(De)constructing the heterosexual/homosexual binary : the identity construction of gay male academics and students in South African tertiary education
Considered as the "...central organizing method" (Fuss, 1991:1) in terms of gender and sexual orientation particularly in the Western world, the heterosexual/homosexual binary, emphasises the centrality of "compulsory heterosexuality" (Rich, 1993:227) in the everyday lives of social and sexual actors. In doing this, homosexuality is not only differentiated from heterosexuality, but may rather be 'banished‘ to a lower and subordinate stratum of so-called sexual 'respectability' (Rubin, 1993:13). Using it as a point of departure, this particular sociological inquiry sought to critically explore the influence of a binary logic on the identity construction of gay male academics and students in South African tertiary education. This study provides an in-depth qualitative discussion of the lived experiences of these men on university campuses in order to redress the limited focus on the subject matter in South African sociology. Informed by the metatheoretical principles of phenomenology and central features of a symbolic interactionist methodology, three specific subthemes guided the research. These included the rationalisation of sexual orientation, self-reflexivity and, as my inductive contribution, a consideration of the deprofessionalisation and/or professionalisation of the gay male academic identity in South African higher education. In adopting Jackson and Scott‘s (2010) conceptualisation of the rationalisation of sexuality, the study sought to explore its role in the identity construction of gay men through, amongst others, "sexual scripting" (Gagnon & Simon, 1973), "doing gender" (West & Zimmerman, 2002), "using gender" (Johnson, 2009) as well as "doing gay" (Dowsett et al., 2008), to (de)construct a "gay sensibility" (cf. Seidman, 2002a) within and between their private and professional contexts. Secondly, such negotiation of their homosexual "performativity" (Butler, 1990) presupposed an undeniable degree of "reflexiveness" (cf. Mead, 1962) on the part of the gay male, to adhere to the expectations of other individuals in a specific social context. Given the findings from a thematic analysis of fifteen (15) in-depth interviews with academics and seven (7) with students, as well as two (2) self-administered questionnaires completed by academics and seventeen (17) by students, the influence of heteronormativity, heterosexism and homophobia, was again reiterated. The participants mostly opted to professionalise their gay male identities (thus differentiate between their private and academic gay male identity), regardless of the fact that their narratives reflected an internal diversity, plurality and potentially non-subordinate otherness, akin to Plummer‘s (1998b) reference to "homosexualities" rather than only one homogenised version of 'homosexuality‘. Their choice to do so was attributed to a conscious effort to either 'pass‘ as heterosexual, assimilate into the dominant sexual and gendered culture of the campus, or conform to a stereotypical gay performance in homosexually-segregated academic departments because of anxiety, fear or shame. As such, the potential of mastering an uncategorised 'queer‘ inclination in tertiary education, becomes all the more difficult, if not improbable.
- Humanities