Blog Archives

Discourses of Purity in Queer Communities & Lavender Languages 19

First, I have to do a quick apology for the radio silence around here!  Rest assured that I have quite a backlog of ideas to write about on this blog, I’ve just been very busy with a number of different projects and events.  In January, I attended Creating Change, which was a fabulous experience, and my workshop on ambiguous identities went quite well.  I also launched, which is already featuring two great posts on service in BDSM and femme/trans identities.  If you’d like to write about what feminism needs to do better in your community, please suggest an idea!  Along with that, I’m now a staff writer at Gender Across Borders, where I’m writing a lot about international trans issues, and I’m collaborating with Kyla Bender-Baird on a really fun column called Body Politic at Girl w/ Pen that focuses on queer bodies, law, and policy.

So the topic of this post actually comes from a conference I attended this weekend at American University, Lavender Languages.  It was a really great conference–I was actually pretty skeptical when I read the panel descriptions, wondering if it’d be too theoretical and out of my depth.  I’m a language nerd, but I haven’t really been immersed in that kind of academia for a while.  As it turned out, almost all the presenters were very easy to follow, and raised a lot of ideas in my mind for future blog posts and maybe even academic work.  My own discussion group on non-binary language also went very well, and I wish we’d have more time!

One theme that kept coming up that is of particular interest to me is the notion of purity and “clean” bodies in queer discourse.  This was either explicitly stated or implied in a number of talks.  For example, a paper on blue collar gay pornography considers how working class men, and particularly men of color, are coded as “dirty” or “greasy.”  Another presentation on the idea of the gold star lesbian in the Portland community touched briefly on the concept of virginity/purity, and I was interested in how the “gold star” definition positioned trans female bodies as contaminating while trans male bodies might still be “pure” (and transmasculine identities therefore erased).

There was also some talk about colonialism, capitalism, and citizenship, and I would be interested to get into how the purity narrative plays in there.  This isn’t a one-way effect–I’ve noticed that the language of some African and Asian leaders, for example, invokes the image of Western homosexuality and transgender identity as an infecting force (juxtaposed with AIDS) to corrupt traditional cultures.  At the same time, the fantasy of gay male erotic tourism places black and brown bodies as both “dirty” and “exotic,” a thrilling danger zone where privileged white men can use their American dollars or Euros to spend some time in the muck.

I wonder if any readers know of some related reading that might be helpful to me in negotiating this discourse, or if you’ve heard similar themes in your communities?  I’ll definitely be coming back to specific points on this topic in future posts.