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The Trouble with "Queerness": Drag and the Making of Two Cultures


This dissertation responds to the frequent charge within academic and activist circles that queer theory is simply gay male theory cloaked in more inclusive language. Taking as its starting point an ethnographic case study of drag king and queen performance cultures, it challenges the efficaciousness of an everything and the kitchen sink approach to queer theorizing and organizing. This work constitutes the first academic monograph centered on queer life in Cleveland, Ohio and is also the first to focus simultaneously on kinging and queening, a lacuna at once explained by and demanding interrogation of the fact that these practices have almost nothing in common with each other. Despite the shared heading of drag, these iconically queer institutions overlap little with respect to audience, movement vocabulary, stage persona, and treatment of gender, class, race, and sexuality. The radical (in)difference between these genres serves as a microcosmic representation of the perennial rift between lesbians and gay men and highlights the heteronormativity of the assumption that all of the identity categories subsumed under (and often eclipsed by) the queer umbrella ought a priori to have anything in common culturally, politically, or otherwise. I argue instead for the legitimacy of studies that focus exclusively on e.g., gay men or lesbians or transsexuals, free from the intersectional compulsion to extrapolate one's claims to the rest of the queer spectrum.

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