REVIEW | Queer: A Graphic History | Meg-John Barker

This was my first pick as a personal development read from my work, who have given us all a budget for wellbeing, productivity and personal development. I had this one on my radar for a while, so I was really keen to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, it was slightly disappointing to me, but still an interesting read.

About the book:

Activist-academic Meg-John Barker and cartoonist Julia Scheele illuminate the histories of queer thought and LGBTQ+ action in this groundbreaking non-fiction graphic novel.

From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do; how these ideas get tangled up with our culture and our understanding of biology, psychology and sexology; and how these views have been disputed and challenged.

Along the way we look at key landmarks which shift our perspective of what’s ‘normal’ – Alfred Kinsey’s view of sexuality as a spectrum, Judith Butler’s view of gendered behaviour as a performance, the play Wicked, or moments in Casino Royale when we’re invited to view James Bond with the kind of desiring gaze usually directed at female bodies in mainstream media.

What did I think?

I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t really a graphic novel of Queer History which, rightly or wrongly, is the assumption I made. Instead I’d call this an illustrated introduction to Queer Theory. That’s not necessarily a criticism, just not what I personally was expecting when I picked up this book. Putting that aside, though, I found several aspects of this book interesting and useful.

Personally I had some, but not extensive, experience with queer theory already. This meant that some of the concepts in this book were already very familiar to me, and those I didn’t particularly learn anything new from. On the other hand, other concepts that were unfamiliar to me were laid out in a very accessible way. To me this very much felt like a primer on queer theory. The cartoons and illustrations made it very accessible but, by their nature, created a more surface-level exploration of each topic. I think that this book will be an excellent read for anyone interested in learning about queer theory who isn’t quite sure where to start.

It begins by outlaying historical viewpoints and how they developed through time, and explains terminology clearly and succinctly. It’s a shame that there’s not a table of contents or a glossary, as I think I would be more likely to come back to this book as a jumping off point for further research, finding pages that interest me and using them to find other, more in-depth, texts on those particular subjects. Because each topic is restricted to a paragraph on each page, there isn’t a lot of depth to look at criticisms and support for each, and I think that for someone interested in queer theory they would have to research further to develop a real understanding. However, it does make it incredibly accessible for those who don’t know where to start without jumping straight into an overwhelming academic text.

I do think there were moments where the lack of depth did the book a disservice in the later sections of the book, particularly in the very complicated issues of queer theory criticisms. The surface level analysis of different texts, limited by the word count of the format, meant that there were moments where I felt like I was only being presented half of an analysis, and as someone with experience of queer theory, these moments could be frustrating. Some of these debates need that extra focus time and didn’t receive it.

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Release Date: 15th November 2016

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