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Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2006 19:12:22 +0900 (JST) From: Claire Maree Subject: Public Discourses of Gay Men
AUTHOR: Baker, Paul TITLE: Public Discourses of Gay Men SERIES: Routledge Advances in Corpus Linguistics PUBLISHER: Routledge, Taylor and Francis YEAR: 2005
Claire Maree, Full-time Lecturer, Tsuda College
Bringing together sociolinguistics with corpus linguistics, Public Discourses of Gay Men examines the construction of gay male identities in the public domain. Taking data from parliamentary records, tabloid newspapers, television sitcoms, erotic internet texts and safer-sex pamphlets, Baker sets out to discuss the ways that discourses of gay men interact and effect each other. The book also looks at how this in turn interacts with the construction of identity in contemporary English-speaking societies.
OUTLINE OF CHAPTERS
Baker outlines the main focus of his research and methods in his first chapter. The three issues to be addressed are: i) the way that ''language is used in the public domain to construct discourses of male homosexuality,'' the connotations of those discourse and how they are ''connected to concepts of gender, sexual behavior and sexual desire'' ii) the ways in which ''discourse surrounding homosexuality differ depending on the authors of the texts and their intended audiences,'' and iii) how those ''discourse exist in relation to each other'' either as ''dominant of contested'' (p. 21). To attend to these questions, Baker takes texts from debates in the House of Lords (chapter 2), tabloid newspapers (chapter 3), a television sitcom script (chapter 4), erotic narratives (chapter 5), personal advertisements (chapter 6) and sexual health documentation (chapter 6). Frequency counts, keyword analysis, collocations, semantic preference (discourse prosody) and linguistic annotation of the texts are used in the analysis.
Baker's first analysis is of three transcripts from the House of Lords debates in to the age of consent (1998, 1999, 2000). All utterances in the electronic transcripts were annotated according to the position of the speaker: for, against and undecided. A keyword comparison, using WordSmith Tools, of pro-reformers and anti-reformers utterances identifies 41 keywords. Baker's analysis shows that pro- reformers organise keywords convention, rights and human into a discourse of tolerance whilst anti-reformers reference homosexuality as an act causing danger and ruin. Overall, the language of the anti- reformers portrays homosexuality as behaviour, not an identity position, and posits anal sex as the prototypical act of homosexuality, an act that is both dangerous and criminal. Furthermore, anti- reformers position anal sex as ruinous to both boys and girls, a claim that supports the position that opposition to anal sex is not homophobic. However, in contradiction to this, anti-reform discourse also claims boys are at more risk than girls, and that lowering the age of consent will lead to demands for further rights for gay people. Pro- reformers, however, ''argued for tolerance and equality, or warned that the government would be forced to make the change in order to fall in line with the European human rights conventions.'' (pp. 57-58)
Chapter three contains analysis of two tabloids (Daily Mail and Mirror, January 1, 2001 - December 31, 2002) that show a slightly different discourse. Analysis of articles containing at least one use of the words gay, gays, homosexual and homosexuals showed that, as with the pro- reformers discourse discussed in chapter 2, the word used most often to refer to male homosexuality is gay. However, a study of collocations and discourse prosodies reveals a positioning of homosexuality as ''one of many problematic minority groups.'' Furthermore, collocations show that gay relationships are portrayed as transitory (i.e. gay lovers). As with the debates described in chapter 2, the tabloids frame homosexuality as behaviour (homosexual act(s), activity/activities, behavior, encounters, tendencies). Homosexuality is linked to words related to crime (gay/homosexual rape) and a discourse of shame and secrecy (gay slurs, closet gay) whereby those who are open about being gay are shamelessly so. Gay men are portrayed are sexually obsessed (gay predator), and as those who do not operate as individuals, but as a ''unified group'' (p.83) (gay/homosexual community) to promote homosexuality to children (gay/homosexual propaganda) and gain political power via campaigning for rights (gay/homosexual lobby(s)). In his final analysis, Baker illustrates how the Daily Mail focuses on the consequences of equality and the effect of so-called gay propaganda on minors, whereas the Mirror contributes to a discourse of shame and secrecy regarding homosexuality.
Chapter 4 deals with scripts from the USA hit sitcom Will and Grace. Using scripts from 107 episodes, Baker analyses words relating to sex and sexuality, the speech of the two central gay characters (the leading character Will and his friend Jack) and two central straight female characters (leading character Grace and her employee Karen). First, a word frequency analysis of those terms related to sex and sexuality show that, contrary to the discourse surrounding the age of consent debates in the UK, here homosexuality is understood as an identity. Baker identifies a ''be yourself'' moral discourse where coming out and being yourself is preferred over all else.
A comparison of the speech of the two central gay characters, Will and Jack, reveals that Will's speech shows urban sophistication and is more other-orientated. Jack, in contrast, employs a camp (Harvey 2000) style that shows him to be more ''self-assured, self-absorbed (and) playful'' (p. 115). Analysis of key semantic and grammatical categories reveals that Grace's speech constructs her as ''needy'' whereas Karen employs a camp style of speech. Baker notes a difference between Jack and Karen's camp style, namely that Karen's use of hyperbole, rhetorical triplets, commands and insults ''is witch- like or queeny'' (p. 125). Baker posits Karen's performance as that of a drag queen and suggests that she is ''doubly in drag.'' He notes that perhaps ''(i)n order for a drag queen to be accepted by contemporary mainstream audiences (and advertisers) she must be played by a women'' (p.130). Baker concludes that although Will and Grace is the first long running sitcom to feature openly gay male characters, consideration of the use of homophobic statements in the scripts illustrates it remains '''inherently conservative''' by enlarging the idea of the nuclear family to include gay men only as long as their sex lives do not come to the forefront of the comedy itself.
Chapter 5 moves to a slightly different and shorter text form: personal advertisements from Gay Times magazine over four nine year periods (1973, 1982, 1991, 2000; four). Baker seeks to ''identify the ways advertisers negotiated gender identities, both for themselves and the sort of person they desire'' (p. 134) and in particular the negotiation of homosexuality and masculinity. He considers that gay male personal ads ''function as a possible site where desires and fantasies surrounding masculinity are fore-grounded, negotiated and contested'' (p.134). An overall analysis of the texts showed that 60% of advertisers used identity based nouns to describe both themselves and the type of person they were seeking: guy, male, man. A comparison of the adjectives referring to masculinity over the four periods revealed that there was a higher frequency of such terms in 1991 than in other periods. The chapter closes with a discussion of why frequency peaked that way, and why ''definition of gender at this time converged upon straight-acting and related collocates'' (p.151). To answer this question, Baker turns to mainstream portrayals of gay men, and points to discourses of AIDS as a ''gay disease'' and the increase in images of male heterosexuality in media and advertising. Baker suggests that perhaps ''as male homosexuality became more stigmatised and male heterosexuality became eroticised, it is possible that gay men felt the need to distance themselves from appearing obviously 'gay''' (p.152).
Chapter 6 moves the analysis to erotic narratives. Here, Baker compares lesbian and gay male narratives taken from an internet archive of amateur narratives classified under the 'adult-friends' sub- category. Differences between lesbian and gay narratives were collated in order to attend to questions regarding the language used to construct ''ideal sexual partners'', ''discourse of sexuality'' and ''sexually arousing'' language (p. 155). Through keyword analysis, Baker identifies a common discourse that he labels ''compulsory homosexuality'' whereby characters in both categories of narrative do not identify as gay or lesbian, but find the same-sex sex they experience in the stories as more fulfilling than previous heterosexual sex (p.162). Supporting this is the portrayal of men as hyper- masculine and women as hyper-feminine.
Keywords for the gay narratives include sweat, beer and towel and for the lesbian wine, glass and tea. Furthermore, keywords relating to the act of sex itself portray gay men as ''emotionless machines'' (throbbing, pumped/pumping) and male sex as work or action (work/ed, job). In contrast, for lesbian women are ''love and emotions are strong elements of an erotic narrative'' (love) and ''lesbian love occurs after a long build-up of desire for a person'' (been) (p.168). In terms of physicality, through a comparison of keywords Baker's analysis shows that in the erotic texts, lesbian are portrayed as gentle and tender (kiss/kissed, soft) whereas in gay male texts the penis is cast as a weapon (shot/shoot/shooting). In terms of language itself, in gay male erotic narratives ''men's language is informal, non-standard and often impolite'', whereas ''lesbian's language is politer, more affectionate and more standardised'' (p.174). Another difference noted in the texts is that of confidence, Baker groups his results to suggest that lesbians are ''coy and shy (giggle/d/ing; asked, smiled, smile), while gay men are ''confident and assertive'' (get, got). Furthermore, gay narratives are egocentric in comparison to lesbian narratives which are more interaction oriented. Baker situates the narratives analysed sites of ''heterosexual gender (and class) stereotyping - men are constructed as hyper-masculine/working-class, while women are hyper-feminine/middle class'' (p. 188). In closing, Baker is careful to stress that the analysis is one of discourses of ideal sex, rather than actual practices, and represent a possible ''queering of hegemonic heterosexuality'' (p. 189).
In chapter seven, Baker turns to safer sex pamphlets and analyses documentation published by the Terrence Higgins Trust (2000-20003) that is available on their website. He notes a high degree of ''border crossing'' (cf. Goodman 1996) whereby information is presented as entertainment in a format accessible to many gay men. Distribution of the acronym HIV shows that the term is more likely to occur in the later part of the documentation which points to another form of border crossing whereby information about HIV is embedded in that of other subjects (p. 198). Analysis of the most frequent nouns and adjectives shows that HIV is the most frequent noun to appear in the texts, followed by gay and men. In terms of HIV transmission, ''responsibility concerning passing on HIV (or other infections) is downplayed, responsibility for (not) getting HIV is made implicit'' (p.203). A high level of informality is noted in the texts, along with heavy use of vernacular terms. The use of non-standard language is said to emphasise ''a form of masculinity associated with working-class heterosexual men (Trudgill 1974: 94)'' (p.209). Finally, Baker identifies these safer-sex texts as being conflicted because they must avoid homophobic discourses yet also engage men who don't identify as gay whilst focussing on altering sexual behaviours without making this information too invasive.
The final chapter of Public Discourse of Gay Men offers an overview of the preceding analyses and general conclusions. Baker identifies a number of conflicting discourses that indicate a ''reformulation of the way that western society conceptualises sexuality and gay men view themselves'' (p. 220). The first contestation involves the definition of homosexuality itself as either behaviour (i.e. House of Lords discourse) or identity-based community (i.e. Will and Grace). Another site is that of homophobia, which is now more often noted via under representation that moral panics of earlier decades. For example, the use of humour in newspaper reporting, or a reframing of debates to appeal to the dangers apparent to children, and even in stereotyping phrases used in gay friendly television sitcoms. The last area Baker discusses is that of ''aspiration'' whereby the commodification of male bodies and commercialisation of gay culture has led to promotion of conformity to idealised models of gayness: the urbanite, witty consumer; and the muscular, healthy bodied, perfectly sexed man -- ideals underpinned by modern consumerist capitalism. Baker suggests that neither of these aspirational discourses are attainable simultaneously and subsequently pull gay men in opposite ways,.
Public Discourses of Gay Men is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature that is often referred to as ''gender, language and sexuality studies''; an area that Baker calls ''language and identity studies.'' Prefaced by dense explanations and justifications for the application of corpus based approaches to the field; Baker's research stimulates further discussion of this complex and still underrepresented area of language studies. His final analyses on the different and contested discourse in the public domain are important additions to the field. For this reviewer, however, there were sections when the selection of comparative analytic categories warranted further critical discussion. Space restrictions prevents an in-depth discussion here, however, I will take up two examples below to illustrate this point.
In the analysis of tabloid discourse, Baker takes the term ''gay lover'' as exemplary of how gay male relationships are portrayed at transitory. He writes; ''if a word like lover is used in conjunction with a sexuality identifier, it is much more likely to be referring to homosexuals rather than heterosexuals, and this is more pronounced than other words like 'couple', 'relationship' and 'partner'. The word 'lover' places an emphasis on romance and sex rather than commitment and stability'' (p. 73). Although it is difficult to fault this interpretation, as Baker himself acknowledges, heterosexuality is the unmarked form in tabloid newspapers, henceforth, readers are left wondering if a comparison of terms such as ''married'' and ''defacto'' may have been more relevant here. Turning attention to legal status, rather than only ''sexuality identifiers'', may have revealed something else, especially since in the list of terms relating to ''political power'' (p. 88) gay/homosexual marriage and gay/homosexual weddings occur with some frequency.
Similarly, for the analysis of erotic narratives, Baker compares lesbian and gay texts. Readers will undoubtedly wonder why ''lesbian'' is used in comparison only at the point of erotica. Not merely because once again the ''lesbian'' is invoked at the moment of sex, but more importantly because the concluding remarks maintain ''the characters in the narratives tend to be gendered as heterosexual ideals who merely happen to engage in gay sex'' (p.190). In order to support such a statement, surely a comparison between heterosexual and homosexual erotic narratives would be more productive.
Underlying the above points is a frustrating lack of attention to key terms such as ''heterosexual,'' ''desire,'' ''lesbian'' and, at times ''gay male'' that runs throughout the book. Perhaps in addition to reference to sociolinguistic classics such as Trudgill (1974), a more critical inclining towards queer studies and masculinity studies to support (or contest) critical notions would have been insightful here. Baker, however, has anticipated critique: he has taken pains to state the subjective positioning of his research project, questions and interpretations, and, he even goes as far as to invite counter- interpretations in the closing chapter. I suggest that diverse critical readings of Public Discourse of Gay Men will further advance research in this area, much as Baker has anticipated.
Harvey, K. (2000) Describing camp talk: language/pragmatics/politics. Language and Literature 9:3, 240-60.
Goodman, S. (1996) Market forces speak English. In S. Goodman and D. Graddol (eds) Redefining English: New Tests, New Identities. London: Routledge, pp. 141-80.
Trudgill, P. (1974) The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Claire Maree is full-time lecturer of Multicultural Studies and Japanese Language Studies at Tsuda College. Her research interests include the intersections of gender, sexuality and language in contemporary society, discourse studies and cultural studies.