Queer theory is known for being dense, almost unreadable at times. That’s why it’s all the more impressive that Kay Turner, a folklorist at the Brooklyn Arts Council, dedicated an evening to performances of queer-theory-oriented songs. And even better, the New York Times wrote up the event in a blog post documenting the songs and attendees.
Why is this noteworthy? Queer theory had its beginnings as an offshoot of academic feminist theory, gay and lesbian activism, and other influences from the humanities, social sciences, sexuality studies, and the public sphere. Once you get past the jargon, queer theory invites us to question whether heterosexuality is inevitable, what role reproduction plays in the structuring of gender roles, and how camp and drag aesthetics can provide insights into the power structures of everyday life (among other topics).
One of the purposes of Turner’s scholarship and performances is to demonstrate that queer theory can help illuminate daily life. Another of Turner’s projects, Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms (co-edited with Pauline Greenhill) provides queer and feminist readings of fairy tales in order to show that even the most canonical fairy tales, such as those of the Grimm brothers, still contain gaps and silences and hints at queer sexuality, gender-queer roles, and so on.
If queer theory can find a voice in songs and stories, perhaps it can find expression in other aspects of our culture, too. Since one of the main ideas behind queer theory is that it’s worth investigating the links between sexuality, gender, and power structures, this is a good thing!