Locker room talk and sex positivity


The three top entries in Urban Dictionary on the definition of ‘locker room talk’ seem to have a general consensus that ‘locker room banter/ talk’ (henceforth LRB) tends to concern taboo subjects not usually permissible in polite society, such as comments of a sexual nature, often with sexist and maybe even racist connotations. However, the definitions do differ pretty markedly in terms of how LRB is framed. Definitions one and three refer to men being the group making use of LRB, while definition two avoids explicit reference to a specific gender, instead referring to individuals who do so as “like-minded, similarly gendered peers”. In addition, the three definitions appear to be on a sliding scale of acceptance with regards to LRB, with definition one adopting an almost-apologetic tone (claiming LRB is for the purpose of male comedy and should not be taken seriously), definition two seeming more neutral by comparison as a result of its lack of rapport-building language (only third person pronouns are used) and definition three adopting a downright disapproving tone in suggesting that men who participate in LRB are “chauvinistic pigs”.

I agree that the definitions do capture what LRB encompasses, because LRB, despite its name, doesn’t have to take place in a physical locker room, just as not all conversations within a locker room will fall under the definitions of LRB given. Instead, LRB is an expression of socially inculcated desire made that can be understood by groups of individuals “because it draws on codes of signification that circulate within the wider society” (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). However, these definitions don’t make explicit reference to any sort of social or interpersonal functions LRB might serve (beyond definition one’s “for the purpose of male comedy”).


The purpose of LRB is generally to construct relationships between the speaker and the imagined object of desire so as to create a shared intimacy between the two. This “eroticisation of socially salient differences” (Cameron & Kulick, 2003) often involves traversing axes of power, and can make the speaker feel powerful. By using derogatory language, the speakers also signal their lack of solidarity with the group they are speaking about and therefore divorce themselves from what is often a less privileged group of individuals. For example, men may make reference to women being passive objects of sexual desire rather than, for instance, active participants in the act of intercourse. With regard to male users of LRB specifically, LRB can be used to index heterosexual masculinity and express commitment to speakers’ shared norms for gender and sexuality as a form of gender performance (Butler, 1990). Far from the harmless phenomenon it’s made out to be, by participating in LRB, encouraging it or even not discouraging it, speakers directly or indirectly create and perpetuate a culture of sexism and misogyny through the co-operative style of their talk.



To be sex positive means to have positive attitudes about sex and to be comfortable with one’s own sexual identity in the context of one’s own relationships with others. Beyond sex and sexual activities, being sex positive also involves learning more about the emotional, psychological and physical aspects of sex and sexual activity – that is, having an open-minded approach to sex (rather than regarding it as a taboo topic). Instead, sex-positive people regard sexuality as an innate part of being human and consider it invaluable in normalising sexuality (particularly female sexuality) as well as non-traditional gender identities so that individuals may make informed decisions about their bodies in the future. It also means to be accepting of with the sexual behaviours of others even if it goes against one’s own personal beliefs or preferences, so long as all parties involved do so in a safe and consensual.

In my opinion, its implications for contemporary identity politics are somewhat of a mixed bag.

On one hand, since identity politics are generally “grounded and validated” (Cameron & Kulick, 2003) with reference to an experience shared by members of a group who share an identity, the movement emphasizes the personal and political journey of the individual and values shared practices, symbols and rituals. This often extends to language use by members of the community, which serve as expressions of group identity. In terms of contemporary identity politics, outspoken sex-positive individuals who make themselves visible and reclaim previously pejorative terms such as “slut” and “ho” serve to enrich the environment that cultivates political change.

On the other hand, identity politics has a tendency to accentuate the positive. After all, it is the individuals who celebrate their differences that are oftentimes heard – no one goes out into the streets to proclaim that they are ashamed of themselves. However, this makes it easy to overlook subjects who do not share the same feelings of pride. In contemporary identity politics, this can mean erasure of groups that are less visible or less accepted by society at large, whether as a result of race, class or gender.

Lastly, contemporary identity politics also downplays the importance of power in enacting change. While it is doubtlessly a positive change that individuals are allowed and even encouraged to celebrate their differences, focusing purely on doing so can divert resources and attention from enacting actual change where it matters – in legislation or otherwise. While some activists argue that minorities celebrating their differences is a form of challenging existing hegemonic power structures in and of themselves, it should be remembered that in order for identity politics to serve its purpose, social inequality has to be reduced.


Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

Cameron, & Kulick. Language and sexuality. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Queer Linguistics for Dummies

By the very nature of its name, the definition of queer linguistics cannot be easily parsed. While the word “queer” has undergone amelioration from its initial use as a slur to an in-group marker of identity, its use in an academic context was originally meant as “a signifier without a stable signified” (Barrett, 2002), so the discipline can only be loosely defined.

To begin with, queer linguistics was developed as an extension of the earlier discipline of lavender linguistics, which focused largely on the language and lexicon of gay and lesbian speakers. Where lavender linguistics was restricted by normative binaries or homosexual/ heterosexual and male/ female, queer linguistics focuses on sexual identities that are non-normative, that is, queer. Rather than presuming that language is the result of a fixed identity, queer linguistics adopts a constructive view of that presupposes that one’s identity fluctuates and is not concrete (Motschenbacher, 2011). This ensures that individuals who do not meet rigid normative requirements (for example, a gay person living in a non-urban environment) are not excluded from the various identities used as means of categorisation. However, this does not mean that defined identity categories can be wholly ignored, because analysis and deconstruction of hegemonic structures, especially in the context of pragmatism, relies implicitly on the acknowledgement of imbalances of power between groups (such as between men and women, or heterosexual men and homosexual men), which means that dominant ideologies must still be conceptualised (Motschenbacher, 2011). In this case, however, the main difference between identity in the context of queer linguistics and traditional conceptions of identity is that the former is far less rigid or clearly defined.

At its heart, queer linguistics is the practice of application of ideas from queer theory to linguistic research in order to critically examine linguistic construction of heteronormativity from a poststructuralist perspective (Motschenbacher, 2011), which allows linguists to confront and destabilise hegemonic Discourses that have become accepted within a society as naturalised ideologies (Motschenbacher, 2011) with non-heteronormative alternatives. These alternatives can be interpreted in one of two ways: either to mean sexualities that do not include heterosexuality, or heterosexualities that do not fall under normative definitions. In this context, Foucault’s definition of Discourse as “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault, 1972) is used – also showing the departure of queer linguistics from traditional linguistics.

Queer theory is irrevocably tied to language and sexuality research. While queer theory itself is grounded in the examination of sexuality, it has also contributed to language and sexuality research in significant ways. Most significantly, it has altered the perspective through which language and sexuality research is conducted by providing paradigms through which said research can be contextualised, specifically, the concepts of gender performativity and queer linguistics.

Firstly, queer theory has provided researchers with a framework with which to critically examine language and sexuality Discourse. Queer theory rejected the essentialist perspectives of existing research into gay and lesbian identities that ignored the conflation of intersectionality with sexuality in the construction of identity. While incommensurable by virtue of its nature (since “queer” represents deviation from a norm rather than an established set of criteria or categories), through the lens of queer theory, researchers can analyse or deconstruct concepts germane to gender and sexuality without ignoring groups of individuals who, indeed, make up the majority of non-heteronormative individuals. This marked a shift away from the study of homosexuality as deviation from the perceived norm (Coates, 2013).

Queer theory was heavily influenced by the work of Judith Butler, who also developed the concept of gender performativity. Coined by Butler in 1990, gender performativity was influenced by philosopher John L. Austin’s concept of performativity and is a critique of traditional perceptions of gender. At its core, to say that gender is performative is to say that individuals are not born into their genders; rather, their gender identities are shaped by the culture and society these individuals are born into and exist in.

Under gender performativity, the relationship between language and identity is seen as constructive (Motschenbacher, 2011). In the vein of poststructuralism which heavily influenced queer theory, identity was seen as something not inherently stable – something that might be positioned in relation to hegemonic notions of identity within a society but that was ultimately prone to fluctuations as a result of having to navigate those same hegemonic notions: that is, out of an individual’s autonomous control (Butler, 1990). Thus, the emphasis within gender performativity is on the performance itself rather than the fictional “doer” (Butler, 1990) behind the deed. Ultimately, performativity is about the repetition of behaviours that are endorsed by or enforced by the norms (implicitly or explicitly) agreed upon by a society, whether as a result of instrumental (for example, classifying homosexuality as a mental illness) or influential (for example, lack of positive representation in media, bullying in schools as a result of ‘deviant’ gender identities) forces. In this way, performance constructs identity and gender. Crucially, the way in which these forces shape these behaviours and vice versa is cyclical in nature; this creates a reading of gender and performativity that provides an additional framework with which to examine language and sexuality.

Another framework that spawned from queer theory is that of queer linguistics.

Queer linguistics developed from within the field of language and gender research and is inextricably entwined with it. In the earlier phases of language and sexuality studies, much of research was focused largely on the experiences of gay men and lesbian women, spawning disciplines such as lavender linguistics, and later queer linguistics, which allowed for more nuanced observation and study of the queer individual as opposed to a focus on binary identities (for example homosexual versus heterosexual).

Although queer linguistics rejects essentialist attitudes towards language and identity, the discipline is still concerned with the study of heterosexualities, which are subject to the same discursive constructions as non-heterosexual (gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.) identities (Motschenbacher & Stegu, 2013). This very study of heterosexual discursive construction subverts the idea of heterosexuality as the default. Despite this subversion, however, queer linguistics is not free of normative influences simply because sexuality is tied to gender and sex, which in turn is influenced by hegemonic norms that dictate what a society deems orthodox and what it deems deviant. In general, queer linguistics has expanded the scope of and fine-tuned the focus of language and sexuality research.



Barrett, R. (2002). Is queer theory important for sociolinguistic theory? In R. J. Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, Language and sexuality. Contesting meaning in theory and practice (pp. 25– 43). California: CSLI.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

Coates, J. (2013). The discursive production of everyday heterosexualities. Discourse and society , 536-552.

Foucault, M. (1972). The archaeology of knowledge. London: Routledge.

Motschenbacher, H. (2011). Taking queer linguistics further: sociolinguistics and critical heteronormativity research. International journal of the sociology of language (212), 149–179.

Motschenbacher, H., & Stegu, M. (2013). Queer linguistic approaches to discourse. Discourse and society , 519–535.

Bisexuality and transphobia

According to the Oxford online dictionary, a bisexual person is someone who is ‘sexually attracted not exclusively to people of one particular gender; attracted to both men and women.’ At first glance, this definition seems to have cissexist and transphobic connotations. However, it goes without saying that discrepancies can exist between language in theory and language in practice.

This article from Pride suggests that mainstream definitions of bisexuality barely scratch the surface of what it means as an identity to individuals in the bi community, and puts forth a definition by the Bisexual Resource Center that describes bisexuality as ‘attraction to genders like our own, plus attraction to genders different from our own’, while the writer of the article itself suggests that bisexuality could exist on a spectrum ‘from a binary attraction to cis men and women, to a more queer, umbrella term that means attraction to more than one gender or all genders’. Of course, expanding the definition of bisexuality raises the question of whether it is even necessary as a label. After all, doesn’t the label of ‘pansexuality’ already exist?

However, it isn’t as simple as that – to better understand the situation, we must first examine the discourse from which these questions stemmed.

In the first place, this issue arose because of how the discourse surrounding the definition of ‘bisexual’ has evolved over time. To begin with, the ‘bi-‘ in bisexual was originally thought to refer to male and female (that is, to subscribe to the idea of binary gender), so pansexual was created as a less biologically based response. Then, the definition of bisexual was broadened to be more trans-inclusive, so bisexual came to refer to ‘own and other genders’. Nowadays, even pansexual individuals sometimes refer to themselves as ‘bisexual’ as a sort of “starter” term when communicating with others who may not necessarily be familiar with queer discourse, especially since the term ‘bisexual’ tends to be more widely recognised and understood than ‘pansexual’ by the general public due to prominence and exposure in the media. However, this doesn’t mean that the two terms are necessarily interchangeable. Rather, the distinction between these terms has now come to lie in individuals’ own subjective understanding and definitions.

While it may seem silly to even spend time trying to tease out the intricacies of labelling, we mustn’t forget that language plays an important role in the construction of identity, particularly for marginalised groups, since renaming challenges the hegemonic discourses and ideologies on which the subordinate status of some groups is predicated and accepted as ‘natural’. While this doesn’t mean that we should blindly accept accept all labels that emerge from the underbelly of the internet, it also doesn’t mean that we should police the labels that people ascribe to themselves or others like themselves, especially if we don’t belong to the same communities as these individuals. Ultimately, what this boils down to is that we should consciously reject narratives that pit marginalised groups against each other and avoid labels which may unintentionally presuppose some notion of normativity (and negative deviation from it).


A blend formed from the words ‘bro’ and ‘romance’; how men describe performing emotional labour for each other because the very act is so marked it needs a name all on its own (yikes!). It is often used to divorce bromantic individuals from the idea of homosexuality because Straight Men having feelings is Not Allowed.