6. Butch Camp: On the Discursive Construction of a Queer Identity Position
Queering Language, Gender and Sexuality - Tommaso M. Milani
Veronika Koller [+]
This chapter analyses an historical essay by Lorna Gulston that constructs a particular lesbian identity position by combining elements of female masculinity/butchness with a camp stance usually attributed to gay men. Beyond the text itself, the analysis also addresses how the article, which was published in a British feminist magazine in 1980, sets this identity in opposition to prevailing discourses on lesbian identity at that historical moment. More generally, the essay is intended to contribute to a data-driven discussion that links claims about the relations between language, gender and sexuality back to concrete textual evidence. Employing a discourse-historical approach, the analysis focuses on the parameters of social actor representation, intertextuality and interdiscursivity. It draws on earlier discourses and practices by setting up 1950s-style butches and femmes as social actor groups, while ironically alluding to 1970s lesbian feminists who criticized lesbians’ gendered subject positions as an emulation of oppressive heterosexuality. Irony is a predominant feature in the text, realised by metaphors that draw on biologist notions of gender (e.g. BUTCHES ARE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES), and by extreme hypotaxis mimicking archaic speech styles. Apart from irony, the text also exhibits other features of ‘camp talk’ such as innuendo, Latinate terms, or hyperbole. The text constructs a hybrid butch/camp identity while ironically drawing on essentialist notions of gender and sexuality, and can therefore be regarded as an early instance of queer discourse. How the author parodies and exaggerates lesbian feminist notions of butch/femme as a bygone 1950s cliché shows her as being ahead of her time. An analysis of her text is thus highly relevant for present-day scholars of language, gender and sexuality.