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Breaking the Stereotype of LGBTQ Language

By Maralee Csellar

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 The world’s only conference focusing on the importance of language—broadly defined—in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered life will be held at American University from Friday, February 11, through Sunday, February 13. It will focus on the importance of communication and activism as it relates to sexual identity and orientation.  

“Some of the most fundamental features of ‘birthright citizenship’ are denied LGBTQ people simply on the basis of sexual orientation and presumed sexual practice,” said Bill Leap, professor of anthropology at American University and founder of the conference. “The Lavender Languages conference provides a public space in which scholars and community members can jointly develop language-centered responses to these fundamental challenges to citizenship.”

The Lavender Languages and Linguistic Conference will serve as the launchpad for the creation of the first-ever journal devoted entirely to the study of Language and Sexuality—The Journal of Language and Sexuality. American University’s Bill Leap will coedit this international journal with Heiko Moschenbaker of the University of Bayreuth. The first issue is expected in 2012.

“The conference bears witness to the legitimacy of LGBTQ language studies,” said Leap. “American University’s support for the conference shows people that studying queer language in its many forms is entirely okay, and that plenty of people at AU and on other campuses are ready to support them when they start this work.”

Three keynotes highlight the focus on social change including “Taking a Queer Stance” by Scott Kiesling (University of Pittsburgh); “Code Swishing” by Carlos Decena (Rutgers University); and “Gaydar Culture: Gay Men, Technology and Embodiment in the Digital Age” by Sharif Mowlabocus (University of Sussex).

Kiesling will discuss the relationship between masculinity and language. Decena will examine ways that Spanish speakers refuse to incorporate the visibility associated with ‘gay English’ in their language use, preferring a more tacit expression of sexual identity in conversation and narrative. Mowlabocus will explain “cyber-carnality”, a new way gay men have begun communicating via the Internet. These sessions emphasize that studies of lavender languages find value because they engage in real world experiences.

Topics at the February 11 conference include queerness in contemporary vampire fiction; queer vegan explorations of representations of gender and sexuality; explorations of the labels that confine queer women of color; and the relationships between language, migration, and sexualities.

The first Lavender Languages conference was held in 1993 in conjunction with the March on Washington, D.C. When the first conference began, many scholars treated men’s and women’s languages as figures of stereotype, and academe gave little support to those who wanted to break up those stereotypes. In the eighteen years since, the conference has provided a home for LGBTQ language research.

“We have a large number of returning speakers from previous years and also a large number of student presentations this year, which is very gratifying” Leap said. “It tells me that interest in Lavender Language work extends across generations.”

An annual event sponsored by American University's Department of Anthropology and cosponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the GLBTA Resource Center, and other campus organizations, the conference has attracted participants from Europe, the United States and Canada.