Playing It Queer: Understanding Queer Gender, Sexual and Musical Praxis in a 'New' Musicological Context
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Across ages and cultures, music has been associated with sexual allure, gender inversion and suspect sexuality. Music has been theorised as both a putative agent of moral corruption and an expressive mechanism of gender and sexual signification, capable of arousing and channelling sexual urges and desires. This research examines musically facilitated expressions of queerness and queer identity, asking how and why music is used by queer musicians and musical performers to express non-normative gender and sexual identities. A queer theoretical approach to gender and sexuality, coupled with interdisciplinary theories concerning music as an identificatory practice, provides the theoretical landscape for this study. An investigation into queer musical episodes such as this necessitates an exploration of the broader cultural milieu in which queer musical work occurs. It also raises questions surrounding the corpus of queer musical practice—that is, do these practices constitute the creation of a new musical genre or a collection of genres that can be understood as queer music? The preceding questions inform an account of the histories, styles, sensibilities, and gender and sexual politics of camp, drag and genderfuck, queer punk and queercore, as well as queer feminist cultures, positioning these within musical praxis. Queer theory, music and identity theories as well as contemporary discussions relating to queer cultural histories are then applied to case studies of queer-identified music performers from Brisbane, Australia. A grounded theoretical analysis of the data gathered in these case studies provides the necessary material to argue that musical performance provides a creative context for the expression of queer identities and the empowerment of queer agency, as well as oppositional responses to and criticism of heterosexual hegemony, and the homogenisation and assimilation of mainstream gay culture. Resulting from this exploration of queer musical cultures, localised data gathering and analysis, this research also supposes a set of ideologies and sensibilities that can be considered indicative and potentially determinant of queer musical practice generally. Recognising that queer theory offers a useful theoretical discourse for understanding the complexities and flexibility of gender and sexual identities—particularly those that resist the binary logics of heteronormativity—this project foregrounds a question that is relatively unanswered in musicological work. It asks: how can musicology make use of queer theory in order to produce queer readings and new, anti-oppressive knowledge regarding musical performance, composition and participation? To answer this, it investigates the history of resistance towards embodied studies of music; the disjuncture between competing discourses of traditional and ‘new’ musicology; and recent developments in the pursuit of queer visibility within music studies. Building upon these recent developments, this work concludes that the integration of queer theoretical perspectives and queer aesthetic sensibilities within musicological discourse allows for a serious reconsideration of musical meaning and signification. In the development of a queer musicology, a committed awareness of queer theory, histories, styles and sensibilities, together with an embodied scholarly approach to music, is paramount. It is through this discursive nexus that musicology will be able to engage more fully with the troubling, performative and contingent qualities of gender, sexuality and desire.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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