Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet is an argument about the socially imposed binary oppositions that limits the people’s freedom and understanding, especially when it comes to human sexuality. The society has limited our concept of sexuality with just the homosexual or the heterosexual, and for Sedgwick, this is just too simplistic. The question that this argument raises then is what comprises human sexuality. The fact that it is society puts in an “A or B” situation is just too simple, something that Sedgwick does not accept because sexuality is such a complex idea.
By carefully analyzing and examining the Queer Theory, only then can we start understanding the human sexuality in-depth, as well as understand other important revelations in Sedgwick’s Epistemology. Reading through Sedgwick’s compilation, we can see that there are several contradictions that are often misunderstood by the modern society, and that language plays an important role when it comes to sexuality. She presents that labeled speech is a manifestation or proof of the nature of a person’s sexuality. One of the major concepts that relates to the Epistemology of the Closet is the Queer theory.
Upon understanding it, we can say that it is a process of learning, discovering or “uncovering” the underlying meanings, differences and similarities, and the relationships of power in large cultural setting, which others often misunderstood and simplify. It aims to disprove the modern theory practice of dividing concepts into comparative binaries like secrecy/disclosure, feminine/masculine, and a lot more (Masterson). According to queer theorists, queers represent a third sex, which eventually breaks the comparative binary placed by society over our understanding of sexuality.
In relation to this, it is said that there were two perspectives when it comes to sexual identity and desire: the minoritizing view and the universalizing view (O’Farrell). The minoritizing perspective states that certain individuals are indeed born gay, and those who find them interesting or share an interest with them are the ones who were born with deviant traits. On the other hand, the universalizing perspective states that homosexuality encompasses those persons who have a wide range of sexualities (Sedgwick).
In Epistemology, Eve Sedgwick points out that in making sense of the modern sexual understanding arise two major contradictions (Sedgwick). The first one is that the minoritizing view stands in opposition against the universalizing perspective. Sedgwick doesn’t wholly believe in any of the two, but instead believes in segments of each view. The second contradiction is that same-sex relationships provide structural boundaries but on the other hand, they also advance separation.
Another topic that Sedgwick highlight in the Epistemology is about language usage or labeling, when it comes to human sexuality. One example given is about the term homosexuality, which Sedgwick points out that it is a loaded term, which seemed to have a bit more of male bias. She points out that this may be because of the etymology of homo, which in Latin would mean man, or that when it comes to societal discourse regarding this concept, greater attention were given to men at this point (Sedgwick).
Another ambiguous term that Sedgwick points out is the term “gay,” which she said would produce mixed results. One example is how some women do not identify themselves with the term “gay” at all, instead they call themselves lesbians. On the other hand, some women would identify themselves as “gay women,” thus giving no sense to the term lesbian. Because of the ambiguity of these terms, Sedgwick points out that there is obviously a language conflict in this concept, and instead of helping clear out misunderstandings regarding human sexuality, it would just further cloud up minds.
Sedgwick again, associates this to the problems related to the modern binary opposition regarding homosexuality and heterosexuality. There another concept that Sedgwick focuses on, and it is the most important lingual distinction posed by the Epistemology. She forces her opinion that homosexuality is more just an act of speech. A person acknowledges homosexuality when she dresses-up like the opposite sex, acts like it also, and declares that he/she indeed is a homosexual. Admitting one’s homosexuality is an important part of being a homosexual, as Sedgwick puts it.
Then, if we are to think through what Sedgwick said, homosexuality may be a state of mind, and that as one admits of being so, then it validates being a homosexual. But in my opinion, homosexuality to its strictest sense may not be only limited to lingual distinction. One may have a strong sexual desire for the same sex, but does not dress up and act like what Sedgwick’s homosexual did. Without language or lingual distinction, this one would not be a homosexual according to Sedgwick standards, but one can say that homosexuality is about the feelings of desire towards the same sex.
Again, I may just be clouded by my initial understanding of what a homosexual is, which is why Sedgwick points out that binary oppositions can really be confusing. For one person, someone may be a homosexual, and for another he may be not. What this tells us, and what Sedgwick tells us is that human sexuality is indeed a very complex idea or concept, and unlike how the society has simplistically put it, it is not just about “A or B” with sexuality.
One important thought that Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet has brought up, is that trying to define sexuality would also mean trying to understand the concepts relating to the queer theory. The contents of Sedgwick’s Epistemology lead us to the understanding and application of the queer theory. As a queer theorist, she tries to explain and sort out the anti-intellectualism and re-naturalizing of identity categories, especially those that involve the mainstream gay culture, as it is often misunderstood by the society, and is often taken too lightly.
Epistemology boldly and uniquely attempts to let the readers understand and bring forth intellectual arguments regarding the world and life of gays. By trying to understand Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet, readers somehow seek the roots of the modern understanding of the homosexual and heterosexual dichotomy. Sedgwick successfully pointed out that we are indeed limited by the standard binary oppositions today, as it greatly limit our freedom and understand regarding such concepts.
This means that the modern understanding of homosexuality and heterosexuality is just too simplistic, that it often overlooks the important details of the concepts. Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology has helped us understand these ideas, and it has proven that indeed, modern sexual contradictions have resulted to modern misunderstandings, often causing confusion and limited knowledge. Sedgwick also pointed out that language is a strong force that affects human sexuality, and that labeled speech are manifestations of the nature of a person’s sexuality.
Sedgwick successfully utilized the queer theory in uncovering the meanings of the abovementioned ideas which are often masked by modern culture’s misunderstandings.
Masterson, Mark Anthony. “Epistemology of the Closet Review”. 2006. International Gay & Lesbian Review. October 29 2008. <http://gaybookreviews. info/review/2658/556>. O’Farrell, Mary Ann. “Queer Theory 101. ” Outburst Magazine. Spring (1997). Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1990.