Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Selected Theories in Gay and Lesbian Studies: A Sociological Inquiry into Homosexual Identity and Same-Sex Intimacy

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Selected Theories in Gay and Lesbian Studies: A Sociological Inquiry into Homosexual Identity and Same-Sex Intimacy

Article excerpt

Social scientists have been developing the area of gay and lesbian studies over the past four decades, perhaps since the publication of Mary McIntosh's seminal article in 1968. Whilst McIntosh's article addressed the homosexual role in England and described homosexuality as a social role (not a condition) that is outside of a recognised role (heterosexuality), gay and lesbian sociology has received little recognition as a distinctly sociological sub-discipline. A thriving field of 'family sociology' has developed internationally, but scholars in this field tend to focus more on heterosexual familial arrangements, issues and concerns. This is not to say that family sociologists have excluded gay and lesbian studies from the mainstream of family sociology. Despite the comparatively fewer studies on gay families, households and child-rearing (amongst other topics) across the globe, particularly in Africa, the importance of those studies cannot be discounted as they continue to shape and influence further research and reflection on this group in order to better understand them. Today, the field of gay and lesbian studies is receiving more attention than it used to 40 years ago (Adeagbo, 2016; Baiocco, Argalia and Laghi, 2014; McAllister, 2013; Makofane, 2013; Rosenfeld and Thomas, 2012; Eskridge, 2012; Van Zyl, 2011). It is hardly possible not to come across gay/lesbian theorists' writings in disciplines in the humanities, such as anthropology, literature, film studies, sociology and so on.

According to Stein and Plummer (1994:178), scholars "...are succeeding in placing sexual difference at the centre of intellectual inquiry in many fields- a 'sexual revolution' which has been, for the most part, absent in sociology." As the absence is recognised and academics seek to fill the research gap, family sociologists are now also seeking to pay more attention to addressing gay concerns and lifestyles. Feminism also influenced thinking about gay relationships because of its formulation and view of sexuality as a field where power is identified, negotiated and contested. According to Stein and Plummer (1994: 180), "lesbian feminists provided a powerful critique of compulsory heterosexuality and what Rubin (1975) called the 'sex/gender system'." However, despite its importance, feminist sociology has a tendency to conflate gender and sexuality by ignoring the 'unique' complexities of gay and lesbian life. In sum, a renewed focus on gay relationships has sharpened understanding of a previously marginalised group.

Studies of same-sex relationships can be either empirical or theoretical in nature. Empirically, the study of same-sex relations has a long history - dating back to the 19th century - where authors sought to establish "the root of homosexuality" (Allen and Demo, 1995; Stein and Plummer, 1994). In the process of examining same-sex intimate relationships, research has shown that some studies directly or indirectly marginalise same-sex unions because they continue to reproduce the social divisions that placed same-sex partners as members of an 'othered' group (Adeagbo, 2016; Kelly, 2011; Jackson, 2006). Also, the ambiguity of some theories within the field of gay and lesbian studies further renders same-sex unions problematic. The early constructionist studies in sociology were mostly conducted by American labelling theorists and British new deviancy theorists whose work refuted the categories of deviance. For example, McIntosh (1968) suggests that sociologists should be objective in studying same-sex attractions in order not to make the same mistakes as psychiatrists and psychologists who lost their objectivity when they got involved in social labelling of homosexuals. Her seminal article on 'homosexual role' is important in sociology because it examines sexuality and its relationship to the reorganization of family and household. The majority of the research on families tends to focus on heterosexual households because lesbians and gay men are most often studied outside of a household or familial context. …

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