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Geographies of sexualities Essay Sample

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Geographies of sexualities Essay Sample

This literature review focuses on the geographies of sexuality. Until recently the issue of sexuality has been ignored by geographers. This is because sexuality was seen as a private issue. However, as geographers such as Valentine and Myslick have pointed out, everyday space is sexualised, or rather implicitly heterosexualised. It is impossible to think of sexuality today as a private issue. I intend to look at some of the work done by geographers in this field. I will begin by highlighting some of the early research carried out on this topic by looking at the formation of gay neighbourhoods and gay ghettoisation.

Following this, I will examine some of the more recent work done by geographers in trying to explore the relationship between gander/sexuality/place. Much of the early work on geographies of sexuality has focussed on the experiences of gay men and the emergence of gay neighbourhoods within certain cities, and the effects these communities have on the urban landscape (Knopp 1990, Jackson, 1989).

Perhaps the most influential research was carried out by Manuel Castells (1983) who set out to map the gay community and its institutions (e. gay bars) in the area of the Castro, San Francisco, USA. The reason for the early work on this issue has been focussed on the experiences of gay men rather than lesbians may be because the formation of these communities has been the most visible. Castells argues that the predominance of men forming distinctive neighbourhoods rather than women is because of a profound gender difference. He suggests that, rather than occupy a particular place with spatial boundaries, lesbians are more likely to form social networks.

Geographers Adler and Brenner, who attempted to replicate Castells method of research, specifically focussing on a lesbian neighbourhood in an unnamed city US, have questioned Castells argument by suggesting that the absence of lesbian neighbourhoods is due to their limited resources and lack of capital rather than lack of interest. They also suggest (see Adler and Brenner, 1992) that there is some indication of specific lesbian areas of residence in urban areas and that these area are likely to have certain characteristics.

For example, as lesbians have less access to capital and so are more likely to live in an area with a high ethnic minority population. More recently, geographers such as David Bell and Gill Valentine have moved away from the notion of gay communities and their spatial dynamics and focussed on issues of culture and different ways in which lesbians seek to negotiate their sexuality in society. The geographies of lesbianism and work done specifically by Gill Valentine is what interests me and is particularly important to this study.

Before I examine some of Valentines work in this field, I first want to look at some of the work done feminist geographer Linda McDowell and Judith Butler. They have both done work on gender performances and this is intrinsically connected to some of the research Valentine has carried out. McDowell suggests that there are a number social and biological attributes of masculinity and femininity and raises the question ‘what is the significance of embodiment and does the body matter? (McDowell, 1999). She examines bodily performances or gender performances in her research in Bodily representations in Merchant banks (1994).

This research focussed on the ways in which women are embodied and represented in the workplace and examines the ways in which women’s experiences differ from men’s in the Merchant banks. Her research consisted of interviewing men and women who worked in different parts of the banks. The results McDowell got were extremely interesting as she found that many women ‘through their clothes and their attitudes they attempted to conform to the dominant image in the part of the bank in which they worked. ‘ (McDowell, 1994).

She reports that ‘metaphors of performance, disguise and masquerade were commonly used by women respondents’. McDowell also looks at work done by Judith Butler, who argues that gender is not a binary division of men and women and that being female is ‘not a natural fact, but a cultural performance. ‘ (McDowell,1999, 54). The work done by McDowell and Butler is very significant to that done by Gill Valentine. She has explored some of the ways lesbians negotiate their sexuality on a day to day basis and has focussed on the notion of multiple geographies of sexuality.

This is when somebody adopts various sexual identities at different times or places in their lives, therefore putting on a performance. Coming out of the ‘closet’ is often seen as a duality i. e. – you are either in the ‘closet’ or out however, Valentine suggests that lesbians often perceive that ‘different people and organisations will react differently and therefore they negotiate different and contradictory sexual identities in different time/space frameworks. ‘ (Valentine, 1993, 240).

For example, a lesbian woman might feel comfortable with disclosing their homosexuality in a specific lesbian bar, yet feel unable to tell her co-workers or even her parents that she is gay. Valentine argues that lesbians constantly ‘perform their sexual identity to others, either by consciously playing a heterosexual role or by unconsciously ‘fitting in’. ‘ (Valentine, 1993, 241) This ties into the work done by McDowell and Butler on bodily performances. Professor Elspeth Probyn has also done work gender and sexuality.

Probyn notes that geographers such as McDowell, or Bell and Valentine have primarily investigated either the relationship between gander and space or the relationship between sexuality and space- either one or the other. She states that the ‘lesbian subject’ is a doubled subject ‘caught up in the doubling of being a woman and a lesbian’ (McDowell,1999,64). McDowell’s research suggests that women are still seen to be ‘out of place’ at work and Valentine suggests that lesbians can feel out of place in everyday, heterosexualied spaces such as work.

The issue of lesbians in the workplace is extremely interesting. I think that there is space for more research to be done in this area. McDowell has been interested in looking at gender/gender performances in the workplace and Valentine has also touched on lesbian’s heterosexual performances within the workplace. However, in McDowell’s and Valentines research the women (lesbian women in Valentines case) have worked in professional jobs e. g. in banks and offices.

Valentine has interviewed lesbians who have not been comfortable in disclosing their sexuality at work and found that many women adopt a heterosexual identity. However, it might be that in some industries/jobs lesbian women can feel more comfortable with being open about their sexuality. I think that it would be interesting to look at the issue of gender, sexuality and bodily performances of lesbians who work in the leisure industry and research whether or not lesbian performances in work differ or change in particular types of jobs.

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