we celebrate our diversity and openness – our gay Friends, straight Friends, non-theist Friends, Christocentric Friends, questioning Friends, young Friends, older Friends, middle aged Friends, just retired Friends, agnostic Friends – while also pushing ourselves to more fully accept Friends who are not white, not middle class, not as well-educated, not dressed the way we expect?

How can I most fully use those few talents I have in the service of the Society? What do I do with those talents – like asking awkward questions – which the Society may need but doesn’t really want?

Q is for… Quizzes

I admit it, I’m a bit out of ideas for Q. So here are the results from some silly online quizzes about pagan topics.

Which Pagan Path Are You?
100% Wiccan
75% Shaman
63% Druid

(I wouldn’t call that ‘very accurate’, mind you!)

What Kind of Pagan Are You?
95% Celtic Pantheonic Pagan
75% Egyptian Pantheonic Pagan
75% Eclectic Pagan

(Not bad… I do work with both Celtic and Egyptian deities, and am quite eclectic – and pedantic enough to have corrected the misspelling in these results.)

How Pagan Are You?
Wow! You sure know what you’re talking about.

(Well, yes, I suppose I do…)

Q is for… Quaking

Quakers were so-named (in scorn, at first) because they quaked and shook – in the early days, often literally – before the Lord.

I don’t usually quake so that you can see it, but there is a condition of inward or slight outward shaking which accompanies much spoken ministry in Meeting for Worship and in my experience also some moments in Pagan ritual and meditation (of many kinds).

I remember noticing my quaking particularly on one occasion: I gave ministry towards the end of a Meeting. I stood to do so, but finding myself somewhat weak for standing I leant my arms on the back of the chair in front of me. Sitting in that chair was a Friend well known to me, whose normal condition of life gives her a regular outward shaking. Feeling that Friend shake outwardly, and the weakness in my own legs, I was much more aware of the physicality of my quaking than I would perhaps normally be.

I can also remember quaking in private pagan rituals. (Usually the script takes away most if not all of the quaking in public rituals, though they are not necessarily less powerful for it.) Kneeling before my altar, naked, on a towel, and connecting with the forces of the Element Water by direct contact with a rather chilly sample of same – not all my shivers were outward.

I don’t take quaking to be the only or a required sign of true spiritual experience. I’ve had deeply meaningful experiences in which it was entirely lacking. I do think, though, that it is worth paying attention when it happens.