Gender & Society in the Classroom: LGBTQIA Studies

Organized by: Kate Henley Averett, University of Texas at Austin
Updated by: Erielle Jones, University of Illinois – Chicago

The scholarship on LGBTQIA topics published in Gender & Society is diverse, yet tends to have in common a theorization of sexuality and gender as intertwined and, in most cases, inseparable. The articles below examine the experiences of LGBTQIA individuals in heteronormative institutions such as education, medicine, the state, the workplace and the family, using a variety of theoretical lenses to demonstrate a multiplicity of ways in which identities are produced, experienced, and enacted in various contexts, and through various processes. These articles also emphasize 1) how sexuality is intersectional, and impacted by race, class, gender, and other social locations and systems of power and oppression, and 2) how individuals – LGBTQIA and otherwise – act, at times very strategically, to resist and/or uphold existing systems.

Saguy; Abigail C. & Juliet A. Williams. 2022. “A Little Word That Means A Lot: A Reassessment of Singular They in a New Era of Gender Politics.” Gender & Society, 36(1): 5–31.
Singular they has emerged as a key term in contemporary gender politics, reflecting growing usage of they/them as nonbinary personal pronouns. Drawing on interviews with 54 progressive gender activists, we consider how singular they can be used to resist and redo aspects of the prevailing gender structure. We identify three distinct usages of singular they: (1) as a nonbinary personal pronoun, (2) as a universal gender-neutral pronoun, and (3) as an indefinite pronoun when a person’s self-identified gender is unknown. While previous research on singular they as a gender-inclusive language practice has focused primarily on its usage as a nonbinary personal pronoun, our findings point to the relevance for gender politics of all three usages. Our analysis offers new insight into how nonbinary they challenges dominant gender norms and practices beyond incorporating additional gender categories. Given our findings, we propose further investigation of how using gender-neutral pronouns for everyone in specific contexts can advance progressive activists’ goals. Finally, we argue that the longstanding usage of singular they as an indefinite pronoun has new importance today in affirming gender as a self-determined identity.

Craig, Lyn, and Brendan Churchill. 2021. “Unpaid Work and Care During COVID-19: Subjective Experiences of Same-Sex Couples and Single Mothers in Australia.” Gender & Society 35 (2): 233-243.
This paper draws on data from Work and Care During COVID-19, an online survey of Australians during pandemic lockdown in May 2020 (n = 2,722). It focuses on how subsamples of lesbian, gay, and bisexual mothers and fathers in couples (n = 280) and single mothers (n = 480) subjectively experienced unpaid work and care during lockdown compared with heterosexual mothers and fathers in couples, and with partnered mothers, respectively. During the pandemic, nonheterosexual fathers’ subjective reports were less negative than those of their heterosexual counterparts, but differences between heterosexual and lesbian/bisexual mothers were more mixed. Unlike their partnered counterparts, more single mothers reported feeling satisfied than before with their balance of paid and unpaid work and how they spent their time overall during the pandemic, perhaps because they avoided partnership conflicts and particularly benefited from relaxed commuting and child care deadlines.

Robinson, Brandon Andrew. 2020. “The Lavender Scare in Homonormative Times: Policing, Hyper-incarceration, and LGBTQ Youth Homelessness.” Gender & Society 34 (2): 210-232.
Scholars have identified policing and hyper-incarceration as key mechanisms to reproduce racial inequality and poverty. Existing research, however, often overlooks how policing practices impact gender and sexuality, especially expansive expressions of gender and non-heterosexuality. This lack of attention is critical because lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people disproportionately experience incarceration, including LGBTQ youth who are disproportionately incarcerated in juvenile detention. In this article, I draw on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork and 40 in-depth interviews with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness to address this gap in the literature by documenting how police and other agents of the state use their discretion to regulate youth’s gender expressions, identities, and sex lives. I posit that current policing patterns of discrimination operate primarily not through de jure discrimination against LGBTQ people but as de facto discrimination based on discretionary hyper-incarceration practices that police gender, sexuality, and LGBTQ people. I contend that policing is not only about maintaining racial inequality and governing poverty but also about controlling and regulating gender and sexuality, especially the gender and sexuality of poor LGBTQ people of color.

Gonsalves, Tara. 2020. “Gender Identity, the Sexed Body, and the Medical Making of Transgender.” Gender & Society 34 (6): 1005-1033.
In this article, I argue that the medical conceptualization of gender identity in the United States has entered a “new regime of truth.” Drawing from a mixed-methods analysis of medical journals, I illuminate a shift in the locus of gender identity from external genitalia and pathologization of families to genes and brain structure and individualized self-conception. The sexed body itself has also undergone a transformation: Sex no longer resides solely in genitalia but has traveled to more visible parts of the body, implicating racialized aesthetic ideals in its new formulation. The re-imagining of gender identity as genetically and neurologically inscribed and the expanding locus of sex correspond to an inversion of the relationship between gender identity and the sexed body as well as shifts in medical jurisdiction. Whereas psychiatrists in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s understood gender as stemming from genital sex, the less popular idea that gender identity precedes the sexed body has gained traction in recent decades. If gender identity once derived from the sexed body, the sexed body must now be brought into alignment with gender identity. The increasing legitimacy of self-defined gender identity, the expanding definition of racialized sex, and the inversion of the sex–gender identity relationship elevates the role of surgeons in producing racialized and sexed bodies.

Averett, Kate Henley. 2015. “The Gender Buffet: LGBTQ Parents Resisting Heteronormativity.” Gender & Society 30 (2): 189-212.
Many parents and child-rearing experts prefer that children exhibit gender-normative behavior, a preference that is linked to the belief that children are, or should be, heterosexual. But how do LGBTQ parents—who may not hold these preferences—approach the gender socialization of their children? Drawing on in-depth interviews with both members in 18 LGBTQ couples, I find that these parents attempt to provide their children with a variety of gendered options for clothing, toys, and activities—a strategy that I call the “gender buffet.” However, the social location of the parents influences the degree to which they feel they can pursue this strategy of resistance. Factors such as race, social class, gender of parents and children, and level of support of family and community members contribute to the degree to which LGBTQ parents feel they can allow or encourage their children to disrupt gender norms.

Bernstein, Mary. 2015. “Same-Sex Marriage and the Future of the LGBT Movement: SWS Presidential Address.” Gender & Society 29 (3): 321-337.
In this article, I respond to queer critiques of the pursuit of same-sex marriage. I first examine the issue of (homo)normalization through a consideration of the everyday lives of same-sex couples with children, a subject about which queer critics are strangely silent. Children force same-sex couples to be out in multiple areas of their lives and recent court cases explicitly challenge the idea that same-sex couples do not make fit parents. Second, I examine whether same-sex marriage will address structural inequalities or will mainly benefit white, middle-class people. Access to marriage has disparate benefits depending on people’s structural locations, but is a movement goal supported by a broad array of LGBT people. Third, I examine the relationship between marriage, regulation, and the state. I argue for a broader understanding of the relationship between the state and different types of relationships, suggesting that it is impossible to escape regulation. If we consider marriage and family forms cross-nationally, we see a variety of possibilities for state recognition of various family forms. I conclude by assessing the impact of same-sex marriage on the future of LGBT politics, arguing that achieving marriage equality may allow the space for new political possibilities to emerge. 

Davis, Georgiann, Jodie M. Dewey, and Erin L. Murphy. 2015. “Giving Sex: Deconstructing Intersex and Trans Medicalization Practices.” Gender & Society 30 (3): 490-514.
Although medical providers rely on similar tools to “treat” intersex and trans individuals, their enactment of medicalization practices varies. To deconstruct these complexities, we employ a comparative analysis of providers who specialize in intersex and trans medicine. While both sets of providers tend to hold essentialist ideologies about sex, gender, and sexuality, we argue they medicalize intersex and trans embodiments in different ways. Providers for intersex people are inclined to approach intersex as an emergency that necessitates medical attention, whereas providers for trans people attempt to slow down their patients’ urgent requests for transitioning services. Building on conceptualizations of “giving gender,” we contend both sets of providers “give gender” by “giving sex.” In both cases too, providers shift their own responsibility for their medicalization practices onto others: parents in the case of intersex, or adult recipients of care in the case of trans. According to the accounts of most providers, successful medical interventions are achieved when a person adheres to heteronormative gender practices. 

Westbrook, Laurel, and Kristen Schilt. 2013. “Doing Gender, Determining Gender: Transgender People, Gender Panics, and the Maintenance of the Sex/Gender/Sexuality System.” Gender & Society 28 (1): 32-57.
This article explores “determining gender,” the umbrella term for social practices of placing others in gender categories. We draw on three case studies showcasing moments of conflict over who counts as a man and who counts as a woman: public debates over the expansion of transgender employment rights, policies determining eligibility of transgender people for competitive sports, and proposals to remove the genital surgery requirement for a change of sex marker on birth certificates. We show that criteria for determining gender differ across social spaces. Gender-integrated spaces are more likely to use identity-based criteria, while gender-segregated spaces, like the sexual spaces we have previously examined (Schilt and Westbrook 2009), are more likely to use biology-based criteria. In addition, because of beliefs that women are inherently vulnerable and men are dangerous, “men’s” and “women’s” spaces are not policed equally—making access to women’s spaces central to debates over transgender rights. 

Kazyak, Emily. 2012. “Midwest or Lesbian? Gender, Rurality, and Sexuality.” Gender & Society 26 (6): 825-848.
Research suggests a gendered dimension to the geography of sexual minorities, as gay couples are more likely to live in cities than are lesbian couples. Using data from 60 interviews with rural gays and lesbians, this article employs an intersectional analysis of the mutually constitutive relationships among place, gender, and sexuality in order to assess how acceptance of gays and lesbians in small towns is gendered. Findings indicate that femininity aligns with gay sexuality but not rurality. In contrast, masculinity underpins both the categories “rural” and “lesbian.” Furthermore, both lesbian women and gay men gain acceptance in rural areas by doing masculinity. This analysis indicates that masculinity is not something to which only male bodies are privy. In contrast to prior work, it shows one form of female masculinity that is normative rather than transgressive. The analysis also reveals that the meanings of gender presentations vary by geographical context. 

Meyer, Doug. 2012. “An Intersectional Analysis of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People’s Evaluations of Anti-Queer Violence.” Gender & Society 26 (6): 849-873.
The author uses an intersectionality framework to examine how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people evaluate the severity of their violent experiences. Previous research focusing on the severity of anti-LGBT violence has given relatively little attention to race, class, and gender as systems of power. In contrast, results from this study, based on 47 semi-structured, in-depth interviews, reveal that Black and Latino/Latina respondents often perceived anti-queer violence as implying that they had negatively represented their racial communities, whereas white respondents typically overlooked the racialized implications of their violent experiences. Furthermore, while lesbians of color emphasized their autonomy and self-sufficiency to challenge this discourse, Black and Latino gay men underscored their emotional and physical strength to undermine perceptions that they were weak for identifying as gay. Results also indicate that LGBT people experience forms of anti-queer violence in different ways depending on their social position, as Black lesbians faced discourse that neither white lesbians nor Black gay men were likely to confront. Thus, these findings suggest that topics primarily associated with homophobia should be examined through an intersectional lens. 

Moore, Mignon R. 2012. “Intersectionality and the Study of Black, Sexual Minority Women.” Gender & Society 26 (1): 33-39.
This short article is part of a larger symposium on the work of Patricia Hill Collins. In just a few pages, Moore both summarizes the important contributions Collins makes to understanding sexuality from an intersectional perspective, and uses her own work on Black sexual minority women to demonstrate the utility of such a framework. The article makes very clear how sexuality is not just an identity category, but is a site of power and oppression that converges with gender, race, and class to shape experiences, identities, and relationships. 

Pfeffer, Carla A. 2012. “Normative Resistance and Inventive Pragmatism: Negotiating Structure and Agency in Transgender Families.” Gender & Society 26 (4): 574-602.
Transgender individuals and families throw existing taxonomic classification systems of identity into perplexing disarray, illuminating sociolegal dilemmas long overdue for critical sociological inquiry. Using interview data collected from 50 cisgender women from across (primarily) the United States and Canada, who detail 61 unique partnerships with transgender and transsexual men, this work considers the pragmatic choices and choice-making capacities (or “agency”) of this social group as embedded within social systems, structures, and institutions. Proposing the analytic constructs of “normative resistance” and “inventive pragmatism” to situate the interactional processes between agency and structure in the everyday lives of this understudied group of cisgender women, this work theorizes the liminal sociolegal status of an understudied family form. In so doing, it exposes the increasingly paradoxical consolidation and destabilization of sociolegal notions of identity, marriage, normativity, and parenthood—challenging, contributing to, and extending current theoretical and empirical understandings of agency and structure in twenty-first-century families. 

Acosta, Katie L. 2008. “Lesbianas in the Borderlands: Shifting Identities and Imagined Communities.” Gender & Society 22 (5): 639-659.
This article explores the experiences of Latina lesbian migrants living in the United States. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 15 Latina lesbian migrants, I argue that Latinas’ sexual, racial, and class identities are continuously shifting as the process of migration repositions them in a new system of racial inequality. Their sexual identities are altered as migrants often silence their lesbian existence when negotiating relationships with families of origin. Lesbianas establish borderland spaces for themselves where they gain sexual autonomy but where their identities are in flux. These spaces are “imagined communities” because while lesbianas envision them to provide solidarity, in practice the borderlands are riddled with inequalities and tensions. Despite this, the borderlands allow lesbianas to develop a mestiza consciousness.