Sadomasochism is defined on the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as “the derivation of sexual gratification from the infliction of physical pain or humiliation either on another person or on oneself”. It is a common practice for partners who engage in sadomasochistic play to agree on a ‘safe word’ beforehand, as this ‘safe word’ would allow one party to tell the other party to stop whatever he or she is doing (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). This ‘safe word’ is needed for sadomasochistic play as words like ‘no’ or ‘stop’ serve a resistance function and are important to helping both parties achieve sexual pleasure (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). This is because the dominant partner derives pleasure from forcing his or her will on one who is powerless to resist, while the submissive partner derives pleasure from being overcome by the power shown by his or her partner (Cameron & Kulick, 2003).
Masochistic sexting will then require a ‘safe emoji’ as well, so that one party can let the other know that he or she is uncomfortable with the level of sadomasochistic play and to stop. The choice of a ‘safe emoji’ should be in line with the choice of a safe word, meaning that the ‘safe emoji’ should not express the meaning of ‘no’ or ‘to stop’. The ‘safe emoji’ should also stand out in context as “incongruous and unambiguous”, so that it is understood straight away. The most likely ‘safe emoji’ for Julie and Mike would thus be ?. This is because this emoji is a clearly irrelevant one in sadomasochistic play and carries no sexual connotation, showing just a toilet bowl.
In contrast, some emoji like the microphone or the cucumber could have sexual connotations as their shapes could be likened to a penis. The chain and key emojis are emojis that could be used frequently in sadomasochistic sexting to show the submissive party being chained and needing a key, so these emojis would not work as the ‘safe emoji’ as well. The water droplets could be interpreted as the discharge of fluids during orgasm.
Other facial and hand emojis listed here are unlikely to be used as the ‘safe emoji’ as they are ambiguous and can be taken by the other party as part of the sadomasochistic sexting. This is particularly the case for the ‘face screaming in fear’ emoji (?), the ‘loudly crying face’ emoji (?) as well as the ‘raised hand’ emoji which could be taken to mean stop (✋); where they usually express not wanting to continue, they would not be taken to mean that in sadomasochistic sexting, similar to how the word ‘no’ does not mean ‘no’ in sadomasochistic play.
I agree with the entries for ‘locker room talk’ on UrbanDictionary in that locker room banter is sexually charged, but it is also clear that they do not fully capture the social and interpersonal functions that locker room banter serves. The first entry states that it “exists solely for the purpose of male comedy”, but locker room banter can be seen to serve purposes beyond that.
The second entry rightly points out that locker room banter is held privately with “like-minded, similarly gendered peers”. This is a hint of the purposes it could serve, as locker room banter is usually carried out by a group of heterosexual males. Cameron and Kulick think that this kind of ‘heterosexual’ talk is “in fact primarily homosocial talk”, where the purpose of the locker room talk is to allow a group of males to bond with one another. The heterosexuality that is a common feature shared by everyone within the group, and this creates a kind of in-group identity. In particular, conversations that focus on the sexual experiences that they have had with females (such as the example in the second entry) index a man’s heterosexuality because desiring women is a characteristic of a heterosexual male and also emphasise that they do not desire men in a sexual way and are not homosexual.
The third entry states that locker room banter is not just about women, but also about minorities and immigrants. Of these minorities, homosexuals could also be the subject of the banter. Cameron and Kulick note that one gossip about gay men is also a “performative enactment” of heterosexuality by the group (2003). Similarly, this creates a kind of in-group identity among the group and helps the men to bond.
Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Queer Linguistics is a specific area in the study of language and sexuality that is based on queer theory. Queer theory does not refer to a single theory but is a cluster of perspectives which questions heterosexuality and its naturalness (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). The term ‘queer’ was first used as a new category in sexuality to include people who rejected and challenged heteronormativity (Cameron& Kulick, 2010). People of these sexualities are the focus of queer theory as they represent threats to heterosexual hegemony (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). Queer linguistics challenges the linguistic mechanisms that result in heterosexuality being seen as the norm and highlights non-heteronormative alternatives in an attempt to destabilise this norm (Motschenbacher, 2011).
One of the earliest queer theorists was Michel Foucault, who treated identities, including sexual identities, as social categories “embedded in power structures” (Motschenbacher, 2011). Foucault’s study led others to shift the focus of their research — where they used to view identity as the source of language use, it was now seen as the effect of specific acts (Cameron & Kulick, 2010).
Perspectives behind the queer theory were also said to be inspired by Gayle Rubin’s article ‘Thinking Sex’ in 1984, where she criticised radical feminist literature for interpreting sexuality in strict relation to sexuality and called for scholars to develop a theory that was independent from feminism and specific to sexuality (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). Feminists at the time used to think that sexuality could be explained just by studying gender, with some analyses viewing sexual oppression as a result of gender oppression (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). However, Rubin felt that sexuality and gender are separate and she argued that lesbian women were oppressed for not just being women who did not conform to gender norms, but because of their sexuality which led the society to perceive them as ‘sexual perverts’ (Cameron & Kulick, 2010).
In 1990, six years after Rubin’s article, Judith Butler published her book ‘Gender Trouble’, which was regarded by many to be one of the first published texts of queer theory (Bucholtz & Hall, 2004). She introduced the idea of performativity to the study of language and sexuality, and suggested that similar to gender, sexuality is performed and one’s sexual identity has to be repeated and achieved through interaction (Coates, 2013). One of the ways that sexuality is performed is through language and heterosexual references can be easily found to be part of our daily conversations — even words such as ‘wife’, ‘husband’, ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ can be used by people to index their heterosexuality (Coates, 2013). Butler points out that repeated performances of gender lead to gender norms and because these are related to sexual norms, gender performances also affects sexuality as well (Bucholtz & Hall, 2004). However, these performances can also be in the form of drag and other practices where speakers make the conscious choice to violate gender norms (Bucholtz & Hall, 2004).
It can be seen that queer theory has affected the direction of scholars studying language and sexuality (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). In the 1980s, scholars claimed that some kind of ‘Gayspeak’ existed and was spoken by a homogeneous gay community (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). The term ‘queer’ was also resurrected by political activists, who felt that certain people such as Black drag queens were marginalised by these claims because they did not share certain values as others in the community to be considered part of them (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). Queer theorists such as Butler have since led other scholars to reject the notion of a ‘Gayspeak’ and homogeneous gay communities who had one way of speaking, and instead look to study how there are ‘queer’ ways of using language (Cameron & Kulick, 2010).
Anna Livia and Kira Hall’s book ‘Queerly Phrased’, which consisted of a collection of articles, was published in 1997. They argue that because sexuality is performative, their work should not be taken as descriptive of specific groups of people — such as that of gays, lesbians or bisexuals —even though (Morton-Brown, 1999) Instead, queer discourse can be viewed differently from specifically queer or heterosexual identity, and rather that which can be performed by anyone to achieve specific personal goals (Morton-Brown, 1999). It can be seen that Livia and Hall’s work has been influenced by both Rubin and Butler, as they focused on theories specific to sexuality and not gender, and also make use of the concept of performativity to explain language use.
One of the most significant articles published in ‘Queerly Phrased’ was one written by Robin Queen which built on earlier articles by Rusty Barrett who focused on the speech patterns used by drag queens in their performances (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). Barrett observed that performances by drag queens often involved using different forms of language to index different social positions, and the contrast between the forms highlights their gayness (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). Barrett argues that it is because of this contrasting effect between different forms portrayed at the same time that the queerness of drag queens can be presented (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). Queen’s article in ‘Queerly Phrased’ uses Barrett’s papers as a basis to put forth similar points that can also be observed in language used by lesbians (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). She came to the conclusion that a combination of different features, including women’s language, the language of working-class men, gay male language as well as stereotypical lesbian language, are used by lesbians to index their lesbian sexuality (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). In other words, it is the use of features that are supposedly used by contrasting groups of people that allows lesbians to highlight their sexuality, similar to how drag queens portray their gay side and show that they do not conform to heteronormativity.
Keith Harvey was another researcher who worked on language that indexes the sexuality of speakers. His studies focused on ‘camp talk’, which is commonly found in the speech of homosexual men in French and English fiction, and by extension also associated with homosexual identities (Harvey, 1998). In his 2000 paper, he presented a framework for ‘camp talk’, which consists of four semiotic strategies that speakers of ‘camp talk use for different meanings and effects (Harvey, 2000). Harvey labelled these four strategies Paradox, Inversion, Ludicrism and Parody and he viewed these strategies as the different ways that people use different kinds of juxtapositions to construct specific identities that they want to be seen as (Cameron & Kulick, 2010). Harvey also notes that ‘camp talk’ is not the only style or register that uses the four strategies (2000). This suggests that even though ‘camp talk’ is seen as a ‘different’ way of speaking that indexes homosexuality, it still shares certain characteristics with other ways of speaking which could also include how people normally speak and this means that ‘camp talk’ should possibly be thought of as ‘normal’ as well.
It is clear from Harvey’s research that research from early queer theorists have come a long way. From a time when scholars looked at language as a result of people’s sexuality, different ways of speaking are now seen as tools that speakers use in order to portray certain sexuality. In other words, sexuality is now seen as performative and scholars have shifted their focus to look at how people are making use of language to portray their sexuality. The different strategies that are used to do so, as well as the meanings and purposes for employing the strategies, have been also been investigated. While queer linguistics is still a relatively new area of research, it has definitely contributed to research on language and sexuality and will continue to do so.
Bucholtz, M., & Hall, K. (2004). Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research. Language in Society, 33(04), 469-515. doi:10.10.17/s0047404504334020
Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2010). Language and sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Coates, J. (2013). The discursive production of everyday heterosexualities. Discourse & Society, 24(5), 536-552. doi:10.1177/0957926513486070
Harvey, K. (1998). Translating Camp Talk. The Translator, 4(2), 295-320. doi:10.1080/13556509.1998.10799024
Harvey, K. (2000). Describing camp talk: Language/pragmatics/politics. Language and literature, 9(3), 240-260. doi:10.1177/096394700000900303
Morton-Brown, M. (1999). Queer linguistics vs. compulsory heterosexuality. Text and Performance Quarterly, 19(3), 248-256. doi:10.1080/10462939909366265
Motschenbacher, H. (2011). Taking Queer Linguistics further: Sociolinguistics and critical heteronormativity research. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2011(212), 149-179. doi:10.1515/ijsl.2011.050
Lisping in men has long been considered a trait that indirectly indexes homosexuality. The writer of this post is gay and claims he speaks with a lisp (he cannot produce a clear “s” sound), and he used to think that people whom he met are able to tell that he is gay because of his lisp.
It is worth noting that the writer himself became aware that speaking with a lisp is in itself not a characteristic that is associated solely with gay men, nor is it a characteristic that all gay men have. Cameron and Kulick (2010) highlight the presence of a linguistic stereotype about Western gay men speaking in a different way from straight men. This way of speaking, also called ‘the voice’, has characteristics such as lengthening of fricative sounds, a wide pitch range and breathiness. Similar to the lisp, ‘the voice’ is also not representative of the gay community – some gay men do not exhibit the relevant characteristics and some heterosexual men share those characteristics.
The writer recognises that heteronormative views of the society is the reason behind the shock his colleagues in the newsroom get when they learn that he is gay. The fact that this reaction is repeated every semester (the writer was writing for a student newspaper of a University) suggests that the writer’s usual speech patterns did not contain too many characteristics that associated him with homosexuality. As he mentioned in the post, he has even been told by some that they did not notice his lisp. He also goes on to say that he needs to stop judging himself for his way of speaking.
The writer’s sense of insecurity about his own speech reminds me of that of David Thorpe, who directed the documentary “Do I Sound Gay?”. An important difference between the writer and David Thorpe lies in the fact that the writer may not actually sound gay, even with his lisp, while David Thorpe had gone to speech therapists and was explicitly told about certain characteristics, such as an ‘upspeak’ in his voice, which refers being too high-pitched at the end of sentences, his longer vowel sounds and nasality in his voice.
The writer also realises that he needs to change his judgemental mindset – he used to think that he could identify a gay man by the way he speaks (similar to how he thinks he can be identified as gay just because he speaks with a lisp). This is a point that the documentary touches on as well. Some gay men are as ‘straight-sounding’ as any heterosexual man, while some heterosexual men sound gay because their speech contains certain characteristics that are associated with homosexuality in men.
The writer is of the opinion that the way he speaks should not be the only aspect that he is judged on. This is something that I agree strongly with, as we would not like ourselves to be judged solely on one bad point instead of all the other good points that we possess. The writer and the documentary have both shown that it is impossible to tell whether someone is gay or not just by the way he speaks.
Avelino, G. (2016, April 14). Modern Tongue: Sexual orientation should not be guessed by speech patterns. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://dailytitan.com/2016/04/modern-tongue-sexual-orientation-should-not-be-guessed-by-speech-patterns/
Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2010). Language and sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bromance might be interpreted as romantic love between two men because of the two words that it is formed from (bro and romance). However, it is usually used to refer to an extremely close relationship between two men that go beyond usual friendship and not love between two gay men.