Unpacking Queer Theory: An Investigation into the Methodology and the Importance of Gale Primary Sources

│By Madeleine Pedley, Gale Ambassador at Liverpool John Moores University│

Unpacking Queer Theory

Within this blog, I will be using Gale Primary Sources’ Archives of Sexuality and Gender to find case studies and investigate Queer Theory. The importance of using Gale Primary Sources within explorations into methodology is that they enable students to build upon initial research and produce supported interpretations through their extensive archives. This blog aims to investigate the Queer Theory methodology and provide examples of application through selected sources. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of such examples and how History of Art and Museum Studies students can use Gale Primary Sources.  

The Queer Theory methodology is used to explore works of art or text from a new perspective, with the outcome providing a different narrative to interpret the piece and redefine it within an LGBTQ+ setting.1 It is not there to make an artwork suddenly homosexual but to allow for alternative and contemporary discussions to take place. 

Completing a BA in History of Art and Museum Studies

History of Art and Museum Studies offers a comprehensive education into interpretation and critical analysis of art, focusing on the theories presented within the Art History canon; the addition of museology allows students to gain theoretical and practical experience within curatorial practices. The combination of both provides skills that directly link to jobs within the creative sector like a Conservator, Museum/Gallery Curator, Exhibition Officer and Commercial Art Gallery Manager. It also provides a platform for students like myself to investigate areas of art that interest them, whether that is a time-period, artist, or methodology.

Queer Theory and Critical History, Together at Last by Laura Doan, reviewed by Martha Vicinus 

Doan, Laura, and Martha Vicinus.
Doan, Laura, and Martha Vicinus. “Queer Theory and Critical History, Together at Last.” The Women’s Review of Books, vol. 31, no. 2, March-April 2014, pp. 13+. Archives of Sexuality and Gender, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PTAUFZ071486691/AHSI?u=livjm&sid=bookmark-AHSI&xid=0b8241f4.

This review outlines a couple of themes within Queer Theory, indicating how by using this lens, critical analysis of sexuality can be redefined. The first is when Vicinus begins the review by setting out how the author develops a “fresh approach toward interpreting same-sex erotics” through the use of various readings of text and popular culture, including a World War I recruitment poster; this example can be used to show how by approaching an image in a new way, a different interpretation can be produced.

For instance, this poster above can be viewed as a flirty image meant to encourage men through the use of a female’s alluring sexuality and the challenge towards their masculinity. However, through a Queer Theory lens, the discussion around the women’s dialogue could present a narrative that she is being genuine and wants to explore this possibility of being a man; and just like that you have delved into discussions around gender and ultimately Queer Theory. 

Themes of Queer Theory

However, as mentioned above, Queer Theory is not just about gender – it is an intersectional methodology that considers a range of themes within its domain. This quote below can be seen as a stepping stone, through its initial highlighting of sexuality, towards the larger conversation of how gender, class, and race impact Queer Theory:

"Sexuality, unlike race or gender, is most often seen in terms of identity, rather than power." Quote from: Doan, Laura, and Martha Vicinus. "Queer Theory and Critical History, Together at Last." The Women's Review of Books, vol. 31, no. 2
Doan, Laura, and Martha Vicinus. “Queer Theory and Critical History, Together at Last.” The Women’s Review of Books, vol. 31, no. 2, March-April 2014, pp. 13+. Archives of Sexuality and Gender, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PTAUFZ071486691/AHSI?u=livjm&sid=bookmark-AHSI&xid=0b8241f4.

Vinicus goes on to state how through this methodology the theme of sexuality can be explored, especially sexual acts that resist explanation through other lenses. The theme of sexuality within the review demonstrates how sexual orientation cannot be defined by what is seen by others, as it is far more complex. This is supported by the mention of Doan’s case study and their conclusion of how “social class, distinguished war service or a good barrister often trumped questions of sexual behaviour”, indicating the influence surrounding issues of gender, class and race.

Plus, they also consider how an individual’s appearances are not indicative to their sexual desires, therefore it is in the realm of possibility for the image above to have a Queer Theory reading despite its initial heterosexual aesthetic.

Making Things Perfectly Clear? By Barbara Korbal  

This document is a review of the publication Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture by Alexander Doty, and how the use of the Queer Theory methodology impacted mass culture, like TV shows and films. This particular text is a great example of using Gale Primary Sources to find additional material; by using the Archives of Sexuality and Gender, I found this text despite not initially looking for information surrounding media, which became extremely useful in the investigation of Queer Theory and this blog.

The review offers a wide range of examples of both the potential and limitations surrounding a methodology like Queer Theory, as Korbal provides a great critique of the work and even elaborates on certain points made by Doty.  

"Doty outline the "queer receiver" as any individual (regardless of sexuality) negotiating and reading a popular culture text as "non-straight," and the "queer text", in Korbal, Barbara. "Making Things Perfectly Clear?" The Lesbian Review of Books, vol. 1, no. 4, summer 1995, p. 15
Korbal, Barbara. “Making Things Perfectly Clear?” The Lesbian Review of Books, vol. 1, no. 4, summer 1995, p. 15. Archives of Sexuality and Gender, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/SNCSEQ892821029/AHSI?u=livjm&sid=bookmark-AHSI&xid=31d569c5.

The extract above provides an interesting point concerning how everyone can be a “Queer receiver” as the inclusion of non-heterosexual elements within cultural-consumerism products invites this; by presenting moments within popular TV shows and films, individuals with a cis-gendered and heterosexual nature will also be present in the audience. This concept of straight consumerism of homosexual products indicates how “queer expression has always existed within, or alongside, what traditionally have been considered straight cultural forms and conventions”.

This suggests that the use of Queer Theory on such scenes is not forced but beneficial to expanding critical analysis and creates the “multiple possibilities for locating queer moments”, as well as redefining the audience. 

Media Representation and Stereotypes

Korbal critiques the publication on how it handles the discussion surrounding lesbian love presented within sit-coms, as Doty includes all references referring to same-sex female relations and implies they are reflections of lesbian love and sexuality; this creates an issue as some of these homosexual moments were intended as jokes, double-entendres, or displaced comments.

Korbal argued against it as it construed what lesbian sexuality is and distances it as a Queer desire, thus beginning the discussion into how the media impacts representation; an argument made possible through the Queer Theory methodology and its consideration of sexuality, gender, race and class.  

"In this chapter, Doty raises the important question of how "misogyny of a distinctly gay variety" could be conceptualized. Although he offers little in the way of an answer, Doty formulates some of the critical issues involved in specifying how gale male misogynist attitudes are culturall constructed in opposition to the feminine." Quote from Korbal, Barbara. "Making Things Perfectly Clear?" The Lesbian Review of Books, vol. 1, no. 4, summer 1995, p. 15
Korbal, Barbara. “Making Things Perfectly Clear?” The Lesbian Review of Books, vol. 1, no. 4, summer 1995, p. 15. Archives of Sexuality and Gender, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/SNCSEQ892821029/AHSI?u=livjm&sid=bookmark-AHSI&xid=31d569c5.

This final extract raises the issues inside of the Queer community, unpacking how even in the LGBTQ+ community there are stereotypes and differences between each other. As in my first case study, the example of if sexual activity is defined as simply penetrative, the act of “kissing and fondling between women may be seen as training for the “real thing” or simply as affectionate teasing”. This supports the suggestion of the removal of lesbian moments from Queer desire as well as the difference in perception between homosexual men and women. This indicates the gender differences within the gay community, a concept that can be applied within Queer Theory when comparing two or more pieces of work.  

New Interpretations

Overall, these case studies show the importance of finding sources that provide different perspectives and themes even within the same methodology. The Queer Theory lens is complex and can be used to view sources with a new interpretation, as demonstrated above. The art world is developing alongside the social issues presented today and so the need to look back on history differently is increasing; as “Queer theorists opened a new, provocative approach to the historical past”. So, the use of Gale Primary Sources to find texts such as these has never been more imperative to critical writing and analysis of art. 


Blog post cover image citation: Doan, Laura, and Martha Vicinus. “Queer Theory and Critical History, Together at Last.” The Women’s Review of Books, vol. 31, no. 2, March-April 2014, pp. 13+. Archives of Sexuality and Gender, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PTAUFZ071486691/AHSI?u=livjm&sid=bookmark-AHSI&xid=0b8241f4.

If you enjoyed reading about Queer Theory, then check out these posts:

  1. Indiana University Bloomington Libraries (2024) Philosophy, Introduction to Queer Theory [Online] Available at: https://guides.libraries.indiana.edu/c.php?g=995240&p=8361766 [Accessed 12/01/2024]
Madeleine Pedley

About the Author

Madeleine Pedley is a Gale Ambassador at Liverpool John Moores University, where she is completing a BA in History of Art and Museum Studies. Madeleine has recently completed her dissertation on “Shunga and how it Represented the Attitudes Towards Gay Sex in Edo Period, 1603-1868, Japan”, in which she explored the methodology of Queer Theory and its impact on interpretations produced when analysing Shunga art. Outside of her academic studies, Madeleine has a keen interest in travelling and has been awarded several travel grants during her time at university, as well as producing several music events around Liverpool with local promoters, bands and artists. If you would like to keep up with Madeleine's future events, you can find her LinkedIn here.