Icon Books have been publishing their flagship Introducing series in the UK for forty years, using cartoons to illustrate key thinking in politics, sociology, science and more. Queer: A Graphic History is the latest addition. Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele provide the words and cartoons respectively.

The book weaves over 100 years of queer studies and thinking together, so don’t be misled by ‘history’ in the title and expect a neat timeline story from Stonewall to same-sex marriage. I studied Politics and Sociology at university and lapped up getting my head round academic writing away from over-referenced journal articles.

Icon Books

Icon Books

Queer shines a spotlight on key thinkers including Foucault and Butler (names I’d heard before, but not their ideas) to try and summarise where academic queer thinking has come so far in recognising, defining and deconstructing queer experiences in a heteronormative world.

Barker and Scheele have done an incredible job in reducing down a whole sociological discipline into 175 accessible pages. As they state throughout, what’s the point of all this thinking if ordinary people can’t read it and use it? Yet there is almost too much to take in, with some sections introducing another new academic and new big idea at every page turn. Barker’s words clearly signpost and summarise what you’ve read so far, but breaking the book up into chapters would have helped too.

Scheele’s cartoons add the needed context, diversity and popular culture references to put Barker’s summaries of ideas into the real world. I want to return to some of my favourite pages with my pencils to colour the book in and reflect more on what’s been said and what I think.

queer-umbrella-1

Icon Books/Meg-John Barker/Julia Scheele

So what did I learn and think? We live in a heteronormative world (shorthand for also being white, cis gendered and male dominated). Queer studies tries to break down normativity and binaries, while also recognising the role both can play in identity politics and getting voices heard. Binaries are always troublesome and often used as good vs bad, to seek power over those deemed not ‘normal’. I was especially struck by the good/bad binaries we’ve built up for sex (gay, kink and solo being some of the bads) and how gay men risk creating their own troublesome  homonormativity (for more on that, read Matthew Todd).

Recently I was chatting to one of my heterosexual, white, male, cis-gendered colleagues. He’d never heard the term ‘heteronormativity’, but immediately understood it. 175 pages dissecting that might be a bit much for him (and anyone else not automatically interested in queer studies). But I’ll go to the photocopier and share some of the key ideas with him, because I feel better equipped in my growing queer activism, and why I’m doing it. Perhaps we’ll even colour in the pages together.

 

Also this week, I saw The Bodyguard at London’s Dominion Theatre, starring Queen of British Soul (and absolutely everything) Beverley Knight MBE. She is incomparable and owns the show, with all but two or three songs performed by her. There’s a bit of tension working out when the musical should be set: references to going viral and backstage livestreaming jar with the letters sent to popstar Rachel Marron by her stalker and a disconnect from today’s superstar security procedures. It would be best set firmly in 1992, the same year as the film it’s based on.

This isn’t a show with room for character development. The love between Rachel and her bodyguard Frank has less depth to it than any a Tinder first date. But The Bodyguard is a bit more than just a Whitney Houston jukebox musical, with underused chorus boys who were topless within a minute of curtain up.. By Act 2, as Houston’s biggest hits come out, Knight is at her best. That’s why I came to see the show, and why I’ll see whatever she’s in next. Beverley Knight is still one of our most genuine, generous and greatest female performers.