Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Queer Pioneer: Eve Sedgwick’s “Epistemology of the Closet”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Chapel Hill chapter.

You simply can’t get through the queer theory section of a gender studies class without hearing about the legendary Eve Sedgwick, and rightfully so. She was a pioneer in those fields, coining terms that most LGBTQ+ individuals are familiar with. The semester before I took my first gender studies class, I was in a Southern studies class, which is actually the first time I was introduced to Eve Sedgwick, believe it or not. We were studying queerness in the context of the American South, which was my favorite chapter we covered because of this very woman.

Probably the most popular of Sedgwick’s concepts today is that of “the queer lens.” Sedgwick was the first person to really examine literature and find the “potential queer nuances” within popular works. Henry James was her main case study. Today we use the queer lens in all forms of media. The most common example of this I’ve seen is when reading The Great Gatsby; many people believe that Nick harbored homosexual feelings towards Jay Gatsby. In my Southern studies class, we watched the film Fried Green Tomatoes and were specifically told to use the queer lens.

Something super interesting that isn’t so popularized is Sedgwick’s theory regarding male versus female homosocial relationships. Sedgwick argues that while male homosocial relationships are often assumed as homosexual, female homosexual relationships are often assumed to be homosocial. Hearing this shocked my world, to be completely honest, because I recognized how true it was. Generally, men will go to such great lengths to ensure that their homosocial relationships are not misconstrued as homosexual. This obviously stems from a toxic masculinity that becomes threatened if there is a presumed homosexual attraction. Women, however, are allowed a more expansive threshold of affection within their homosocial relationships. Therefore, when a female relationship is in fact homosexual, it is assumed by outsiders to be purely platonic. These assumptions are harmful to both male and females. For queer men, this enforces the idea that homosexuality is shameful, and for queer women, they have to go to greater lengths to “prove” their queerness.

Eve Sedgwick was a queer woman herself, and she made truly incredible additions to queer studies and gender studies. These concepts are helpful to the queer community because they make us aware of deeper issues within society and help us to better them.

Karleigh Wallace

Chapel Hill '22

Karleigh Wallace is an aspiring writer who is a senior at UNC majoring in English and minoring in history and creative writing.