There are gay families on TV sitcoms, such as “Modern Family.” There is the transgendered character Sophia Burset on “Orange is the New Black.” Now there is the hit Amazon show “Transparent,” with a storyline revolving around the coming out and transition to female of a retired professor and father of three adult children.
The popular shows point to how queer language has increasingly entered mainstream life and culture. To examine this trend and more, students and scholars of language and sexuality will gather Feb. 13-15 at American University for Lavender Languages, North America’s longest-running academic conference on language use in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer life.
“Queer characters and queer language on prime time TV is exciting, but it is also concerning, because many of these shows create an image of LGBTQ people as affluent, employed, well fed, and well housed,” said William Leap, an anthropology professor and Lavender Languages founder and organizer. “Not everyone in LGBTQ America enjoys such benefits. Outside of the United States, many LGBTQ people don’t enjoy these benefits at all. Lavender Languages has always been about social realities, and this year’s conference will spend a lot of time looking at queer language that reflects a wide variety of experiences.”
As such, there will be panels about Islam and French culture, homophobia, the trans experience, political dissidence, and language and queer ecology, where environmental crises and sexual marginality converge. Presenters, who hail from Hong Kong, France, England, and other parts of the globe, will break down the language use connected to topics as diverse as backstage talk by drag queens, the language of redemption and gay Jews, gay identity in postcolonial Ghana, and identity of the deaf gay male community in England.
For the first time, the conference will host an LGBTQ artists' salon. Filmmakers, musicians, and visual artists will showcase their work with a discussion to follow. Some themes to be addressed in this year’s presentations include bridging the gap between lesbian and bisexual women, coming to terms with being gay and one’s self-determination, and being a "fashionable butch."
The event’s “no attitude” policy means the conference addresses issues important to queer people in their daily lives, and people come to the conference to be part of that discussion, Leap says. The conference is also an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate scholars to network with national and international experts in anthropology and linguistics.
Lavender Languages elevates the study and scholarly exploration of queer thought and languages, and has played a strong role in expanding the field of queer linguistics. Edited collections and books emerge from the conference’s interplay of scholars and are created in response to the event’s proceedings.