Following the work of Michel Foucault, “The History of Sexuality”, critics like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Adrienne Rich and Diana Fuss introduced the concept of Queer theory and are therefore referred to as the major proponents.
They wrapped their ideologies around the fluidity of gender identity and sexuality, taking their cue from the historian Michel Foucault, who proposes that sexuality exists on a continuum.
While these proponents configured the tenets that would be synonyms with queer theory, the phrase itself is a coinage of the critical theorist, Teresa de Laurites who in 1991 edited a special issue of the feminist cultural studies journal entitled “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities.”
She went further to indicate the signification of her usage: a refusal of heterosexuality as the benchmark for all sexual formations; an attentiveness to gender capable of interrogating the frequent assumption that lesbian and gay studies is a single, homogeneous object; and an insistence on the multiple ways in which race crucially shapes sexual subjectivities.
From the above two ideas are evident in the foundation of Queer theory. 1). The normalcy of heterosexuality (the relationship between opposite sex) and the debasement of every other form of sexuality as established and enforced by the society is questioned and opposed.
2). There is an abundance of identities in which Queer theory not only recognizes but also breaks down in relation to other contributing factors like race, class, religion, gender, etc. Identity, its formation and the society are aspects this theory revolves around.
Queer theory as an academic tool came about in part from gender and sexuality studies that in turn had their origins from lesbians and gay studies and feminist theory. It challenges the notion of defined and finite identity categories, as well as the norms that create a binary of good versus bad sexualities.
Queer theory seeks to question heterosexual standards in the society and it’s superior status as, “right”. Foucault has shown that this sexual preference as the norm is a constructed reality for the maintenance of specific power relations and has nothing to do with biology.
Heterosexual standards let for the preservation and fostering of a procreative population (or workforce) that met the needs of a developing capitalist system. Butler (1999) supports this by stating that “neither the naturalised heterosexuality nor division of sex and gender are natural but are socially constructed to serve the purpose of reproduction”. Same sex desire unarguably seemed to be an aberration from the procreative norm.
Heterosexual standards also kept the status quo of gender relation, where the male sex and female sex both have stereotypical essence, especially in the narrative that one has to dominate the other while the other submits. It is for socio_political reasons that false coherence of apparently stable genders are attached to appropriate biological sexes.
This coherence is maintained through an imbuing of fear from both political, religious and social authority. This fear in the society creates a psychological error that is referred to as homophobia. Homophobia is a set of hostile attitudes and behaviours towards sexual preferences that are not heterosexual.
Homophobia results from harmful prejudice and it leads to harmful and destructive behaviour. According to Tilsen and Nylund (2010), the notion of heterosexuality and the postulation that each individual is heterosexual leads to the development of homophobia.
They further add that various power relations for this reason, react either consciously or unconsciously in an attempt to stabilize heteronormativity. The power relation between mother and child is the most evident in Under the Udala Tree. The mother of Ijeoma, Adaora wields Christianity like a weapon against the perceived demon, “lesbianism”. She reacts against the idea that her daughter’s relationship would destabilized the standardized heteronomativity.
Don’t you see?” Mama asked. “It’s that same behavior that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the very same behavior that you and that girl—what’s her name again?—engaged in.”
“Almighty God in heaven,” she began, “protect this my child from the devil that has come to take her innocent soul away. Zoputa ya n’ajo ihe. Protect her from the demons that are trying to send her to hell. Lead her not into temptation. E kwela ka o kwenye na nlanye.
Through out the text, Adaora prophesies doom and instills images of damnation in Ijeoma’s mind and in no time Ijeoma’s internalizes these images as evident in the dreams she had. Adaora is one aspect used to emphasize hostility in the society. Other cases of hostility are represented by the killings of homosexuals in the text.
The author brings to light the brutality that this marginalized sect faces, so that in seeing such brutality the society questions its own prejudice and ask if it is worth humanity. This takes superior context When one reads the novel in light of the past and current political evolution of anti-gay rhetoric in Nigeria.
Indeed, on 7 January 2014, the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was implemented in Nigeria, expanding on deeply-rooted colonial era sodomy laws, and whereby same-sex couples who live together can be sentenced to 14 years in prison. The novel takes on a militant stance using the gay theory as ground of conveyance.