Looking beyond identity: language and desire
At the end of the last chapter we suggested that the study of language and sexuality should encompass not only sexual identity but also other dimensions of sexual experience, among which we mentioned 'fantasy, repression, pleasure, fear and the unconscious'. In this chapter we will discuss these other dimensions under the general heading of 'desire'; and we will try to demonstrate concretely how researchers might approach the topic of language and desire. Before we proceed, though, it is useful to say something more about our reasons for wanting to move in this particular direction. What does a focus on desire have to offer that a focus on identity does not?
First, a focus on desire acknowledges that sexuality is centrally about the erotic. This might seem self-evident, but in practice it has not been central to research conceived in an 'identity' paradigm, where the key question is how social actors use language to index their membership of particular groups (e.g. 'gay men', 'lesbians'). Erotic desire is implicitly referenced in this paradigm insofar as the relevant groups are defined by the natureof their desires (most commonly, for someone of the same / the other gender), but it is rarely an explicit presence in the interactions researchers analyse. Bonnie McElhinny points out, for instance, that the literature on gay and lesbian language-use has been dominated by studies of what she calls 'queer peers' (2002: 116–17). Even where the subjects are couples rather than friends or colleagues, the interactions analysts examine tend to be domestic or social rather than sexual. (The 'lunchbox' conversation cited on p. 94 is a good example of talk among 'queer peers'.) Of course there is a rather obvious methodological explanation for this: few people would agree to the recording and analysis oftheir naturally occurring sexual interactions. In the 'queer peers' case there may also be a political explanation insofar as gay men and lesbians (and those who carry out research with them) want the straight world to understand that there is more to gay/lesbian life than simply sex. But the study of language and sexuality should in principle be able to