“It’s like, ‘I’ve never met a lesbian before!’”: Personal narratives and the construction of diverse female identities in a lesbian counterpublic

Natasha Shrikant


This paper uses membership categorization analysis to illustrate how five women invoke multiple female gender and sexuality identity categories in personal narratives to construct the device of womanhood. The five racially diverse women include four self-identified lesbians and one heterosexual and range in age from mid-twenties to early forties. Analysis of their two hour audio recorded interaction illustrates that gender and sexuality cannot be understood as a binary difference between men and women. These women use revolutionary categories, defined on their own terms rather than by outsiders, to characterize women they encounter in their personal experience (lesbian and otherwise). The revolutionary categories exemplify a diversity of female gender and sexuality identities and ultimately challenge heteronormative conceptions of female identity while simultaneously constructing a lesbian counterpublic. Thus, the personal experiences of these women, as related through everyday narratives, turn out to be highly political.

Quick links
A browser-friendly version of this article is not yet available. View PDF
Adams, N., A. Schmitke, and A. Franklin
(2005) Tomboys, dykes, and girly girls: Interrogating the subjectivities of adolescent female athletes. Women’s Studies Quarterly 33.1/2: 17-34.Google Scholar
Brockmeier, J., and D. Carbaugh
(eds.) (2001) Narrative and identity: Studies in autobiography, self, and culture. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Company. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Bucholtz, M., and K. Hall
(2004) Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research. Language in Society 33: 469-515. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Butler Breese, E
(2011) Mapping the variety of public spheres. Communication Theory 21: 130-149. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Cameron, D
(2005) Language, gender, and sexuality: Current issues and new directions. Applied Linguistics 26.4: 482-502. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Caudwell, J
(1999) Women’s football in the United Kingdom: Theorizing gender and unpacking the butch lesbian image. Journal of Sport and Social Issues 23.4: 390-402. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Connell, R.W., and J.W. Messerschmidt
(2005) Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender and Society 19.6: 829-859. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Dori-Hacohen, G
(2012) “With whom do I have the pleasure?”: Callers’ categories in political talk radio programs. Journal of Pragmatics 44.3: 280-297. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2013) “Rush, I love you”: Interactional fandom on American political talk-radio. International Journal of Communication 7: 2697-2719.Google Scholar
Eckert, P., and S. McConnell-Ginet
(1992) Think practically and look locally: Language and gender as community-based practice. Annual review of anthropology 21: 461-490. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Eglin, P
(2002) Members’ gendering work:women’, feminists’ and membership categorization analysis. Discourse & Society 13.6: 819-825. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Elliot, H., Y. Gunaratnam, W. Holloway, and A. Phoenix
(2009) Practices, identification, and identity change in the transition to motherhood. In M. Wetherell (ed.), Theorizing identities and social action (19-37). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Ferencik, M
(2007) Exercising politeness: Categorisation in a radio phone-in programme. Pragmatics 17.3: 351-370. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Giddens, A
(1984) The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Greco, L
(2012) Production, circulation, and deconstruction of gender norms in LGBTQ speech practices. Discourse Studies 14.5: 567-585. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Halberstam, J
(1998) Female masculinity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Henley, M., and C. Kramarae
(2008) Gender, power, and miscommunication. In S. Ehrlich (ed.), Language and gender. London, UK: Taylor & Francis, pp. 133-154.Google Scholar
Higgins, C
(2007) Constructing membership in the in-group: Affiliation and resistance among urban Tanzanians. Pragmatics 17.1: 49-70.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hill, J.H
(1995) The voices of Don Gabriel: Responsibility and self in a modern Mexicano narrative. In D. Tedlock, and B. Mannheim (eds.), The dialogic emergence of culture. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, pp. 97-147.Google Scholar
Hymes, D
(1962) The ethnography of speaking. In T. Gladwin, and W. Sturtevant (eds.), Anthropology and human behavior. Washington, DC: Anthropological Society of Washington, pp. 13-53.Google Scholar
Impett, E.A., D. Schooler, and D.L. Tolman
(2006) To be seen and not heard: Femininity ideology and adolescent girls’ sexual health. Archives of sexual behavior 35.2: 129-142. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Jefferson, G
(1991) List construction as a task and resource. In G. Psathas (ed.), Interactional competence. New York, NY: Irvington Publishers, pp. 63-92.Google Scholar
(2004) Glossary of transcript symbols with an introduction. In G.H. Lerner (ed.), Conversation analysis: Studies from the first generation. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 13-31. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Kiesling, S.F
(2001) “Now I gotta watch what I say”: Shifting constructions of masculinity in discourse. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11.2: 250-273. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Kitzinger, C
(2000) Doing feminist conversation analysis. Feminism & Psychology 10.2: 163-193. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2005a) Heteronormativity in action: Reproducing the heterosexual nuclear family in after-hours medical calls. Social Problems 52.4: 477-498. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2005b) “Speaking as a heterosexual”: (How) does sexuality matter for talk-in-interaction?. Research on Language and Social Interaction 38.3: 221-265. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Koven, M.E
(1998) Two languages in the self/the self in two languages: French-Portuguese bilinguals’ verbal enactments and experiences of self in narrative discourse. Ethos 26.4: 410-455. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Labov, W., and J. Waletzky
(1967) Narrative analysis: Oral versions of personal experience. In J. Helm (ed.), Essays on the verbal and visual arts. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, pp. 12-44.Google Scholar
Land, V., and C. Kitzinger
(2005) Speaking as a lesbian: Correcting the heterosexist presumption. Research on Language and Social Interaction 38.4: 371-416. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
(2007) Contesting same-sex marriage in talk-in-interaction. Feminism & Psychology 17.2: 173-183. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Lazar, M.M
(2008) Language, communication and the public sphere: A perspective from feminist critical discourse analysis. In R. Wodak, and V. Koller (eds.), Handbook of Communication in the Public Sphere. New York, NY: Mouton de Gruyter, pp.89-110.Google Scholar
Leudar, I., V. Marsland, and J. Nekvapil
(2004) On membership categorization: ‘Us’, ‘them’ and ‘doing violence’ in political discourse. Discourse and Society 15.2-3: 243-266. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Mandelbaum, J
(1987) Couples sharing stories. Communication Quarterly 35.2: 144-170. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Ochs, E
(1992) Indexing Gender. In A. Duranti, and C. Goodwin (eds.), Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 335-358.  BoPGoogle Scholar
(2004) Narrative lessons. In A. Duranti, (ed.), A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, pp. 269-289.Google Scholar
Philipsen, G
(1992) Speaking culturally: Explorations in social communication. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
Sacks, H
(1974) On the analyzability of stories by children. In R. Turner (ed.), Ethnomethodology. Middlesex, UK: Penguin, pp. 216-232.Google Scholar
(1979) Hotrodder: A revolutionary category. In G. Psathas (Ed.), Everyday language: Studies in ethnomethodology (7-14). New York, NY: Irvington Publishers.Google Scholar
Schegloff, E.A., G. Jefferson, and H. Sacks
(1977) The preference for self-correction in the organization of repair in conversation. Linguistic Society of America 53.2: 361-382. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Schiffrin, D
(1987) Discourse markers. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Stokoe, E.H
(2003) Mothers, single women and sluts: Gender, morality and membership categorization in neighbour disputes. Feminism & Psychology 13.3: 317-344. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Speer, S.A., and E. Stokoe
(2011) Conversation and gender. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Stokoe, E
(2012) Moving forward with membership categorization analysis: Methods for systematic analysis. Discourse Studies 14: 277-303. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Sutton, L.A
(1995) Bitches and skankly hobags: The place of women in contemporary slang. In K. Hall, and M. Bucholtz (eds.), Gender articulated: Language and the socially constructed self. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 279-296.Google Scholar
Tannen, D
(1986) Introducing constructed dialogue in Greek and American conversational and literary narrative. In F. Coulmas (ed.), Direct and indirect speech. Berlin, DE: Mouton, pp. 311-332. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Wetherell, M., and N. Edley
(1999) Negotiating hegemonic masculinity: Imaginary positions and psychodiscursive practices. Feminism & Psychology 9.3: 335-56. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Whitehead, K.A., and G.H. Lerner
(2009) When are persons ‘white’?: On some practical asymmetries of racial reference in talk-in-interaction. Discourse and Society 20.5: 613-641. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Wilkinson, S., and C. Kitzinger
(2003) Constructing identities: A feminist conversation analytic approach to positioning in action. In R. Harré, and F. Moghaddam (eds.), The self and others: Positioning individuals and groups in personal, political, and cultural contexts. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, pp. 157-180.Google Scholar
Zimmerman, E
(2007) Constructing Korean and Japanese interculturality in talk: Ethnic membership categorization among users of Japanese. Pragmatics 17.1: 71-94.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar