Speaking as a lesbian: Correcting the heterosexist presumption

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In this article, we explore lesbian lives "beyond the closet" (Seidman, Meeks, & Traschen, 2002) through an empirical analysis of conversational data in which lesbian speakers make their sexual identities apparent. We analyze when and how lesbian identities become interactionally relevant and in particular, the ways in which lesbian speakers challenge-or (sometimes) fail to challenge-the heterosexist presumption of their coconversationalists. Drawing on a data set of 150 tape-recorded telephone calls from 5 lesbian households in England, we show how, in calls to family and friends, lesbian speakers index their (already-known) lesbianism in the same ways as heterosexuals index their heterosexuality (Kitzinger, 2005c): via joking and sexual innuendo, topic talk, and person reference practices. By contrast, in institutional calls, lesbian speakers frequently have to manage the presumption that they are heterosexual-and we examine the ways in which they do this: through electing not to come out (passing up the opportunity for repair), through coming out explicitly (exposed correction), and through coming out discreetly (embedded correction). Our analysis contributes to conversation analysis work on membership categorization, person reference, repair and correction; and to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered work on being closeted, passing, and coming out. Coming out disrupts tacit assumptions about the taken-for-granted world, showing that unlike heterosexuality, homosexuality is not (yet) a "routinized" or "normalized" sexual identity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-416
Number of pages46
JournalResearch on Language and Social Interaction
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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