Gill Valentine. Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Editor: Diane Richardson & Steven Seidman. 2002. Sage Publication.
Space has been conceptualised in increasingly sophisticated ways by geographers. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries geography was concerned with the identification and description of the earth’s surface. Space was conceived by explorers, cartographers and geographers as something to be investigated, mapped and classified (a process enhanced by the development of instrumental, mathematical and graphical techniques). Indeed, this understanding of space underpinned the subjugation and exploitation of territories and populations through the process of colonialism.
After the Second World War a recognition of the deficiencies of regional geography and the need for more systematic approaches to research, combined with geographers’ increasing engagement with quantitative methods, led to a shift in the focus of the discipline. The emphasis on the description of uniqueness was replaced by a concern with similarity. Specifically, positivist approaches to geography were concerned with uncovering universal spatial laws to understand the way the world worked. The focus was on spatial order and the use of quantitative methods to explain and predict human patterns of behaviour. Within this explanatory framework space was conceptualised as an objective physical surface with specific fixed characteristics upon which social identities and categories were mapped out. Space was, in effect, understood as the container of social relations and events. Likewise, social identities and categories were also taken for granted as ‘fixed’ and mutually exclusive.
In the 1970s this positivist approach to human geography was subject to critique. Radical approaches, most notably those inspired by Marxism, sought to understand space as the product of social forces, observing that different societies use and organise space in different ways; and to explain the processes through which social differences become spatial patterns of inequalities (Smith, 1990). In turn, geography’s subsequent engagement with post-structuralism has produced a new sensitivity to social difference and ‘the very different inputs and experiences these diverse populations have into, and of, “socio-spatial” processes’ (Cloke et al., 1991: 171). Social categories (such as class, gender, sexuality and race) are no longer taken for granted as given or fixed but rather are understood as socially produced through processes of negotiation and contestation and as such are recognised to be multiple and fluid. In the same way, space is also no longer understood as having particular fixed characteristics. Nor is it regarded as being merely a backdrop for social relations, a pre-existing terrain which exists outside of, or frames, everyday life. Rather, space is understood to play an active role in the constitution and reproduction of social identities and, vice versa, social identities, meanings and relations are recognised as producing material and symbolic or metaphorical spaces. As such, Massey (1999: 283) explains that
[space] is the product of the intricacies and the complexities, the interlockings and the non-interlockings, of relations from the unimaginably cosmic to the intimately tiny. And precisely because it is the product of relations, relations which are active practices, material and embedded, practices which have to be carried out, space is always in a process of becoming. It is always being made.
This chapter focuses on queer bodies and the production of space. In doing so it traces the emergence and development of a diverse range of geographical work on sexuality, and thereby necessarily touches on the different ways of understanding and talking about space outlined above. It begins by outlining how material spaces—‘gay ghettos’ and lesbian lands—have emerged in urban and rural landscapes respectively. The second section focuses on questions of sexual citizenship, demonstrating how regulatory landscapes vary between nation-states. In doing so this section addresses questions of lesbian and gay politics, anti-lesbian and gay discrimination and homophobia across a range of spatial scales (from the local to the global) and through a focus on specific geographical sites (namely, the workplace and the home). In the third section, the chapter looks at how Butler’s notion of performance and performativity are being used as important conceptual tools to think about the production of sexualised space. Finally, the chapter explores the use of spatial metaphors in the theorisation of sexuality.
Material Spaces: ‘Gay Ghettos’ and Lesbian Lands
In the late 1970s and 1980s geographers began to observe that lesbian and gay lifestyles were creating distinct social, political and cultural landscapes in major cities often dubbed ‘gay ghettos’ (Weightman, 1981; Knopp, 1990). Initial explanations for this emerging spatial phenomena focused on ‘push-pull’ migration factors. Writers argued that individual lesbians and gay men who were isolated in small towns and rural areas were both attracted by the sexual lifestyles on offer in the city (Harry, 1974) and pushed out of their home towns by local prejudice and bigotry (Lyod and Rowntree, 1978). Kramer’s (1995) account of gay men’s lives in North Dakota, USA, paints a bleak picture of what it means to be gay in rural America. The title of Weston’s (1995) paper ‘Get thee to a big city’ sums up her argument that the anonymity offered by urban environments makes them a better place to live a lesbian or gay lifestyle than within claustrophobic rural society. Indeed, she argues that the symbolic contrast offered by the urban/rural dichotomy is crucial to making sense of lesbian and gay identities, being central to the organisation of many ‘coming out’ stories in which sexual dissidents migrate from the country to the city to escape intolerance and to forge their own identities.
Perhaps the most famous example of a gay urban neighbourhood is the Castro District in San Francisco. The Second World War and the period immediately afterwards are credited with playing an important role in its emergence. It was in the port of San Francisco that service men both departed and returned from overseas duties and it was also here where dishonourable discharges were carried out. Many of those leaving or being dismissed from the services remained in the City. As such, San Francisco developed a reputation for tolerance and for supporting bohemian ways of life. This, combined with California’s liberal state laws on homosexuality led to it emerging as a lesbian and gay friendly city. In turn, its reputation attracted queer migrants fleeing from more conservative towns, cities and rural areas.
Initially, a handful of bars and clubs acted as spaces for gay social networks to develop but police raids meant that these were very transient and unstable environments. However, by the 1970s the Castro District had begun to emerge as a distinct gay neighbourhood. Harvey Milk, a dynamic political activist, was influential in its development. He opened a camera shop in the Castro in 1972 and set about organising neighbourhood campaigns and harnessing a gay political vote. Milk was the city supervisor when he was assassinated in 1978 (his story is told in the film The Life and Times of Harvey Milk).
The subsequent development of the Castro District, and the emergence of similar gay neighbourhoods in other major cities, have been theorised in terms of the role gay men have played in reconfiguring class relations and the urban land market through a process of gentrification. For example, in the 1970s the Castro District developed a reputation as an area of relatively cheap housing which had the potential for renovation, and as a neighbourhood where it was possible to live a gay lifestyle. As more gay men moved into the neighbourhood bars, clubs, bookstores and other commercial services opened to cater for their needs (Castells, 1983; Lauria and Knopp, 1985). As a result, gay gentrifiers (mainly men) gradually displaced the long-term poor, minority residents, as well as squeezing out low-income lesbians and gay men (Castells, 1983). This also had a knock-on effect on the neighbouring Latino Mission district on one side of the Castro and an African American neighbourhood in the Hayes Valley on the other side (Castells, 1983).
As such, this process of gentrification demonstrates how one oppressed group—in this case gay men (although there is now more of a lesbian presence in the Castro than in the 1970s)—can be complicit in the perpetuation, through strategies of capital accumulation, of social injustices against other minority groups (Knopp, 1992). As Knopp (1998: 159) observes: ‘The forging of identities through the economic and political colonisation of territorial spaces (and the related creation of gay-identified places) is much facilitated by class, racial and gender privilege.’
The strength of pink pounds, dollars and Euros have also created gay enclaves in many other North American, European and Australasian cities including, for example, the Marigny neighbourhood in New Orleans (Knopp, 1998); the gay village along Canal Street in Manchester, UK (Quilley, 1995); Soho/Old Compton Street in London (Binnie, 1995); Oxford Street, and the surrounding inner city neighbourhoods of Darlinghurst, Surrey Hills and Paddington in Sydney, Australia (Knopp, 1998). However, Knopp (1995) warns that while this visibility in the urban landscape might be regarded by some lesbians and gay men as liberating, by ‘ghettoising’ and bounding dissident sexualities these neighbourhoods might paradoxically limit the challenge to heterosexual hegemony in other everyday spaces.
Indeed, gay lifestyles have been commodified as chic cosmopolitanism to such an extent that they have become attractive to the heterosexual market causing new problems of what Knopp (1998) describes as ‘managing success.’ Lesbian and gay neighbourhoods such as the Castro and Manchester’s gay village are increasingly attracting heterosexual visitors eager to consume a bit of the exotic ‘other.’ Likewise, spectacles celebrating lesbian and gay sexuality such as the Sydney Mardi Gras (which is broadcast on state television and advertised in prime tourist spots around the Opera House and Circular Quay) and the HERO parade in Auckland, New Zealand, are now being marketed for non-gay-identified consumption (Johnston, 1998). Such examples have provoked some anxiety among lesbians and gay men that spaces that were previously considered to be the ‘property’ of sexual dissidents—effectively collective ‘private spaces’ as opposed to the heteronormativity of public space—are being invaded and colonised by heterosexuals. This process is feared to be undermining the ‘gay identity’ of these spaces, so eroding what lesbians and gay men have often taken for granted as safe environments (Whittle, 1994).
A further note of caution is also offered by Myslik (1996) who suggests that the spatial concentration of lesbian and gay men in particular districts of cities makes it easier for heterosexuals to both control and target them. He notes for example, that gay men are more likely to be victimised in gay identified neighbourhoods or cruising areas than on predominantly heterosexual streets. An argument further supported by the bombing in 1999 of a lesbian and gay pub, the Admiral Duncan, in Soho, a gay gentrified area of London, as part of a wider series of hate crimes aimed at a number of different minority groups.
Of course, not all gay venues have a visible presence within the city. Brown (2000) describes many of the gay saunas, bathhouses and cruise clubs, in Christchurch, New Zealand as closeted because they are inconspicuous (especially compared to their heterosexual equivalents) in the urban landscape. This he suggests partially reflects the legal sanctions to which lesbians and gay men have until recently been subjected to and the homophobic nature of the city. While New Zealand now outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, homosexuality was actually only legalised in the country in 1985. The invisibility of these venues also reflects the importantce of secrecy to their clientele, many of whom are men-who-have-sex-with-men but who do not identify as gay. They rely on discreet signage and spatial codes to locate these closeted spaces.
Like gay men, lesbians also create their own spaces within cities, although these environments are often less visible to heterosexuals (e.g. Adler and Brenner, 1992; Rothenberg, 1995; Valentine, 1995a). Adler and Brenner (1992) suggest that this is because like heterosexual women, lesbians have less access to capital than men, and because a fear of male violence deters their willingness to have an obvious presence in the landscape. The influence of feminism has also meant that lesbian ‘communities’ have tended to be more radical, politicised, and less materially oriented than gay men which has stymied the development of businesses and bars run for, and by, women.
Rothenberg’s (1995) study of the Park Slope area of Brooklyn in New York shows how women tend to create ‘alternative’ rather than commercial spaces. Indeed, the institutional bases of lesbian communities are often made up of non-commercial venues such as support groups, self-defence classes, alternative cafés and co-operative bookstores which are promoted by word-of-mouth or flyers and are reliant on the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers rather than paid staff. Many of these spaces are shared with other non-commercial users, only being appropriated and transformed into lesbian spaces on specific days at specific times. In this sense, these institutional bases represent a series of spatially concentrated venues that are reasonably fixed in location and regular but not permanent (Valentine, 1995a). Despite their ephemeral nature, however, they are important locations where lesbian ‘communities’ are imagined and contested.
Perhaps the most visible lesbian spaces have been those produced in the rural rather than the urban landscape. In the 1970s radical feminists identified heterosexuality as the root of all women’s (lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual) oppression. As such, they argued that women needed to establish their own communities that were separated or spatially distanced from heterosexual society in order to avoid (re)producing patriarchy and to enable women to construct a new society beyond men’s influence. The countryside was seen to provide more opportunities for women to be self-sufficient and therefore purer in their practices than the city. Essentialist understandings of women as close to nature because of their menstrual cycles and reproductive role meant that some separatists also defined the rural environment as a ‘woman’s space’ whereas the man-made city was blamed for draining women’s energy (Bell and Valentine, 1995; Valentine, 1997).
In the USA a circuit of women’s farms known as lesbian lands were established. These communities were based on non-hierarchical lines and effort was put into building new forms of living space. The women did not want to have to go back to, or rely in any way, on patriarchal society so they re-learned old skills such as firemaking, herbal medicine and survival skills, while also developing a women’s culture in terms of language, music and books. This belief in women’s closeness to nature meant there was also a strong spiritual dimension to these rural communities. The women celebrated the full moon, equinox, solstice and candlemass, and practised goddess worship, witchcraft and other women-centred traditions that symbolised their resistance to patriarchy. Their intention was not only to build self-contained communities but that these ‘communities would eventually be built into a strong state of mind and that might even be powerful enough, through its example, to divert the country and the world from their dangerous course’ (Faderman, 1991: 217).
However, tensions also arose within and between lesbian lands, particularly over issues such as boy children and even male animals. While some settlements took a non-essentialist view of identity and so allowed male children and animals to remain in lesbian lands, others excluded them in an attempt to create a pure women-only space. The emphasis on escaping patriarchy meant that many lesbian lands promoted the residents’ shared identities as women over their differences. Class and issues over ownership of land and dwellings were common sources of dispute, as were sexual jealousies and relationship breakdowns which caused divisions and exclusions. Claims of racism and a lack of tolerance of disabled women were other fissures of difference that split the fragile unity of some utopian communities. Black women and Jewish women felt marginalised by the inherent whiteness of most of the lesbian lands, while the emphasis on the body and shared physical commitment to the land through physical labour meant that many disabled women felt unable to participate and that the communities did not respond to their needs (although some lesbian lands did attempt to make independent space for disabled lesbians or to create non-racist environments specifically for women of colour) (Valentine, 1997). As well as these internal divisions, these utopian communities often faced hostility and even violence from wider rural society (Greene 1997). As such, it is not surprising that most did not survive very long.
The studies outlined in this section are valuable because they have challenged the invisibility of lesbians and gay men by mapping out the most obvious material spaces that sexual dissidents have created in both urban and rural landscapes. However, they have also been critiqued because in doing so they have implicitly set up lesbian and gay space as an ‘exotic’ other, leaving everyday spaces outside these ghettos and lesbian lands unquestioned as heterosexual. In addition some, though not all, of these studies, are guilty of talking about sexuality and space as if they were singular and static concepts rather than recognising them to be multiple, fluid and contested.
Regulatory Landscapes: Sexual Citizenship, the Local and the Global
Michel Foucault’s (1981) work has been particularly influential in shaping understandings of sexuality. He ‘explores sexuality as discourse, located within historically and geographically specific contexts of power/knowledge’ (Blunt and Wills, 2000). Through his writing he has charted the ways in which sexuality has been made the object of scientific knowledge (e.g. through medicine, psychiatry, sexology, etc.), the ways in which controls are exercised over it (e.g. through censorship) and the ways that certain bodies are rendered ‘normal’ and others as ‘deviant.’
Heteronormativity is particularly evident in the discourses, and practices, of citizenship. It is institutionalised through the legal, taxation, welfare system, while through the apparatus of the law the state can deny or erase same sex relationships (e.g. Bell, 1995a). As such, lesbian and gay claims to citizenship rights and political legitimacy are not fully established in most modern states (Corviono, 1997). However, there are geographical differences in the degree to which this is so and consequently in terms of what it means to live a lesbian and gay lifestyle in different nation-states (Binnie, 1997).
In some states homosexuality is illegal. For example, under Italian law same sex acts which are defined as against the common sense of decency in the Criminal Code may be punished with a prison sentence of between three months to three years. In many states of the US sodomy, oral sex and ‘unnatural sex acts’ are criminalised (Isin and Wood, 1999), while in the UK the prosecution of men on assault charges for engaging in consensual same-sex SM activities in the privacy of their homes demonstrated the limits of British sexual citizenship (Bell, 1995a). Even where same-sex relationships are not explicitly outlawed, lesbians and gay men lack basic civil rights in many countries including antidiscrimination protection in relation to employment, housing, education and so on (Andermahr, 1992; Betten, 1993; Valentine, 1996a).
Some Western countries such as Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland do recognise lesbian and gay relationships as families or de facto marriages. For example, anyone can obtain Dutch nationality if they have been living in a permanent non-marital relationship with a Dutch national for at least three years and have been resident in the country for at least three years. Lesbians and gay men also have the right to ‘marry,’ and can also gain refugee status in the Netherlands on the grounds of persecution because of their sexuality (Binnie, 1997). However, most countries are not so tolerant. As a consequence, ‘[i]nsofar as marriage between persons of the same sex is not allowed by most legislation, acquisition of citizenship by way of marriage is impossible for lesbian and gay couples of different nationalities’ (Tanca, 1993: 280). As a result, campaigns have been held across Europe to draw attention to the predicament faced by lesbian and gay couples of different nationalities because of discriminatory partnership legislation (Valentine, 1996a). Activists have also sought to highlight the material consequences and rights that follow from the institution of marriage (such as tax benefits, custody rights, adoption, succession to tenancies, inheritance, etc.) from which lesbians and gay men are excluded.
The position is even more complex for those who define themselves outside the heterosexual/homosexual and male/female binaries. For transsexuals and transgendered people citizenship hangs on the question of their right to self-determination in the face of state definitions of their identity as male or female as classified at birth.
A recognition of the uneven contours of citizenship rights between countries (Evans, 1993) has led to the formalisation of transnational networks such as the International Lesbian and Gay Association into a co-ordinated Federation of Lesbian and Gay Organisations. For gay activists such as Peter Tatchell (1992: 75, cited in Binnie, 1997) ‘it is through collective solidarity, overriding national boundaries and sectional interests, that we [lesbians and gay men in the European Union] have our surest hope of eventually winning equality.’ In July 1992 London staged the first ever Europride festival in which over 100,000 lesbians and gay men from across Europe marched in the largest ever exhibition of European lesbian and gay consciousness. Since then similar festivals have also been held in a number of other major European cities (Binnie, 1997).
Indeed, some writers have claimed that such forms of social identification might threaten the emotional attachment and sense of loyalty people feel to the state and its authority, potentially ‘disuniting the nation’ (Morley and Robins, 1995). Hobsbawn (1990: 11) observes, ‘We cannot assume that for most people national identification—when it exists—excludes, or is always or ever superior to, the remainder of the set of identifications which constitute the social being.’ In a 1970s’ publication entitled The Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution Jill Johnston (1973) argued that all women shared a sense of displacement from masculinist US culture and the state. She aimed to inaugurate an autonomous utopian community (see the description of lesbian lands above) that would effectively declare secession from the USA and would form a radical state based on the shared identity of the ‘majesty of women’ (Munt, 1999). Like other nationalist movements Johnston’s vision of a Lesbian Nation also involved a nostalgia for an imagined past and for heroic mythical figures such as the Amazons’ warrior women, who were feted for their strength and agency. More recently Queer Nation, which was founded by AIDS activists in New York in 1990, has provided a new political challenge to heteronormative hegemony. Based on a principle of inclusiveness, Queer Nation rejected the old separatisms which have split gay and lesbian communities embracing transvestites, bisexual people, sadomasochists and transsexuals and celebrated subversion, ambiguity and sexual freedom (Bell, 1995b). Through acts of cultural terrorism (see the next section) the intent of queer activists was ‘to make the nation a space safe for queers, not just in the sense of being tolerated, but safe for demonstration, in the mode of patriotic ritual’ (Berlant and Freeman, 1993: 198; Munt, 1998: 14).
While, in different ways, Lesbian Nation and Queer Nation have sought to create radical understandings of citizenship, the economic muscle of the pink pound and the pink dollar have also enabled spaces of sexual citizenship to be constituted through consumption (Binnie, 1993; Bell, 1995b). The rise of consumer power has meant that companies whose products have a large lesbian and gay market must pay more attention to their customers. Bell (1995b) cites the example of Levi, the clothing company, which faced a boycott by lesbian and gay consumers angry over the company’s financial contribution to the homophobic scout movement in the USA. Gay tourism has also brought together consumerism and citizenship since ‘being able to go on holiday … is presumed to be a characteristic of modern citizenship which has become embedded into people’s thinking about health and well-being’ (Urry, 1990: 24, cited in Bell, 1995b: 142). As such, gay tourism guides highlight those places where it is safe to be ‘out’ and identify the different citizenship rights afforded to sexual dissidents around the world.
As these examples of consumption and tourism illustrate battles are not only being fought over queer rights and responsibilities at the spatial scale of the nation but also simultaneously across other scales, from the space of the body to that of the globe. This is perhaps best illustrated through the example of Brown’s work (1995) on AIDS activism.
AIDS is a global crisis, within the nation-state of Canada the city of Vancouver is at the heart of its epidemic, and within this city the problem is focused around the neighbourhood of Yaletown, a gay area which is also important for sex trade workers. Here the Vancouver AIDS team, Man-to-Man, is targeting HIV prevention among gay men through outreach work that provides advice and distributes safer sex information and materials. The team draw on their knowledge of the local microgeographies of public sex to instigate safe bodily practices among gay men. They do this by focusing their prevention work in the very locations (such as bathhouses and gay bars) where public sex takes place. In other words Man-to-Man’s initiatives are aimed at high risk behaviour: at the very microgeography of the body. However, this outline of the scalar politics of AIDS is not to suggest that each of these spaces: the global, the nation, the city, the neighbourhood, the body, are in any way fixed, bounded, unrelated or opposed to each other (Smith, 1993). Rather, each of these spatial scales are porous, inter-related and provisional spaces which are constituted in and through their relations and linkages with ‘elsewhere,’ with the spaces which stretch beyond them (Massey, 1991). As such, the global and the local are not dichotomous categories. Rather, global processes are both global and local, in that they operate in particular local places but in doing so are themselves reworked by local cultures, while the local is a product of interactions between local social relations and global influences (Massey, 1998).
Returning to Brown’s (1995) example of AIDS politics, it is evident that, despite Man-to-Man’s focus on safe sex practices, its politics are not fixed at the scale of the body. Brown demonstrates this in three ways. First, Man-to-Man’s brochures and materials are shared with AIDS groups in other North American cities. Through the process of preventing the spread of HIV locally, it is also implicitly helping to stop the national and global diffusion of HIV. In this way, Man-to-Man’s AIDS prevention work is simultaneously local, national and global. Second, Brown draws on the example of the World AIDS day programmes. These are aimed at furthering understanding of AIDS issues locally and globally and take place in cities around the world. Brown explains how at a World AIDS Day in Vancouver an exchange took place between local HIV prevention workers and those from Mexico and Nicaragua which enabled local responses to AIDS to be compared and contrasted to those in these other countries. As Brown explains (1995: 257), ‘[I]n this way, the local politics of AIDS in the city are simultaneously—and self consciously – global politics as well.’ Finally, Brown documents the success of disembodied forms of information and communication such as telephone help-lines and the Internet in the fight against the spread of the HIV virus. These support services are situated in local offices (in this case in Vancouver) yet are simultaneously global in that they can be accessed anonymously by anyone, anywhere in the world.
Another way of thinking about the spatiality of lesbian and gay citizenship is to consider the everyday sites—such as the workplace and the home—in which rights are constructed, refused and contested.
In the late 1990s Stonewall, the UK lesbian and gay equality campaign group, carried out a survey of lesbian and gay men’s experiences of the workplace. Of the 1,873 people who responded, one sixth claimed to have experienced discrimination, one fifth suspected that they had been discriminated against, 8 per cent had been sacked because of their sexuality, and one quarter said that because of their sexuality they were too afraid to apply for certain jobs or to specific employers. Most European legislatures do not provide any protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (Betten, 1993). Indeed, lesbians and gay men are systematically excluded from some forms of employment, for example, military service.
Discrimination against sexual dissidents at work also extends to workplace culture and the provision of work-related benefits available to employees’ ‘families’ (Betten, 1993; Waaldijk, 1993). While the heterosexual ‘family’ is seen to complement working organisations by ‘providing continuity and the rest and recreations workers need to be productive, the gay lifestyle is not perceived to be stable or to offer the same restoratives’ (Hall, 1989: 126). Many employers adopt a paternalistic approach to their heterosexual workers, for example, by providing health insurance, sports and leisure facilities and other benefits for their families. However, same sex partners and their children are rarely eligible for the same perks. In such ways employers therefore contribute to defining the rights—or rather lack of rights—of lesbians and gay men and to reproducing heterosexual hegemony in the workplace and beyond.
Heterosexual desire, and constructions of heterosexual attractiveness also shape workplaces (McDowell, 1995). Gutek argues that women at work are perceived to be inherently sexual in appearance, dress and behaviour. She says, ‘Because it is expected, people notice female sexuality, and believe it is normal, natural, an outgrowth of being female’ (1989: 60). Correspondingly, although men are usually perceived to be asexual in appearance, they use ‘sex’ at work to tease, flirt with, and manipulate women. Indeed, such expressions of hetero-sexuality—which are informed by wider social attitudes and ideologies, are considered so intrinsic to many worker-customer interactions that some employers even train their staff to use scripted heterosexual exchanges when conducting business (Leidner, 1991). As such, having control over workers’ corporeal capacities, and intervening in their lives to develop aspects of their identities as an occupational resource have become part and parcel of many organisations’ strategies. In this culture it is not surprising that some lesbians and gay men go to great lengths to manage their bodies at work (e.g. in terms of dress, adornments, etc.) in order to pass as heterosexual.
In her study of merchant banks in the City of London, McDowell (1995) shows how an informal culture predicated on the use of highly sexualised language, practical jokes, and even actual sexual harassment, which draws on wider societal ideas about gender and sexuality, contributes to producing these institutions as heterosexual environments. Whereas most heterosexuals take for granted their freedom to express their sexuality publicly, using their relationships and sexual experiences as common currency in workplace conversations (Pringle, 1988), many lesbians and gay men, conscious of their vulnerability to discrimination from employers and workmates, conceal their sexuality or fabricate heterosexual experiences. This often involves maintaining a rigid separation of home and work, for example, by not inviting colleagues back home and by avoiding work social events. However, by creating this artificial public-private split, lesbians and gay men can feel ‘out of place’ in workplace culture and find it difficult to network with colleagues or to establish authentic friendships with workmates. Indeed, missing out on work ‘gossip’ and being perceived as ‘not a good team player’ can in themselves become significant barriers to promotion. In this way, sexual dissidents’ experiences of discrimination within the workplace are shaped by wider sets of ideas about homosexuality embedded in society, while behaviour such as ‘passing’ as heterosexual is rendered intelligible through an understanding of the interconnections between sites such as the workplace and the home. Similarly, the ability of lesbians and gay men to challenge heterosexism and to ‘come out’ at work is mediated by the amount of support available to them at home and from the wider lesbian and gay ‘community.’
Like the workplace, the home is also a complex site where lesbian and gay lives are played out, and which can shape, and yet is also shaped by, wider sets of ideas about homosexuality and the rights of sexual citizens.
On the one hand, the home is often valorised by lesbians and gay men as a ‘private’ place, a place of refuge, affirmation and belonging where they are free to express their sexuality (e.g. through the design and decoration of the space, the symbols and objects on display in it and the relationships and activities which take place there) away from the hostile and discriminatory social relationships that they encounter in wider ‘public’ spaces such as the workplace. Indeed, for some sexual dissidents the home is constructed as sites of resistance, where lesbian and gay identities and politics can be nurtured and actively asserted. For example, homes are often used as spaces where ‘community’ social events and political meetings can be held and networks developed. As such, they can become important sites for contesting heterosexual norms and promoting lesbian and gay rights (Johnston and Valentine, 1995; Elwood, 2000).
On the other hand, however, the home is not necessarily experienced as a private space. Rather, for lesbians and gay men living in insecure accommodation (e.g. in institutions and rented or public housing) who have little or no legal protection from housing discrimination, the home can still be a constraining or oppressive space shaped by homophobia and a lack of rights. For these sexual dissidents the home therefore is often a place where their sexuality must be concealed for fear of eviction. Though even home ownership does not guarantee that the domestic environment is a ‘safe’ space. Homes can also be subject to the surveillant gaze and regulation (which can take the form of everything from critical comments to harassment and violence) of others such as heterosexual family members, neighbours and visiting colleagues or ‘friends’ (Egerton, 1990; Johnston and Valentine, 1995). Again, these responses can be shaped by interconnections with the wider neighbourhood and social climate. Tolerant or liberal local environments can make the home feel a safer place, whereas bigoted, homophobic neighbourhoods are obviously more confining (Munt, 1995; Valentine, 1995a; Elwood, 2000).
In writing about space, geographers have often drawn on a number of dualisms significant in Western thought such as work/home, public/private. These dualisms are invested with power in that they are not two sides of unrelated terms ‘A’ and ‘B.’ Rather, ‘[w]ithin this structure, one term A has a positive status and an existence independent of the other; the other term B is purely negatively defined, and has no contours of its own; its limiting boundaries are those which define the positive term’ (Grosz, 1989: xvi). This dualistic way of thinking has structured the way geographers have come to analyse and understand some spaces. For example, the study of the workplace has often been privileged over the space of the home and clear boundaries have been assumed to be drawn between dualisms such as public and private spaces. However, these dualistic ways of thinking about, and analysing, space are increasingly being challenged and resisted. The discussion here of lesbian and gay men’s experiences of the two sites, of the workplace and the home, questions the boundaries that are often drawn between the two locations. At the same time it also highlights the fact that ‘private’ and ‘public’ spaces are not fixed and stable categories but rather that the boundaries between them are blurred and fluid.
Performative Space: Repetition and Slippage
The first section of this chapter focused on studies of gay ghettos and lesbian lands, in other words, on spaces on the margins, while the second considered some of the sites where sexuality is regulated and contested. The implicit presumption in some of this work was that everyday spaces from the street to the workplace are heterosexual. And that these spaces are stages or pre-existing places where sexualities are played out. However, recently geographers have begun to draw on Judith Butler’s notion of performance/performativity as an important conceptual tool to think differently about space (e.g. Bell et al., 1994; Valentine, 1996b). Butler famously argued in her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity that ‘gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory framework that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being’ (1990: 33). In the same way, space too can be thought of as ‘brought into being through performances and as a performative articulation of power’ (Gregson and Rose, 2000: 434). This understanding of space is important because it denaturalises the presumed heterosexuality of everyday spaces. The straight street or office environment do not pre-exist their performance, rather, specific performances bring these places into being and these spaces are themselves performative of particular power relations (ibid.).
The repetitive performances which produce everyday heterosexual space take the form of many acts: from heterosexual couples kissing and holding hands as they walk down the street, to advertisements and shop window displays that present images of contented ‘nuclear’ families; and from heterosexualised conversations that permeate queues at bus stops and banks to the piped music articulating heterosexual desires that fill shops, bars and restaurants (Valentine, 1993, 1995b, 1996b). These acts produce a ‘host of assumptions embedded in the practices of public life about what constitutes proper behaviour’ (Weeks, 1992: 5) and which congeal over time to give the appearance of a ‘proper’ or ‘normal’ production of space. These acts are produced within regulatory regimes which serve to discipline and constrain the performances that are possible. Laws which criminalise public displays of same sex desire and homophobic assaults on lesbians and gay men are just two examples of disciplinary acts that contribute to maintaining the ‘naturalness’ of heterosexual productions of space.
The power of heterosexuality therefore depends on being able to repeatedly define people and space in particular ways. However, because spaces do not pre-exist their performance but rather are iterative, there are always possibilities that disruptions or slippages may occur in their production, or that the disciplinary regimes which regulate them might fail, with the consequence that powerful discourses are not replicated but are changed or done differently (Gregson and Rose, 2000). In other words, the hetero-sexuality of everyday space is always partial, in the process of becoming and unstable.
‘Lesbian desires and manners of being’ (Probyn, 1995: 81) including: subtle signifiers of lesbian identity such as pinkie rings, labris earrings, dress codes, ‘gayspeak,’ music, body language and knowing glances can all (re)produce space in different ways. For example, kd lang is a mainstream musician but also a lesbian icon. A lang track playing in a public space like a shop or a bar can facilitate the materialisation of lesbian space by causing two women to catch each other’s eye and establish fleeting contact or even long-term friendships (Valentine, 1995b). In other words, space may be ‘sexed through the relational movements of one lesbian body to another’ (Probyn, 1995: 81). Likewise, cruising glances exchanged by two gay men enabling pick-ups to happen, and the consummation of private sexual acts in so-called public spaces such as the beach and the park (Leap, 1999) are further examples of inter-relational performances which produce ‘gay(ze) space’ (Walker, 1995: 75). These are productions of space that unsettle the presumed hegemony of hetero-sexuality and disrupt public/private dualisms (Chauncey, 1995).
The possibilities of building on these everyday productions of space to challenge heterosexuality more explicitly by doing public space differently were implicit in queer activist strategies of the late 1990s. As Berlant and Freeman (1993: 198) point out, ‘being queer is not about the right to privacy: it is about the freedom to be public.’ Under the slogan ‘We’re here! We’re Queer! Get used to it’ these activists set out to blatantly queer hegemonic productions of the city streets as heterosexual. ‘[T]heir exhibitionist agenda was self-consciously to shove the homosexual into America’s face’ (cited in Munt, 1998: 14). Through disruptive events that parodied heterosexuality, such as holding mock same-sex weddings and kiss-ins in everyday public spaces, they radically reproduced ‘public’ space as queer space, and in doing so exposed the normative coding of ‘public’ space as heterosexual (Bell and Valentine, 1995).
These understandings of sexual spaces, which regard them as being brought into being through specific performances, while themselves also being performative of particular power relations (and therefore forever relational, provisional and shifting) mean that we need to employ more intricate cartographic skills if we are to map them (Rose, 1993).
Spatial Metaphors: Closets and Margins
In the 1990s Smith and Katz (1993) highlighted the proliferation of spatial metaphors in the lexicon of social and cultural theory. Mapping, positionality, location, displacement, grounding, centre, margins, borderlands, inside, and outside have all become popular terms. They work for a number of different reasons: they ground abstract meanings, they reflect our bodily positions in space (dimensionality), and they capture the complexity of self/other relations.
Brown (2000: 1) argues that ‘the closet’ which is used to describe the concealment of lesbians and gay men is an example of a spatialised metaphor that ‘alludes to certain kinds of location, space, distance, accessibility and interaction.’ The closet as a noun is a small, secluded private place where things are hidden, as a verb it means to isolate, or conceal and as an adjective it implies secrecy. It is difficult to trace its origins (for example, its use might derive from the expression ‘skeletons in the cupboard’ or from the British term ‘water closet’ and hence cottaging), but the use of this metaphor to describe lesbian and gay invisibility appears to have come into common parlance in the mid to late 1960s at the time when its material signifier became popular within the home (Brown, 2000). In the 1970s the emerging gay liberation movement turned the notion of ‘coming out’ into a clarion call.
Unpacking the spatiality of the closet metaphor Brown suggests that it works in a number of different ways. First, it works as a simple comparison. He explains:
Its location and distance suggest proximity to some wider (more important, more immediate, more central) room, but it’s a certain kind of proximity: one that limits accessibility and interaction. The ubiquity of gays and lesbians ‘everywhere’ means that on the one hand they are indeed close at hand, but enclosure of the closet means that they are separate, hived off, invisible and unheard … by definition a closet has a certain kind of spatial interaction with its room. It is separate and distinct too. It segregates, it hides, it confines. (Brown, 2000: 7)
In this sense, it is possible to understand the oppression of lesbians and gay men through this direct comparison with the everyday material space of the closet.
Second, Brown (2000) draws on interaction theory to show how metaphors such as the closet might be used not as direct comparisons or literal truths but rather to refer to a more limited truth or allusional space in which there is recognition, for example, that gay oppression is both like, and not like, the physical closet. Here he cites Signorile’s (1993: xv) map of lesbian and gay United States that marks out a ‘Trinity of the Closet’ in terms of three powerful geographic locations: Los Angeles, New York and Washington. Los Angeles represents the closet produced by the entertainment industry through its failure to generate positive images of lesbian and gay lives in TV and film. The New York closet is produced by the media industry through its demonisation and negative representation of lesbians and gay men, while the Washington closet is produced through the political system which fails to legislate in gay friendly ways. As Brown (2000: 1) explains:
Not everyone in these three cities is closeted by these specific power relations, obviously; nor is every oppression in each city symptomatic of the closet for which it stands … But as an interactive metaphor, the closet’s architectural allusions are grounded in places that are conveniently made to hold certain types of oppression over others.
Some geographers, however, have sounded a note of caution about such uses of spatial metaphors, arguing that space is often employed in them in an uncritical, or simplistic ways (Massey, 1993; Smith and Katz, 1993). In particular, the careless adoption of spatial metaphors can imply a fixity or singularity of space, in which space is implicitly conceptualised in ‘absolute’ (as a container, or set of distinct, mutually exclusive locations) rather than in relational terms. Smith and Katz (1993: 79-80), for example, point out that: ‘the uncritical appropriation of absolute space as a source domain for metaphors forecloses recognition of the multiple qualities, types, properties and attributes of social space, its constructed absolutism and its relationality.’ Brown (2000: 19) makes a different point when he warns against the danger of unwittingly assuming a divide between so called ‘real’ or material space and spatial metaphors in which ‘real space’ is prioritised as the ‘more accurate description of causal processes, and [as] therefore more important … to study.’
The over-simplifications of space, which are evident in the way comparison and interaction theories understand spatial metaphors, are challenged in post-structuralist theory. In examining the spatiality of the closet metaphor in these terms, the ‘real’ material space of the closet is not understood to provide the authentic meaning of the closet against which comparisons can be made (Brown, 2000). Rather, the emphasis is on the closet’s unstable, contested and often paradoxical meanings. For example, Fuss (1991) notes the ironic geography of the closet in that to come out is to simultaneously call into being a closet. Likewise, Sedgwick (1990) observes that the presumption of heterosexuality in everyday life is so strong that it is difficult, if not impossible, for a lesbian and gay man to come out, because new closets are continually springing up around them every time they meet a new person and must once again make the decision about whether to disclose or conceal their sexuality. Others (e.g. LaBruce and Belverio, 1998) have questioned whether the closet is actually a bad thing, arguing that it is not necessarily confining but rather can be a place of safety/ privacy, a place of excitement, and even a place of secret influence.
Indeed, a similar argument has been made in relation to what have been termed the spaces of the margins. These are real material locations but also symbolic spaces of oppression that have been reclaimed by writers such as bell hooks as spaces from which to speak. Hooks (1991: 149) describes marginality as: ‘a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers the possibility of radical perspectives from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.’
Spatial metaphors such as ‘centre’ and ‘margins’ are frequently employed to think about social relations. Yet such positions do not represent marked or differentiated positions. Rather, Gillian Rose (1993: 140) argues that paradoxically we can simultaneously occupy ‘spaces that would be mutually exclusive if charted on a two-dimensional map—centre and margin, inside and outside spaces.’ For example, lesbians and gay men employed in professional occupations such as the law and banking might occupy just such a contradictory position. On the one hand, being familiar with and close to the centre of power and part of the ‘establishment’; on the other hand, being made to feel that they do not belong. They are present but also absent within the workplace. For writers such as Rose (1993: 155) these paradoxical spaces ‘threaten the polarities which structure the dominant geographical imagination.’ At the same time ‘[t]hey provide a means to talk about social position and identity in a way that remains contingent, unfixed but still “there”’ (Brown, 2000: 17).
In challenging dichotomies, geographers are increasingly ‘imagining a somewhere else’ (Johnston et al., 2000: 771). While Rose (1993) describes this as a ‘paradoxical space,’ other writers have talked in terms of hybrid space (Bhabha, 1994) or Thirdspace (Soja, 1996). These different conceptualisations of space represent ways of thinking about the world which focus on ‘the production of heterogeneous spaces of ‘radical openness’ (Johnston et al., 2000: 771). Susan Smith (1999: 21) argues that the concept of Thirdspace:
turns our attention away from the givens of social categories and towards the strategic process of identification. It forces us to accept the complexity, ambiguity and multi-dimensionality of identity and captures the way that class, gender and ‘race,’ cross-cut and intersect in different ways at different times and places.
Further, she goes on to argue that ‘Thirdspace may provide an opportunity to move beyond our historic preoccupation with social divisions—with what holds people apart—and think about what is gained from a discourse of belonging.’