The Homosexual Subject: Coming-Out as a Political Act

By Wang, Yong | Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, November 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Homosexual Subject: Coming-Out as a Political Act


Wang, Yong, Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality


Drawing on Lacan's notion of the subject as a split and his four discursive forms, this paper identifies and examines three moments inherent to the coming out narratives. It is shown that two such moments, manifested as two forms of discourse--the hysteric's discourse and the master's discourse, open the possibility of political actions. The former adheres to a perpetual position to interrogating the established social-symbolic order, whereas, the latter completes the steps of constituting and recognizing oneself in a new master's interpellation. The author then examines the form of and limitations to the political gestures entailed by the social constructionism and queer theory concerning the coming out processes: the social constructionist's insistence on completing the master's discourse and the queer gesture of rejecting any master and keeping the symbolic-ideological space open.

The act of coming out marks a significant phase in the formation of the homosexual subjectivity, both for the individual and for the formation of gay/lesbian communities. In social sciences and humanities, two paradigms have dominated the research of homosexuality and the formation of homosexual subjectivity and identities: the constructionist approach and queer theory (deconstructionist approach), though some more or less conventional sociological approaches such as symbolic interactionism, dramaturgical approach, and conflict theories have also fared well. Social constructionist studies of homosexuality, according to Steven Seidman (1996 p. 9), reject essentialism that locates homosexuality in human's biological makeup and directs research interests and efforts to the social factors and processes that shape the homosexual identity and community. The queer theorist on the other hand argues against any approach that remains within the symbolic space of binary social categories such as man and woman, male and female, heterosexuality and homosexuality, natural and unnatural, which organize the social knowledge/power of contemporary capitalist system and are sustained through performativity-reiteration (Butler, 1993). The act of coming out thus functions differently in the two universes of social constructionism and queer theory: as a process of negotiating and constituting certain homosexual identities in the former and as a (failed) performing of social categories in the latter.

In both paradigms, the notion of subject/subjectivity is probably one of the least clearly defined concepts. In the social constructionist's works the subject is usually equated to the sense of self that is correlative to an identity occupying a certain structural position(s). The queer theorist tends to view the subject as an effect of the Althusserian interpellation (Althusser, 1971), a product of performativity of social, political, and legal powers (Butler, 1993), which hail the individual into a subject and at the same time subjects her to an order of power. The difficulty for social constructionism lies in its treatment of the coming out individual as always already homosexual who only needs to negotiate a certain identity, a membership in a community or group. For the queer theorist, the trouble inheres in the queering gesture that endeavors to de-subjectivize the subject, asserting the ever failing performative, and refusing "any positing of a proper subject" (Eng et al., 2005, p. 3). However, the result of both constructionist and deconstructionist/queer gestures turn out to be "the Thing" that is respectively either a surplus or a remainder of the two discursive acts. In other words, the constructionist gesture, which directs attention to the formation of socially constituted identities that represent new spaces of opposition to the dominant power, already presupposes that which is represented. The paradox that representation presupposes its own represented is the hidden truth of the subject apparently not noticeable to the social constructionist.

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