The Politics of Sexual Narratives – May 1


Friday, 1st May 14:00-17:00
University of East London,
Stratford Campus
US 1.01

Cigdem Esin, University of East London
Moments of Sexual Storytelling: Negotiating Contradictory Positions

Mark Davis, Monash University
Gay men’s narratives on hook-up apps and the loss of community debate

Suzanna Walters, Northeaster University
The Closet 2.0: coming out in the age of gay marriage, born this way, and other bad ideas”

Reception to follow


Cigdem Esin, University of East London
Moments of Sexual Storytelling: Negotiating Contradictory Positions

Intimate sexual stories always reflect historical, cultural and social processes, interconnecting the micro and the macro in multiple ways. This was particularly evident in research I conducted with educated young women in Turkey. Following a Foucaldian approach to understanding narratives, my analysis explores the multiple interrelations between micro stories of sexuality and macro narratives of Turkish modernity constantly shaping regulations of gender and sexuality. The complexity of macro and local processes of power embedded in women’s everyday lives emerges in the stories of participants. While constructing their individual narratives, participants strategically inhabited multiple narrative positions and moved between these positions, as subjects simultaneously escaping from and trapped within the regulations that constitute their sexuality and personal relations.

My analysis examines moments of sexual narratives and storytelling, which constitute a discursive space for the research participants-storytellers to negotiate precarious and contradictory positions regarding their sexuality. Here I trace the ways in which storytellers craft new forms of political subjectivities through their micro narratives, resisting the dominance of macro narratives while at the same time reiterating them in strategic ways.

Cigdem Esin is a narrative researcher who is interested in narrative processes wherein individual stories emerge through the interconnections between micro and macro narratives. She is co-director of Centre for Narratives Research and lecturer in Psychosocial Studies at the University of East London.

Mark Davis
Gay men’s narratives on hook-up apps and the loss of community debate

Hook-up websites and apps are said to be transforming the sexual lives of gay men and have been linked with debates on the apparent erosion of collective practice as the basis for gay identity politics. In an interview on HIV prevention, a health promotion worker related a story of gay sexual life in a region of Australia where there are no commercial venues for gay men. In combination with mobile phone apps enabled with GPS, a local supermarket had acquired a reputation as a place to meet potential sexual partners. In other research1, an interview participant likened their Grindr (a hook-up app) enabled phone to a “gay bar in my pocket.” How can a supermarket, actually or by reputation, become a sexual hook-up venue? How has the gay bar become a smartphone app? What do these developments portend for gay collectivities?

With reference to the interview and focus group talk of gay men on hook-up apps, this paper explores narratives on the spaces and visibilities of sexual life in the era of digital media. It addresses self- and other-commodification, changed obligations, and the digital mediation of (non) stranger identities in connection with the debates on digital media and the possibilities for gay identity and collective life.

1Blackwell, C., Birnholtz, J. and Abbott, C. (published online 7 February 2014) Seeing and being seen: Co-situation and impression formation using Grindr, a location-aware gay dating app, New Media & Society.

Mark Davis is Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences, Monash University. His publications include Sex, Technology and Public Health (Palgrave), HIV treatment and prevention technologies in international context (Palgrave), edited with Corinne Squire and Disclosure in Health and Illness (Routledge), edited with Lenore Manderson.

Suzanna Walters The Closet 2.0: coming out in the age of gay marriage, born this way, and other bad ideas”

Drawing on my recent book, The Tolerance Trap: how God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality, this talk examines the mythology of a happy-go-lucky, post-gay, rainbow world in which coming out and the closet itself are imagined as relics of a surpassed past. But how has the coming out narrative changed in an era of gay marriage and a modicum of social inclusion? Are older stories recycled or triumphantly tossed aside? And what does it mean to speak the sexual self when the mantra of “born this way” is the party line of liberal allies and gay activists alike?

Suzanna Danuta Walters is Professor of Sociology and Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Northeastern University where she also serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the feminist journal Signs. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including The Tolerance Trap and All the Rage: the story of gay visibility in America.

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Published by corinnesquire

Corinne Squire is Professor of Social Sciences and Co-Director, Centre for Narrative Research, at University of East London

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