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SOCIOLOGY AS BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS

:
ESTABLISHING A LINK BETWEEN THE PRINCIPLES
OF LESBIAN AND GAY STUDIES AND
QUEER THEORY
Jacques Rothmann

Sociology, School of Social and Government Studies
North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus
21081719@nwu.ac.za

ABSTRACT
Lesbian and gay studies emerged in the late 1950s and provided what several academics considered
a homogeneous representation of the lesbian and gay community. Based on the critique of this
view, queer theory came to the fore during the early 1990s, as a political initiative to highlight the
diverse nature of homosexual experiences. Both paradigms heralded indefatigable insights into the
lives of these two sexual minorities, yet without a necessary bridge between the homogeneous and
the heterogeneous. The objective of the article is to provide a theoretical contemplation of how the
manner in which the principles that lesbian and gay studies and queer theory respectively exude,
may complement each other so as to offer a link between the ‘homogeneous’ and the ‘diverse’,
pertaining to the lived experiences of gay men and lesbian women.
Keywords: homosexuality, lesbian and gay studies, queer theory, sexual orientation, sociology

THE HOMOSEXUAL CONTEXT OF AFRICA AND
SOUTH AFRICA: A BRIEF HISTORY
Homosexuality, even within what one could term a more liberal and progressive
contemporary society (including the African context), is still deemed a contentious
and ambiguous issue. The prevailing stigmatisation of same-sex attraction within a
contemporary heteronormative society has made it quite difficult to establish a fully
accepting and tolerant milieu for sexual minorities, in so far as it reinforces stigmas
associated with pathological views of these individuals (cf. Herdt 1992: 6; Weeks
1996). Michel Foucault (1981: 43) writes in his influential The History of Sexuality
that ‘[w]e must not forget that the psychological, psychiatric, medical category of
homosexuality was constituted from the moment it was characterized’, citing German
South African Review of Sociology VOL 43 • NO 1 • 2012
ISSN 2152-8586/Online 2072-1978
© South African Sociological Association pp 41–61
DOI: 10.1080/21528586.2012.678624

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Jacques Rothmann

physician, Karl Westphal’s 1870 article on ‘contrary sexual sensations’ as the source
of the category. Recent arrests in Malawi and Zimbabwe of gay men attempting to get
married, attacks on lesbian individuals and allegations of lesbianism in South Africa
(Scholtz 2010: 5), as well as homophobic gestures in Uganda to institute the death
penalty as punishment for homosexual conduct (Olukya & Straziuso 2010), highlight
the importance of an academic study on homosexual identity within the African context
in general, and in South Africa in particular. A publication of the International Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (hereafter ILGBTIA), entitled StateSponsored Homophobia, which chronicles a worldwide survey of governments which
criminalise same-sex behaviour, reinforces this point (Ottosson 2010). In a preface to a
discussion on the nature of same-sex legislation in Africa, Ottosson (ibid: 7) comments
that during ‘the last ten years the focus on equal rights, law reforms, community
cohesion, diversity, families and migrations for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered
and Intersexed Africans has gone from bad to worse’. Thirty-eight African countries
have criminalised homosexual acts, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to
the enactment of the death penalty.
Foucault (1981) refers to reasons why ideologies oppose rights being afforded
to same-sex couples: ‘To imagine a sexual act that doesn’t conform to law or nature
is not what disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another
– there’s the problem’ – words which find resonance in the infamous declaration of
Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, of gays and lesbians as ‘worse than dogs and
pigs’ (Ottosson 2010: 7). Recent cases of the ‘corrective’ rape and even murder of
lesbian women, based on assaults inflicted on them in an attempt to convert them to
heterosexuality, have further fuelled a heated debate in South Africa. Regardless of the
legal rights afforded to the gay and lesbian community, from the abolition of the Law
Reform Movement (drafted in 1968)1 and sodomy, as well as the provision of adoption
and marriage rights,2 proponents of so-called traditional African culture – including
the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) and the Congress of Traditional
Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) (Gevisser 1995; Mkhize 2008: 102; Reddy 2010:
201), as well as South African representatives at the United Nations (UN) – have voiced
alarmingly contradictory responses to the protection of gay and lesbian rights, in relation
to the progressive South African constitution. In terms of the first, members of these
organisations as well as the broader community expressed concern and outrage at the
ambiguity and disarray that would characterise the traditional institution of the family
if gays and lesbians were afforded the right to marry and adopt children. Mkhize (2008:
103) argues that regardless of the possible advantages public hearings on the subject
matter could have provided, ‘they were rushed, disorganized and predominantly biased
against same-sex marriages and LGBTI-identities’.
In terms of the role of the UN General Assembly on LGBTI rights, several LGBTI
organisations expressed disdain about the South African government’s alarming
decision to vote in favour of removing ‘a reference to sexual orientation from a
resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions’ in November 2010,
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2010: 47).. In support of the amendment. in so far as their sexual orientation contradicted their given biological sex and socially constructed gender expectations (Meem et al. thus an ‘abnormal congenital manifestation … to the extent of horror’ (cited in Meem et al. transgender.indd 43 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . homosexual individuals were labelled so-called sexual ‘inverts’. sociological studies. bisexual and transgender people – a recognition that is crucial . which in effect underlines the vulnerability of the LGBTI community in the country. It essentially removes the important recognition of the particular vulnerability faced by lesbian. in an attempt to provide a language for sexuality in general and homosexuality specifically. Dr Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1886). intersex or pansexual people) on the one hand. Von Krafft-Ebing did. Based on the negative response to this decision. ’. Foucault (1981) notes that although the use of ‘sodomite’ to refer to homosexuals from the 17th century up to the 1900s was a ‘temporary aberration’. although insightful. fetishism and sadism. introduced by representatives of Benin on behalf of the African Group. according to the Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (cited in OUT 2010). the author will use this particular article as platform to argue that a link between uniform views on homosexuality and diverse interpretations is imperative. may far too often provide a homogeneous view of gay and lesbian experience on the one hand. ‘is a dangerous and disturbing development . which emerged as a preeminent field of study in the late 1900s. Magnus Hirschfeld. South African representatives later withdrew their support for the amendment. A CASE OF ASSIMILATION AND ESSENTIALISM: LESBIAN AND GAY STUDIES IN MODERN AND LATE-MODERN SOCIETY Initial views of homosexuality within academic discourse (predominantly medical models) were enmeshed in sexology. Against this background. Through the work of Westphal and sexologist. Weeks 1996: 48). or the transgressive and unrestricted fluidity within each of these respective categories on the other. homosexuality was described as a mental disorder. This. This provided new opportunities for self-articulation for sexual minorities. whether these are other sexual minorities (such as bisexual. including masochism. explicit reference to sexual orientation was removed from the UN’s antiexecution resolution which. As such. 2010: 44).. gay. In so doing. but also for social investigation and further categorisation on the part of social and medical science (Foucault 1981: 43. whilst excluding thorough investigations into queer lives.Sociology as Bridge over Troubled Waters .. an abnormality – a view echoed by others such as German psychiatrist. may further fuel uniform and misconstrued interpretations of what homosexual experience entails. Namaste 1996: 196. 43 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. in turn. asexual.. who originally likened homosexuality to other sexual perversions. one may possibly recognise the utility of binary sexual categories and yet celebrate sexual diversity across and within them.. the use of ‘the homosexual’ positioned these individuals as a separate ‘species’. In many respects..

tearooms. The latter occupy the so-called outer limits of this hierarchy. sexuality.indd 44 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . These studies emphasised the binary categorisation of heterosexuality (as norm) and homosexuality (as pathology). lesbian and gay studies sought to provide insights into the lived experiences of these two sexual minority groups.Jacques Rothmann however. This. Rubin (1993: 11) argues that modern Western society’s understanding of sexuality manifests a ‘hierarchal system of sexual value’. Havelock Ellis – sought to debate the anomaly that was homosexuality – congenital and harmless.). respectability. according to D’Emilio (1983: 233) saw the rise of a ‘distinctively new culture of protest’ which transcended the so-called ‘quietest position . amongst others. as opposed to mental disease (Weeks 1996: 51). amongst others (ibid: 12). sadomasochists and sex workers. and that everyone should do it that way’. much of the initial academic focus positioned gay and lesbian individuals in a sphere distinct from the normative and dominant heterosexual society. transvestites. She underscores the need for gay men to belong to other ‘like-minded’ people in a distinct subculture within a larger societal 44 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. This corresponds with Rubin’s (1993: 11) reference to the bureaucratisation of heteronormative and compulsory heterosexuality in relation to other peripheral sexual minorities – a thought echoed in the work of De Lauretis (1993) and Rich (1993). followed by unmarried monogamous heterosexuals. several social and political institutions – including psychiatry. provide a more moderate perspective by typifying it as one form of sexual attraction. [and] analyzed the ways homosexuals adapted to a hostile society’ (Seidman 1996: 7). [in favour of a dedication] to improving conditions for homosexuals’ (Jagose 1996: 30). and bars’ (ibid. Their work – alongside that of.. whilst those on the higher ‘blessed’ levels occupy the charmed circle of sexuality. prisons.. gender]. legality. institutional support and material benefits’ (ibid. So-called ‘despised’ sexual castes at the bottom of the hierarchy include transsexuals.).. . Studies mostly posited homosexuals (gay men specifically) as ‘part of a deviant underworld of hustlers. with gay and lesbian couples in stable relationships ‘verging on respectability’. much of the initial sociological inquiry within the modern paradigm of lesbian and gay studies ‘viewed homosexuality as a social stigma to be managed. religion and popular culture – create and maintain the notion ‘that there is one best way to do it [sex. Against this background.. 2007: 4). Much of the origin of this field is primarily associated with the Stonewall Riots of 27 June 1969. and as a result are rewarded with positive sanctions and corresponding labels of ‘certified mental health. who posit patriarchal hegemony as the central ideological culprit in Western understandings of gender and sexuality. within the existing essentialist theoretical framework (Lovaas et al. By drawing this ‘imaginary line’ between the two. prostitutes. which transcended a mere medical and pathological model of explanation. where a police raid at the Stonewall Inn – A New York gay and drag bar – resulted in resistance and a weekend of riots courtesy of its patrons (Jagose 1996: 30). Originating from homophile movements in the 1950s. Examples of contributions include Mary McIntosh’s (1998[1968]: 68) conceptualisation of ‘the homosexual role’. baths. which places reproductive heterosexuals at the top of the erotic pyramid. Although exemplary in its objective.

Crous’ (2006) content analysis of fiction which depicted gay Afrikaner men indicated the exacerbation (whether intentional or as subtle comment) of the ethnic model amongst gay men from the 1960s to the 1980s. Durban and Cape Town. As he argues. ‘moral’ and ‘acceptable’ heterosexual culture (Rubin 1993: 25. Such binaries.). which translates into the ‘subordinate. which renders them ‘morally defenceless’ as regards their sexual orientation (cf. exotic human type in contrast to the normal. which was seen as an extension of the Nationalist apartheid government’s attempts to expel ‘from the laager anything that was deemed threatening to white civilisation’ (ibid: 31).Sociology as Bridge over Troubled Waters . social exclusion and explicit differentness. however. deviant. ‘[m]y impression is that much of this sociology aimed to figure the homosexual as a victim of unjust discrimination. which legitimised ‘a model of lesbian and gay subcultures’ separate from the perceived ‘normal’. brought with them (as in the United States [US]) a police raid at the Forest Town party. By adopting this approach. proponents of lesbian and gay studies established homosexuality as a ‘new ethnic minority’ (Plummer 1996: 64). sociologists contributed to the public perception of the homosexual as a strange. Although incandescent in its initial objective. to ‘relatively unharassed’ (ibid: 18) homosexual subcultures in major cities such as Johannesburg. and in fact may conform to the characteristics of the group(s) of which they form part. ranging from two stereotypical depictions of homosexuals as childmolesters and drag queens in the mid-1950s (including the ‘Moffie Drag’ subculture in Cape Town). Gevisser and Cameron (1995) chronicle a myriad of configurations of this distinct subculture. serve as ‘central organizing method[s] in Western society’ in which heterosexuality is viewed as the dominant and only acceptable sexual variant (Roseneil 2002: 29).. Seidman (1996: 14) argues that earlier sociological accounts of the subject matter (unknowingly) reinforced the idea of likening homosexuality to this ‘other’. essentialist and minoritising view pertaining to homosexuality (cf. Sedgwick 2008: 1).. respectable heterosexual’ (ibid. Rubin 1993: 22). ‘normative’ and ‘moral’ heterosexual counterpart. The mid-1960s. Providing an in-depth discussion of the emergence of gay life. injurious’ subcultures in relation to its ‘normal’. particularly in South Africa. according to Fuss (1991: 1). Nevertheless. ‘vector of oppression’. Jagose 1996: 8. as well as married men seeking casual sex in public toilets or leading lives ‘of quiet desperation and repression’ while yearning ‘after men from a distance’ in Danie 45 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. such studies within the South African context may in fact have furthered an assimilationist. exotic human type’ found resonance in discussions of Koos Prinsloo’s novel Slagplaas [Slaughterhouse] which focused on an openly transgressive urban gay man ‘at ease with his sexuality and amenable to act upon his sexual desires in saunas and gay bars’ (Crous 2006: 50). This results in societal prejudice. Seidman’s (1996) reference to the ‘strange.3 Within this relationship.indd 45 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . as in Goffman’s (1963) reference to the ‘with relationship’. An inherent assumption here centres on the fact that homosexuals take on a ‘discreditable’ stigma (Goffman 1963: 12) based on prejudiced and universal assumptions within a heteronormative society (Sedgwick 1993: 56). the homosexual associates with a specific type of person (in this case another homosexual individual) and in turn reflects homogeneous behaviour. Seidman 1993: 123).

eradicate the invisibility of the lesbian community and establish shared experiences amongst similar sexual minority groups (cf. sexual orientation in contemporary South African society.. Reddy 2006: 155). challenge dominant perceptions of heterosexual masculinity’. Although progressive and constructive. early 1990s and 2000s sought to underscore the fight for legal and social recognition for all gays and lesbians. Dlamini 2006: 128. Other examples of such depictions corresponded with studies in. whilst others associated physical violence directed towards particularly black lesbians as an outgrowth of both patriarchal and traditional African culture (Kowen & Davis 2006. Sanger & Clowes 2006: 38). It makes you feel funny [to be called a lesbian]. People should say gay .indd 46 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM .. like someone calling you ‘stupid’ . much of the ‘ethnic’ gay subculture was still enmeshed in the mainstream South African psyche. It shouldn’t be there.’ A lot of people say that. yet not fully equal.. corrective rape and accusations of witchcraft as impediments in accessing lesbian respondents for research objectives. and decadent. These studies identified factors such as pathologisation. 2001). Kowen & Davis 2006: 80. Ochse 2011.. such depictions may exacerbate ‘minoritising’ and ‘exotic’ views of such subcultures. but found their experiences enmeshed in medical and/ or pathological models of inquiry or even initial exclusion from criminalisation because of their ‘denied existence’ (Sanger & Clowes 2006: 39). with her work on the social 46 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. finds resonance in the work of Connell (2005: 74). Such group cohesion may prove invaluable for mobilising civil and legal society in attempts to decriminalise homosexuality. Gevisser 1995: 19. abandonment.. ‘I mean haven’t you heard the word “lesbian”. which necessitates empirical investigation. which was seen to be both dangerous . amongst others.Jacques Rothmann Botha’s Die Soft Rock Club [The Soft Rock Club]. Smuts 2011). regardless of race (Isaack & Judge 2004. with the 1970s characterised by sensationalist exposés of ‘the sordidness and sadness of supposedly “gay life”. Reddy 1998. Some researchers focused on how lesbianism does not necessarily pose an immediate threat to heteronormativity. particularly as the druggy and oversexed club-scene blossomed’ (Gevisser 1995: 77). Fester 2006: 108. Although more inclusive.. Judge et al. the US. it’s like an insult. Research has commented on the seeming ‘invisibility’ of lesbianism in mainstream heterosexual or homosexual culture and academia (Distiller 2005: 45. Muholi 2004: 118. as evidenced in Reddy’s (1998: 66) reference to the role of annual gay pride marches which serve as a ‘strategy to politicise gay sexuality and . which culminated in a seemingly more liberated. who echoes the contributions of Rubin’s reference to sex hierarchies. 2008. it’s disgusting... Much of the focus on gay male and lesbian sexuality in the late 1980s. Ndashe 2010: 6. due to the fact that women were not afforded the freedom of choice relating to sexual intercourse with their husbands or even other women. Studies on lesbian identity provided a contrasting account. A recent example amongst white Afrikaner men in particular. Consider the words of a lesbian respondent in Kowen and Davis’ (2006: 83) study pertaining to categorisation as lesbian: It’s like a label.

Connell’s (2005: 77) discussion of hegemonic masculinity positions men as individuals who are thought to be ‘macho’. 92. Kwêla. This particular piece was filmed directly following one of Christian preacher Angus Buchan’s Mighty Men gatherings for heterosexual men. is still evident amongst white Afrikaner men. homosexual) binaries. which points to the ignorant conflation of gender and sexual orientation. Kwêla Funnies. amongst others.. Connell 2005: 78. to a position of (based on the foregoing discussion. belonging and stability. critiqued by Butler (1993) and Jagose (1996). aggressive and tough. illustrates this point. contradictorily and ironically) marginalised ‘seeker’ of identity. As producer of the Afrikaans variety show. One could only assume what Buchan’s sermon was about.5 per cent of the 15 000 gay and lesbian 47 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. Cilliers cautions against what he terms ‘dangerous’ and ‘fundamentalist’ teachings which serve to reinforce heterosexism and sexism across racial and ethnic boundaries. positioned within the parameters of the assumed morality of the heterosexual paradigm. a thought evident in the research of Posel (2004: 62) and Reddy (2001: 84). Segal 2007: 127) in an attempt to further question sexist (men and masculinity vs. construct of hegemonic masculinity. Against this background.e. As part of the ABNSA consumer profile conducted in 2008 and updated in 2010.4 Depicted in the video is a group of young men who are acting effeminately in terms of their speech and mannerisms. She states that ‘hegemonic masculinity is always constructed in relation to various subordinated masculinities as well as in relation to women’. A possible solution may be to have heterosexual men take a stance for so-called subordinate sexualities (cf.. Cilliers (2011: 3) attributes their passive adherence to Buchan’s biblical messages to the fact that his messages explicitly reflect values such as patriarchy. An article in Rapport by former theologian and current television producer and writer. leader and revered figure during the South African apartheid era. from originally being the oppressor. retrenchments and changes in political power have led to a shift for these men. women and femininity) and heterosexist (heterosexual vs. with which they easily identify. Affirmative action. competitive.Sociology as Bridge over Troubled Waters . It highlights the manner in which patriarchal control. rather than reinforcing them (2011: 3).indd 47 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . Pieter Cilliers (2011: 3). based on the representation of particularly the lesbian and gay community in advertising campaigns for major trademarks. the ‘most widely accepted form of being a man in any given society’ (Bradley 2007: 47). sexism and homophobia. Cilliers recalls receiving a short video submitted as part of their ‘candid-camera’-like section of the show. Cilliers posits the thought that much of the assumed humour and passive adherence to Buchan’s messages may be associated with the current marginalisation of white Afrikaner men in South Africa. which include more empathetic and ‘softer forms of heterosexual masculinity’ (Connell 1987: 183). so as to resemble gay men. such as the so-called ‘New Man’ and homosexuality. Underlying heteronormative messages within the rationalisation of sexuality in latemodern society (Jackson & Scott 2007: 127) are also useful in another consideration with regard to South African sexual minoritising. and billed as ‘the largest and most comprehensive survey of its kind. based on their own conservative upbringing. representing the South African gay community’ (Lunch Box Media 2011). i.

alienation of the heterosexual consumer. amongst others. whilst 96 per cent paid attention to gay advertisements (ibid. Regardless of legislative and social advances. it forms knowledge. Yet. what makes it accepted. the underlying ethos of lesbian and gay studies. fear of stereotypical depictions of this community (cf. Jagose 1996: 8–10). it must be considered as a productive network which runs through the entire social body much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression. in considering the stereotypical depictions of gays and lesbians on American television. Downs 2006: 76). Steyl attributes the lack of explicit marketing for the gay market to ignorance. and sexuality which does not necessarily manifest on the noted repressive level. based on. age. things. 48 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. owner of Lunch Box Media.Jacques Rothmann respondents who took part in the study indicated that they would support advertisers who explicitly targeted their market. more specialised in their product choices and usually have more expendable income (cf. but also enables its perceived targets (Jagose 1996: 80). Such critique is embedded in the basic premise and underlying principles of queer theory (Roseneil 2002: 29). Foucault continues: What gives power its hold. courtesy of Donovan Steyl. whether ideologically and/or physically constructive or repressive. stereotyping and discrimination in society. Based on the inclusion of independent variables such as race. it induces pleasure. with pink stripes under his eyes. and the constructive possibilities related to the negotiability and fluidity of sexuality between and within sexual binaries specifically. and it produces. it produces discourse. She notes that ‘new (and old) sexual possibilities are no longer thinkable in terms of a simple inside/outside dialectic’ (1991: 1) – the ‘inside’ occupied by heterosexuals. He points to the reciprocal relationship between exerted (heterosexual) power relations. depicted by a muscular-looking man in native Indian-dress. but it runs through. (1979: 36) Fuss echoes Foucault by emphasising the underlying contradiction inherent in the perceived stability and dominance of heterosexuality in general.indd 48 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . their childless households (cited in Malan 2011: 5). is quite simply the fact that it does not simply weigh like a force which says no. if adopted as such as essentialist and assimilationist (cf. why not include sexual orientation? This question. Nicola Kleyn (cited in Malan 2011: 5) indicates that ‘corporate homophobia’ inhibits progressive and sexually inclusive advertising practices. according to him.). based on the fear of losing heterosexual consumers – a thought echoed in the content analysis of Davies (2008: 193). geography and sex in determining the best possible marketing initiatives for an organisation or product.5 is further justified by the fact that gay consumers are. labelling. because he argues that ‘sexuality is a discursive production rather than a natural condition’. Foucault’s (1981: 84) work is worth noting in this regard. and possible harm to the specific company’s name (Malan 2011: 5). renders individuals who exhibit such orientations powerless to curtail the marginalisation. Reddy 1998: 68). with sexual minorities as part of the ‘outside’. Examples of subtle marketing for gay consumers by mainstream brands include Spur’s slogan of the ‘Official restaurant of the South African family’.

Halperin (2003: 339) believes De Lauretis displayed courage and conviction in linking the academic ‘holy word’ of ‘theory’ with the ‘scandalously offensive’ concept ‘queer’. Citing Teresa de Lauretis as the originator of the concept. and thus primarily focuses on both the critique directed towards the essentialist maintenance of the naturalised depiction of gay men and lesbians in relation to heterosexuals but also within their specific binary. a political mobility for equality. the author acknowledges the emphasis queer theory affords to the invisibility associated with diversity within the binaries of lesbian and gay identity.. unique and ‘other’ identities within existing binaries which are socially constructed within a given historical. which posit them as active social actors who construct their own identity separate from the normative expectations of. Queer theory also sought to serve as permanent rebellion against homophobia and universal views on homosexuality and to reclaim the concept ‘queer’ (Epstein 1996: 153.and heterosexuality. In keeping with the central theme of the article. normalizing social forces’ of a heteronormative society. according to Seidman (1993: 133). QUEER THEORY: TOWARDS INTERNAL DENATURALISATION AND DIVERSITY Proponents of queer theory in many respects devalue the work of modernist perspectives such as lesbian and gay studies. Through institutional reflexivity. Roseneil 2002: 29). marginal and distinct group (Butler 1990: 137). amongst others. Seidman 2010: 242) for. in so far as they position themselves within a postmodernist paradigm. This ‘freeing up’ of sexuality may be necessary to find what Giddens (1992: 28) terms ‘the perfect relationship’ (and by implication construct the perfect(ed) identity)..6 Tong (1998) believes modern theories’ limitations (including the ‘white-middle class’ focus of modern feminist theories) should be transcended by eradicating unnecessary categories and constraints which characterise an individual’s sexuality (and by implication sexual orientation).7 individuals are afforded the opportunity to reflect on their personal experiences. a political movement erupted in academia which wanted to disrupt (yet not necessarily eradicate) existing categories of sex. gender and sexuality. even if the latter requires moving beyond sexual boundaries – a thought echoed by Lorber (2005: 77).indd 49 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . In so doing. needs and expectations (Giddens 1992: 147). ‘[q]ueers are not united by any unitary identity but only in their opposition to disciplining. Its proponents thus attempt to transcend the basic premises of lesbian and gay studies by ‘denaturalising’ homosexuality as a uniform. gender and sexual desire (Connell 2009: 95. Although many proponents of lesbian and gay studies emphasise the importance of creating a sense of community to facilitate. amongst 49 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. Queer theory acknowledges divergent. but rather sought to ‘dramatize incoherencies’ (Jagose 1996: 3) in essentialism and socalled underdetermined monolithic empirical justifications of natural and stable binary categories associated with sex. cultural and contextual framework (Marinucci 2010: 34).Sociology as Bridge over Troubled Waters . the artificiality of such categorisation leads Altman (1972: 227) to reflect that ‘if man/womankind reaches the point where it is able to dispense with the categories of homo. the loss will be well worth the gain’.

modification.. including ‘lipstick lesbians. are predetermined by cultural configurations within specific contexts.). Coupled with this is the work of Foucault (1981) and Sedgwick (2008: 10). according to the older. Asian . This implies that one’s gender. subordinate form of sexual orientation in relation to the stable dominance of heterosexuality. open to intervention and resignification’ (Butler 1990: 33). Johnson 2009: 66.indd 50 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . femmes. butches. or just another optional “lifestyle”’ (ibid. sexual orientation and sexuality. ’ (Roseneil 2002: 29). must itself be treated as a dependent term. constantly subjected to social construction. see also Butler 1993). She refutes the work of those who accept the binary oppositions of heterosexual/homosexual. negotiation and assessment courtesy of others (Foucault 1979: 36. opera queens. West & Zimmerman 2002: 43). and that their performative qualities should not be deemed fluid and determinant on the behaviour of the individual exuding them. (cited in Sedgwick 2008: 10) De Lauretis (cited in Stein & Plummer 1996: 134) notes that one should no longer position homosexuality as the marginal. far from possessing a privileged status. stating that homosexuality ‘is no longer to be seen as transgressive or deviant vis-à-vis a proper... West & Zimmerman 2002: 43). . is to highlight the fallacies associated with theories which present heterosexuality as seemingly dominant and homosexuality as subordinate. a heteronormative society.. She echoes Foucault’s contributions on discursive practices by negating the perceived essentialist and stable nature of gender categories in society. By reinforcing this binary. who emphasise the ‘transformative’ component that gay men and lesbians may want to develop by deconstructing supposedly static binary oppositions of heterosexual/ homosexual (normative/deviant). based on the notion that gender is typified as ‘an ongoing discursive practice . which further exemplifies the fluidity of gender.. and by implication sexual orientation. the objective (and basis of queer theory) in this discursive endeavour. muscle marys. natural sexuality . further secrecy is facilitated on the part of particularly gay men and lesbian women. challenge. This is closely associated with the work of Judith Butler (whom Jagose [1996: 83] deems one of the most influential queer theorists of her generation) on performativity.. Diversity within the gay community includes a myriad of configurations.. Rubin 1993: 12. Butler (1993: 7) reinforces this point by arguing that ‘the [heterosexualised] matrix of gender relations is prior to the emergence of the “human”’ and intensified by a further ‘heterosexual hegemony’ and processes of materialisation which seek to ‘gender’ (and per implication ‘sexualise’) individuals through a constant repetition of acts (Butler 1993: 9. according to Harold Beaver. He notes that one should aim to [r]everse the rhetorical opposition of what is ‘transparent’ or ‘natural’ and what is ‘derivative’ or ‘contrived’ by demonstrating that the qualities predicated of ‘homosexuality’ (as a dependent term) are in fact a condition of ‘heterosexuality’. who avoid a complete transcendence from the constrictive parameters of the symbolically laden ‘closet’ which serves as protection against ‘[a] 50 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. pathological model. those who identify as Black. As such. but rather as embedded within cultural and social prescriptions of a heterosexual matrix (ibid.Jacques Rothmann others. Reddy 2006: 155. that ‘heterosexuality’..

the extent to which [they] can tap into this power. . Goffman 1963.. By adopting views heralded by. in the face of a heterosexist and homophobic environment’ – a thought that not only reflects on the ‘ethnic’ model of homosexuality. and . Jackson & Scott 2007: 70–71).. Sedgwick argues that the process associated with ‘coming out’ into an existing proscriptive. isolation or retaliation (cf. Associated with one of several typologies of bisexual identity (Esterberg 2002: 215).. South African studies which provided a queer critique of homogeneous depictions of gays and lesbians centre on. no longer the independent sexual category which determines sexual normalcy. Smuts found that several factors.. because individuals are then ‘classified as one or the other’ (Seidman 2010: 243). underscored the fluidity of lesbian identity in so far as lesbians would continuously move between and revert back to initial stages of identity formation (2011: 38). insulting scrutiny. [they] need[ed] to normalise . necessitates greater self-reflexivity on the part of sexual minorities who need to manage the projections of their gendered and sexual nature. in turn.. She attributed much of this fluidity to each individual’s access to a ‘matrix of power . amongst others. Ottoson 2010) constitution. As Fuss (1991: 1) states.. ranging from each lesbian respondent’s ‘intersecting multiple identities of class. who viewed their lesbianism as ‘an inherent trait . and in the way those stigmatized saw themselves’ (Weeks 1977: 3). for it denotes ‘the ways a hostile society labelled homosexuality. Stein and Plummer (1996: 135) believe homosexuality may be normalised by queer theory. forcible interpretation of their bodily product’ (Sedgwick 1993: 46). Jackson & Scott 2007: 70–71). pertaining to views within the lesbian community about their identities... distorting stereotype. Additional studies which underline the fluid and transgressive nature of specifically gay sexuality resonate in references to ‘circumstantial’ or ‘situational homosexuality’ within the contexts of migrant labour and prison life. . race and religion’ to the fear of stigmatisation. particularly as it pertains to a social context in South Africa characterised by an incongruence between the country’s ‘enviable’ (cf.) – a notion associated with the work of Foucault (1979: 36). . This. much of lesbian and gay studies’ focus attempts to define what the homosexual experience entails.Sociology as Bridge over Troubled Waters . in effect positioning heterosexuality as unstable and possibly deviant. In utilising Cass’ (1984) model of homosexual identity formation.. Ochse’s (2011: 18) findings of lesbian respondents who took part in her study. Similarly. yet simply reinforces the divide between heterosexuality and homosexuality. and intolerant and homophobic civil society. over-heterosexualised and rationalised late-modern society is repetitious.. and gain agency’ (ibid.. Gevisser 1995: 50–58. but also comments on the inherent expectations of a normative form of lesbianism.. simple insult. amongst others. The complexity of debates on lesbian identity came to the fore in Smuts’ (2011) juxtaposed study of lesbian identity formation in Johannesburg. Reddy 1998: 67).. which emphasises the importance social scientists should ascribe to intersectionality (cf. ‘situational homosexuality’ posits 51 SARS 43(1)2012_layout.. in so far as gay men and lesbians reenter and re-emerge from the closet based on the contextual allowances or restrictions with which they are confronted (cf. in an attempt to avoid possible prejudice. Beaver and De Lauretis...indd 51 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM .

which further contradict calls for the protection of basic human rights. which could be interpreted as male-rape. One of the most prolific academics to comment on the possible judicious contributions sociology could make to lesbian and gay studies is Ken Plummer. attributing homophobic and intolerant gestures of African culture to colonialism and Christian missionary influences courtesy of the West. On the other hand. Summers 1995: xi. Gear’s (2007) study of the expected conflation and ambiguity surrounding same-sex activity between male prisoners as either violent rape or consensual homosexual sex further asserts the flux. to ‘conceivably slide back into being the “men” of outside society’ (Gear 2007: 223). Patanè 2010. he argues for a merger between the socially theoretical and the empirical. Dlamini (2006: 135) argues that regardless of the West’s abandonment of the medical and pathological model of explanation. both modern and postmodern. Downs 2006: 76) themselves as gay men. Problematic in such an approach. Plummer underscores this point by distinguishing between several phases gay men may progress through in an attempt to ‘authenticate’ (cf. Men who take on the more ‘dominant and masculine’ role in sexual intercourse do so in an attempt to ‘parody . as evidenced in current anti-gay proscriptions in Uganda. upon release from prison. In accordance with Nardi (2002) and Namaste (1996). Summers cited in Dlamini 2006) denotes the fact that violent and tyrannical sexual acts between prisoners. Smuts 2011). is the fact that these phases and/or stages condone the homogenisation of homosexual 52 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. complexity and (by implication) queer nature of sexuality and sexual orientation. Dlamini (2006: 131). chapters and articles. Dlamini (2006: 128) points to the context of mine compounds as evidence of homosexual activity between older men and younger miners (‘boy-wives’) – a short-term socially sanctioned custom within African culture based on acts and emotions. Cass 1984: 116. mirror the disdain associated with deviation from the heterosexual norm in society (Gear 2007: 219). 1981. as Plummer concedes. affording them the chance. Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Her assertion that same-sex activity does not necessarily necessitate identification as homosexual (cf. Wallace 2010: 257–262). 1998. Muholi (2004: 123) and Reddy (2001: 83) provide an insightful (re)interpretation of the perceived ‘un-African’ nature of homosexuality..Jacques Rothmann the opportunity for gay men to negotiate (Reddy 1998: 66) and deconstruct their perceived ‘naturalised’ and stable gay masculinity by engaging in same-sex activity within certain contexts. the misogynist relationship between a man and woman on the outside’ (Steinberg 2004: 43). Africa has retained this damaging view of homosexuality. not stringent categorisation as homosexual (cf. in addition to those alluded to. to better document and comprehend the complexity (Plummer 1998: 613. in Dlamini 2006: 130). nationally and internationally. Pertaining to the first of these.. Plummer (1975. proving that homosexuality may not be that ‘unAfrican’ after all. In several books. Roseneil 2002: 29) of homosexual experience. Based on the understood dominance of (African and/or Western) heterosexual prescriptions of sexuality. They underscore historical and anthropological studies which identify examples of same-sex relationships.indd 52 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . 1996. with pride (cf. 2003) outlines debates that centre on this amalgam of paradigms. in northern and sub-Saharan Africa (Nkabinde & Morgan 2006.

. Sedgwick 1993. [whilst it still acknowledges] that human sexualities [have] become destabilized. radical feminists who associate it with patriarchal control (Rich 1993).indd 53 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . as proponents of queer theory might hope. Namaste 1996. but also consider the inherent ‘richness’ of sexual experiences within these configurations as they may relate to identity construction. Jackson and Scott (2007: 121) elaborate on this by juxtaposing it with a seemingly overly sexualised society which. 1998.. [in which] [s]paces start to emerge for new kinds of sexualities . Seidman 1993. Ellis & Whitehead 2004: 198–202). although according to several academics (Epstein 1996. individuation and multiplying choices [which make] social life very different from any previous era . experience.. whereas gay male pornography (and pornography in general) has met with antagonism and disdain based on the ‘oversexualised’ depiction of (gay) men (cf. Rubin 1993) in terms of overt discussions of sexualities and their impact on ‘moral/cultural taboos’ (Posel 2004: 60).. acceptability and decency within the parameters of gay and lesbian lifestyles? (Jagose 1996: 113).Sociology as Bridge over Troubled Waters . one should not only acknowledge the sexual diversity of sexual minorities across the homosexual (read gay and lesbian) and heterosexual divide. Roseneil 2002. which promotes individual self-realisation in terms of sexuality at the expense of communal and collective identification and mobility. The mere mention of sadomasochism within lesbian lives results in severe criticism from. decentered and de-essentialized’ (2003: 520) within existing categories... it ‘does not wish to lose its grip on the “obdurate empirical world” . If queer theory were to fully seek to campaign for dissident forms of gay and lesbian sexualities. Lesbian and gay studies provided (and still provide) indelible and invaluable insights into the experiences of these two sexual minorities. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Evident from the foregoing discussion is a definite tension between modern and postmodern perspectives related to sex. Rubin 1993. still heralds somewhat of a ‘moral panic’ (cf. Much of this is embedded in what Medhurst and Munt (1997: xi) and Morton (1993: 151) deem as queer theory being ‘elitistic’ and exclusive. This aligns with Plummer’s (2003: 519) critique of queer theory by comparing it to the role of symbolic interactionism. An emphasis should thus be placed on the ‘pluralization. amongst others. where would one draw the line in terms of morality. despite its evident saturation with sexual content. ’ (Plummer 2003: 520). the political economy of gender’s (and by implication sexual orientation’s) emphasis on establishing. Nardi (2002) offers recommendations and challenges to sociologists in terms of this contested terrain of inquiry.. gender and sexual orientation within current academic paradigms. 1996) in a homogenised 53 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. reinforcing and maintaining a binary organisation and conflation of gender and sexual orientation. for instance.. To fully utilise the advantageous synergy between the theoretical and the empirical. Plummer 1981. has led to Esterberg (2002: 225) proclaiming that the eradication of binary thinking will not manifest in the near future. Yet. Plummer argues that although the latter displays an affinity for its postmodern inclination.

International interdisciplinary textbooks have attempted to fill this void. diverse. Ferrante 2008. inclusion of such issues has mainly been positioned as a background variable to discussions on social themes such as gender. but a definite necessity within tertiary education. several volumes have dealt with these themes (see Lovaas et al. amongst others. As such. One would expect. Brinkerhoff et al. Sociology. 2007. social stratification. queer theory has sought to critique a model which reinforces dichotomous thinking in understanding contemporary sexuality. Australia and Indonesia. Within tertiary academia. At the heart of such a contribution is the establishment of a link of sorts between the theoretical and the ideological (courtesy of lesbian and gay studies and queer theory) and empirical worlds (through the application of sociological principles courtesy of.indd 54 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . as well as with the concept ‘sex’. The progressive step of the South African Sociological Association’s (SASA) inclusion of the Lesbian. plural and intersectional experiences of gays and lesbians as well as other sexual minorities in South Africa. that exclusive texts and courses on LGBTI issues would be considered not only important. as is evident from the recommendations of academics such as Nardi (2002) and Plummer (1998). Finding 54 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. or provide only précis-like discussions (see Anderson & Taylor 2009. This created awareness of the topicality of the subject matter and the need to redirect such an initiative to the classrooms of tertiary institutions. Yet. sexual orientation should be provided with and subsequently enjoy its own rightful place in African and South African academia. class and identity studies. Although these three are undoubtedly and unavoidably intertwined.Jacques Rothmann manner as ‘ethnic minority’. including The Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Studies (Giffney & O’Rourke 2010). from contributors in South Africa. Current international sociological publications that serve as introductory texts to the discipline display the same tendency. within and outside binary categories. race.and postgraduate sociological texts in the US (Warren 2008). the differences and affinities shared between lesbian and gay studies. based on a content analysis of prescribed under. however. Gay and Queer Studies working group in 2011 has provided a platform for the submission of an impressive 14 papers on the subject. yet one finds that gender and sexual orientation are still used ambiguously and interchangeably with each other. could make constructive contributions to this too often marginalised niche in the social science repertoire. queer theory and sociology call for an in-depth study of this particular theme and collaboration between interested parties to establish an autonomous LGBTIA field in South African sociology. Kendall 2010). 2008. as well as its place in social institutions including religious settings and families. Such an approach may reinforce the heterosexual/ homosexual binary. Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies (Richardson & Seidman 2002). Based on this. as well as the textbooks which are used to inform and educate. symbolic interactionism) to provide a comprehensive and detailed ‘thick description’ of the rich. Richardson & Seidman 2002. based on the preceding discussion of the current state of debates on homosexuality within contemporary South African and Western academia. Haralambos & Holborn 2008. Seidman 1996).

2010).Sociology as Bridge over Troubled Waters . as discussed in the work of Henslin (1972 cited in Warren 2008: 136). my lecture is for them.. 2007). family. its use may curtail efforts to constructively mobilise legislative. sociology departments have followed suit. For the one or two gay or lesbian looking students out there. Signs that point to worrisome pro-homophobic national and international inclinations. LGBT Studies and Queer Theory: New Conflicts. who underscores the application of the ‘peculiarity’ or ‘deviance’ label to such academics. emphasises this notion: I know that my personification with the subject is something I can exploit. Queer Theory/Sociology (Seidman 1996). but with acknowledgement of diversity within those categories. Several international universities such as Yale and Harvard in the US offer exclusive programmes (for non-degree purposes) on postgraduate level (as well as supervision on research projects). social change and women’s studies. Out – An Introduction to LGBT Studies (Meem et al. This thought is exemplified in the words of Sedgwick (1993: 55): 55 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. social and individual stakeholders who seek to further human rights in general. such courses may establish a safe haven for both LGBTI academics and students alike (cf. seems to be a necessity and prerequisite in order to safeguard so-called sexual minorities – particularly the more visible gay and lesbian subcultures. along racial. legislative or civil. The way we recognize our need for that acknowledgement is a statement of community. they all make it to my office. sexuality and identity. Yet. amongst others. and Contested Terrain (Lovaas et al. In addition to textbooks. sooner or later. controversial and (some may argue) ‘dangerous’ context of specifically African culture.indd 55 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . We pass in the corridors and smile. necessitate an immediate and concise determination as to whether a queer approach should be deemed applicable. Categorisation. Much of the apprehension in introducing and maintaining such courses may be based on the negative stigma associated with them. identity. Collaborations. in addition to the provision of an academic climate for the purpose of knowledge dissemination and assimilation. with current South African sociology under. as well as books which highlight the need for a sociological focus on the subject matter. and same-sex rights specifically. whether governmental.. Kirsch 2007). Munt (1997: 98). gender. In South Africa. HIV/AIDS.’ Since ‘queer’ may be interpreted as only a very abstract notion and given its preference to unique. whereas the majority of international universities position lesbian and gay studies within courses on gender. individualistic and ideocentric inclinations. social exclusion.and postgraduate courses centring on social issues and institutions including diversity. gender and class lines. necessary or even viable within the contentious. feminism. few courses on this particular specialisation field are evident within the South African context. This is even more pressing as we embrace the diversity we represent. I love the way. Isaack and Judge (2004: 75) emphasise this by arguing that the ‘voice [of gay and lesbian community] as a collective aspiring to human rights for all is compelling.

to return to traditional conservative values. 2 Same-sex adoption and marriage (Civil Union Bill) were legalised in 2002 and 2006 respectively in South Africa (South Africa 2006). transsexuality. formed in 2009.Jacques Rothmann Far beyond any cognitively or politically enabling effects on the people whom it claims to describe. sought to legalise the Law Reform Movement in an attempt to criminalise homosexuality. Weeks’ (cited in Kirsch 2007: 35) assertion of celebrating diversity within existing categories seems all the more imperative when he states that ‘[t]he recognition of “sexual identities”. in keeping with the theme of the article. as evident in original Lesbian and Gay Studies theorising.indd 56 4/26/2012 9:54:15 AM . the then conservative apartheid South African government. 56 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. including raising the age of consent for men to 19. under the rule of Hendrik Verwoerd. advertisers and marketing organisations (Lunch Box Media 2011). transgenderism. by implication. moreover. in all their ambivalence. 6 The author acknowledges the importance proponents of queer theory attribute to the inclusion of other excluded sexual minorities (bisexuality. But. 3 Those who ascribe to this approach basically assume that an individual will take on or conform to certain traits or features of a specific individual or group with whom they associate themselves (Goffman 1963). NOTES 1 Background to the Law Reform Movement of 1968: Following a police raid of a predominantly gay-themed party held in Forest Town in 1966. seems to be the precondition for the realization of sexual diversity’. 7 This offers individuals an opportunity to critically reflect on the influence and importance of specific social institutions in their lives. This did not happen. 4 These gatherings usually serve to motivate men (regardless of language and race) to use their Christianity in such a way as to guide their families and guard against immorality in society – in short. Against this background and the seemingly unthinkable realisation of a deconstructive. 5 Lunch Box Media is a marketing organisation. unbounded and. primary emphasis is afforded to diversity and critique within gay and lesbian subcultures in relation to heterosexuality. denaturalised. pansexuality). where several gay men ‘paraded’ as women. intersexuality. asexuality. but three amendments were passed in an attempt to curtail homosexuality. which specialises in targeting and representing the LGBT community in advertising by involving major mainstream South African brands. the nominative category of ‘the homosexual’ has robustly failed to disintegrate under the pressure of decade after decade. outlawing sexual toys (‘dildoes’ in particular) and limiting social events where gay men would interact with each other (the Party Clause). battery after battery of deconstructive exposure – evidently not in the first place because of its meaningfulness to those whom it defines but because of its indispensableness to those who define themselves as against it. fully fledged ‘queer’ interpretation of gay and lesbian sexuality.

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& Plummer. C. Seidman. Potchefstroom Campus. Johannesburg: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. 2006. ‘“I Can’t Even Think Straight”: “Queer” Theory and the Missing Sexual Revolution in Sociology. Gay Life and Culture: A World History. ‘Doing Gender. C. Scott (eds. 2011. South Africa. Steinberg. Lesbian and Gay Studies and Queer Theory.). 4: 133–145. Seidman (ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. Queer Theory/Sociology. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. 1996. ‘The Construction of Homosexuality. 1977.’ In R. Contested Knowledge: Social Theory Today. London: Routledge. Jackson & S. A. fourth edition. 42(3): 23–40. West. S. D. North West University.). J. 61 SARS 43(1)2012_layout. 2008. & Zimmerman. L. 1998.’ In S. ‘Discovering Homosexuality: Cross-Cultural Comparison and the History of Sexuality. Seidman. Tong. Weeks. South Africa: Considering Intersecting Identities and Social Spaces. Office 120. Act 17 of 2006.indd 61 4/26/2012 9:54:16 AM . R.A. S. Smuts. 2010. Seidman (ed. Potchefstroom Campus. J. Aldrich (ed. London: Quartet Books. BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE Jacques Rothmann is a lecturer in Sociology at the North-West University. K.). Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Century to the Present.’ In S.’ South African Review of Sociology. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers. Stein.B.Sociology as Bridge over Troubled Waters .’ In S. Weeks. J.. (ed. Wallace. 1996. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers. ‘Fieldwork in the Gay World: Issues in Phenomenological Research.’ Gender and Research. London: Thames & Hudson. Building F13. The author can be contacted at 11 Hoffman Street. Civil Union Bill. Warren. 1996. Nongoloza’s Children.. Queer Theory/Sociology. Pretoria: Government Printer. ‘Coming Out as a Lesbian in Johannesburg.). Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers. L. 2004. 2002.). Gender: A Sociological Reader. Boulder: Westview Press. Queer Theory/Sociology. His research interests include Gender Studies. 2010.

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