Sexuality as identity: gay and lesbian language
In the previous chapter we examined the relationship between gender and sexuality as it is played out in language-use among heterosexual men and women. We placed our discussioninthe contextofthe arguments advanced by both feminists and queer theorists, according to which compulsory heterosexuality/heteronormativity is a structural principle that organizes sexuality in general. If that argument is accepted, it makes sense for researchers of sexuality to be interested in the behaviour of heterosexuals as heterosexuals – that is, not just as generic representatives of their gender categories. Nevertheless, it is relatively unusual to find linguistic researchers explicitly addressing questions about language and heterosexuality. Far more commonly, interest has focused on the linguistic manifestations of homosexuality. For almost a century, social scientists, including sociologists and psychologists as well as linguists, have debated whether homosexuals use language in ways that differentiate them from heterosexuals. That ongoing debate is the topic of this chapter, and our discussion of it will pay attention to two issues in particular.
One, continuing the discussion begun in the last chapter, is the issue of gender. Debates on whether homosexuals have a distinctive language are related to gender in two ways. First, the arguments have tended to be (overtly or covertly) about gay men far more than about lesbians. In scholarship as in popular culture, ideas about how gay men sound or speak are much more salient and widespread than are ideas about how lesbians sound or speak. Second, as we will see, the linguistic characteristics that are commonly imagined to index homosexuality are often ones that also index gender. Homosexual men are thought to talk like women, and lesbians, to the extent that they are imagined to talk in any particular way at all, are believed to talk like men. This argument is the other side of the coin we examined in chapter 3, dealing with heterosexuals: just as heterosexual speech is often equated with gender-appropriate speech, so homosexual speech has often been equated with gender-inappropriate or gender-deviant speech.