@StefanB and Bill: Good questions/complicated to answer!
First, the Queer Atheists, Agnostics, and Animists presentation (which is a 15 minute talk to allow time for discussion) is about a survey I did of atheist, agnostic, animist readers of Tolkien. For this talk, I’ve pulled out the 38 (of 112) respondents who said they were members of one of the gender, romantic, or sexual minority communities (GRSM, an acronym I use instead of the growing LGBTQUIA+* term). The focus in this project is on analyzing how these readers interpret Tolkien. Academics are all about defining terms: here’s a short excerpt from my presentation about the only definition I give in the talk:
Alexander Doty’s film monograph, Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon (Routledge, 2000), pages 6-7, where he lists six different definitions of “queer/queerness” that he has found in Queer Theory and scholarship. The definition that best fits the work I am doing in this presentation is 2.A: an “umbrella term: a. to pull together lesbian, and/or gay, and/or bisexual with little or no attention to differences (similar to certain uses of “gay” to mean lesbians, gay men, and sometimes, bisexuals, transsexuals, and transgendered people).” My data shows that about 70% of my respondents are bisexual and/or pansexual, with the remaining 30% being asexual, gay, lesbian, or queer.
Having analyzed my data, I can assure all and sundry that except for some very general references to fanfiction, there is NO sexy talk of any sort in this project!
However, I’ve been working on other queer Tolkien projects for a while. I am co-editing an anthology with two medievalist friends of mine titled ‘We Could Do With a Bit More Queerness in These Parts’: Tolkien’s Queer Legendarium. (The quote is from the Gaffer, in the “Long Expected Party” chapter).
I have the data on Tolkien’s use of queer/queerness in the HOB and LOTR (it’s not used at all in the SiLM, not surprisingly), for an essay I’m doing for the anthology. I say “data” because it comes from a corpus of Tolkien’s work (an electronic annotated database) created by another friend of mine (which is perfectly legitimate for scholarly purposes because it’s not online/available to anyone except the creator who kindly pulled out all the text in the novels that have the keyword queer/queer* in it.
I’ve just started doing the analysis which involves identifying whether the word/phrase is used in the narrative voice, or in character dialogue; if in dialogue, what character is speaking (or reporting the dialogue of another character), what part of speech (noun or modifier), and what/who is being described as queer (Bilbo, Frodo, Tom Bombadil for example, or the Old Forest, Buckland, Hobbiton, etc.), and what other words are collocated (associated) with “queer/queerness” in the clause or sentence, and whether the associations are negative or positive (in my reading of the word in context).
And with a word that is contested in terms of so many conflicting meanings as “queer,” it becomes very “slippery” in terms of claiming what was meant in any given usage. So I’ll have to defer answering the question of overt meaning for a while (though I’ll note that there is very little in Tolkien that is “overtly sexual” in any meaning of the word–including straightness! That was one of the complaints of the modernist critics — that there was no sex in it! They were not entirely wrong–it just depends on what you think “sex” in a novel should look like.)
The word is often used negatively–but of course (as Verlyn Flieger pointed out in one of her presentations), a character’s opinion is not automatically the author’s. For instance, the Hobbiton hobbits think the Bucklanders are queer; Farmer Maggot thinks the Hobbiton folk are queer (and that Frodo should never have been/gone there)!
One of Doty’s six definitions of “queer” is anything that is non-normative (similar to the dictionary meaning of “queer” as anything that is different/Other, not just limited to sexuality)–by that definition, Bilbo and Frodo in not marrying, in learning languages, in leaving the Shire to travel all around with Dwarves and other “queer folk,” are queer — in not conforming to what is expected of normal hobbits. But of course that type of queerness turns out to be positive for what they achieved!
Bill: I will note that to limit the word queer to “overtly sexual” is a negative stereotype that has existed for decades and that current queer scholarship and activism oppose for all sorts of reasons. I’ll also note that none of the current scholarship I know of is interested in arguing whether character X or Y is/is not gay, homosexual, queer etc (which was the case in some earlier essays), nor in arguing about the author’s intentions or his religion.
StefanB: the word may have mean somethink differently, what we mean with the word did exist, just wasn’t talked about.
Thank you–yes, the OED draws from print sources only, and cannot give anything like a deep analysis of the multiple meanings of any word (people don’t restrict themselves to the dictionary meaning). It’s just a better source than dictionaries that just give the current basic meaning without all the complicated background.
Saying “X word didn’t mean Y in Tolkien’s life” is complicated (he lived for decades! Things changed!), and also implies that Tolkien’s meaning/attitudes toward the word, the concept, the sin, whatever, were the same as everybody else’s which is not true. Heck, there are still multiple conflicting definitions today-some people see “queer” as a slur, while others see it a triumphant affirmation (and all gradations in between).
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