“Queer: A Graphic History” (review)

Queer: A Graphic History (review)

Not everybody is interested in becoming a queer studies scholar. But everyone can benefit from having a better understanding of queerness and queer theory.

Queer: A Graphic History was written by Meg-John Barker, illustrated by Jules Scheele, and published in 2016. It is a friendly, heavily-illustrated introduction to queer theory, a branch of study formed in the early 1990s. But even more than that, it’s a handy, easy-to-understand introduction to the complexities of the concept of queerness. I recommend this book for people who are trying to get their heads around queer identities, the word “queer,” and queer vocabulary, and want to dive a bit deeper than an online article.

This book crams a lot into a small(ish) package. It:

  • defines queer vocabulary terms
  • provides an overview of how Western culture understands sex and sexuality and how queer theory challenges those views
  • highlights various queer theory pioneers and thought leaders
  • looks at how queer theory engages with pop culture, biology, and sexology
  • analyzes criticisms of queer theory and tensions within the field
  • summarizes recent conversations within the discipline of queer theory
  • suggests ways to queer your thought processes

All that may sound a bit dry, but the book is written in a down-to-earth tone, and it’s full of humor and cheeky illustrations to guide the reader through all the subjects above.

One of the things I most appreciate about the book is its intersectional approach. The authors look at how race, disability, ethnicity, nationality, and class interplay with and are, in fact, foundational to queer theory.

As I was working on this post, I was delighted to find that earlier this year, Barker and Steele released a companion book, called Gender: A Graphic Guide. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m purchasing it from an indie bookstore online as I write this.

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