Pornography, Race and Effeminacy at Lavender Languages
Last weekend, American University hosted the 20th Annual Lavender Languages & Linguistics Conference, which examines the diverse spectrum of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer lifestyle through a broad academic lens. This year’s Lavender Languages Conference took place from Feb. 15 to 17 and featured exploration of various topics including online communities, queer women discourses, the LGBTQ deaf community, geographic links to LGBT identity, anti-effeminate and racist discourse among gay men, how LGBT representation varies from country to country and the role of politics in LGBT expression.
In "Politics, Pornography, Performativity," Jake Silver examined the connection between pornography, politics, nationalisms, ideology and global identity. In his presentation and research, Silver focused on gay pornography featuring Israeli and Arab men.
What he discovered was that gay pornography featuring Arab men was framed by dichotomies: free versus suppressed, western versus non-western, modern versus savage, and liberal versus non-liberal.
In the films he studied, these productions were typically framed by western tourist narratives that appeared to indicate that the Arab men could only be freed from their suppression by an outside western influence.
"There is no effort to connect nationalism," said Silver about gay pornography featuring Arab men. "There is no declaration of sovereignty or nation."
Meanwhile in his study of Israeli-themed gay pornography, Silver noticed distinct references to Israeli nationalism and lifestyle including the presence of Jewish religious icons and interviews with actors about their lives growing up in Israel.
Other presentations of interest during the pornography panel included Tyler Schnoebelen’s investigation into the coding of paralinguistic signals of sex and how we attempt to express them in writing and Dr. Brian Adam-Theis’s examination of how male bodies in gay pornography are created for specific audiences, consumptions and sexual potentialities.
Queering Inclusion: The LGBT Deaf Community
The most fascinating panel of the conference was entitled Corporeal Ambiguities: Queering Inclusion. The panel, which was held entirely in sign language with the assistance of interpreters, focused solely on the LGBT deaf community.
The panel began with the screening of "Austin Unbound," a short film that told the true-life story of Austin, a deaf transgender man. The film, the narrative of which is told through the use of subtitles, shared a unique viewpoint and allowed the audience to experience, on some small level, the challenges and joys of being a transgender individual.
After the screening, presenters dove into a number of issues that were unique to the LGBT deaf community.
Of particular note were presenters Alex and Tamar Jackson Nelson who recognized that a gap existed when looking at the linguistic choices of deaf LGBT individuals. Their hope is to eventually fill that gap with their research and to help train interpreters to interpret for members of the LGBT deaf community more effectively.
An interesting note that arose during the presentation was the importance of interpretation and how the meaning and tone of signed words and phrases is dependent on the individual who is interpreting as well as the person being interpreted.
One example was on the multiple ways that one could sign the word "gay." Alex Jackson Nelson demonstrated that one method previously used included the use of hand motions near the bottom of the face.
While this may work for some, at least one individual has seen it as offensive. The reasoning behind it is that in sign language, motions that include the lower half of the face are generally feminine.
Another example that was mentioned involved the fact that there are multiple methods in which to describe the concept of coming out. The example method signed by Alex was dismissed by some members of the LGBT deaf community as being "too theatrical" and thus they developed their own means of communicating the concept.
In discovering these examples, their research not only identifies areas for refinement, but also paves the way for the introduction of terms that more accurately reflects the intent of the signer and allows the interpreter to present the information conveyed more efficiently.
Race, Effeminacy, and Consumption in Online Communities
Brad Rega, moderator of the Language & Queer Online Communities panel, presented two interesting and controversial subjects in the LGBT community: race and effeminacy.
Succinctly named "No Queens, Chocolate, or Fried Rice," the talk investigated the line between prejudice and preference and the presence of discriminatory language when it comes to gay online communities.
Rega’s research focused on blogs, online forums, and public dating services such as Adam4Adam and Grindr and through the use of linguistic techniques examined the language used in these digital venues.
According to Rega, how individuals state their preference in sexual partner can be divided into positive and negative descriptions. In negative descriptions, individuals actively exclude other races by using such terms as "no" or "only." In positive descriptions, other races are not actively excluded. Instead, individuals only state their preferred race.
Some individuals have caught on to the difference and have changed negative descriptions such as, "vanilla and spice, no chocolate no rice" to positive descriptions such as "prefer whites and Latinos." As Rega pointed out in his presentation, one online commenter stated out that the use of such conversions can result in someone contacting another person on the false assumption that a stated preference does not mean the exclusion of all others.
To illustrate his point, Rega made use of various quotes culled from the online communities of his research. These included the language used in Grindr profiles and comments made on an Adam4Adam article on the issue.
As the presentation continued, members of the audience seemed to be locked in stunned silence as they read the quotes up on screen. Some were cold, some were brutally honest, and others were simply outspoken declarations.
One particularly memorable quote from an online African-American commenter only known as Todd read, "I’ve experienced more superficial prejudicial behavior from the gay community than I have any other."
Lavender Languages ended as a good conference should: with a critical look at the past with a positive look toward the future.
In a roundtable style conversation, panelists and audience members were encouraged to submit ideas for future panels and possible ways of improving the conference in the coming year.
The goal of the Lavender Languages Conference is to examine language use in LGBTQ life. With an inclusive focus present in the diversity of panel topics and reflected in the participatory nature of the audience, it’s difficult envision a scenario in which it will not continue for many years to come.
For more information, visit www.american.edu/cas/anthropology/lavender-languages/