Secret Code or Public Performance: Rethinking Language Before Stonewall by William Leap, Ph.D. – LECTURE & DISCUSSION
Stonewall National Museum – Wilton Manors
2157 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors
Free to attend. Suggested donation $5.
As was the case for many other features of LGBT cultures, language came “out of the closet and into the streets” as a result of the confrontations at Stonewall late June, 1969. But does this mean that language before Stonewall was a secret code, whose in-group meanings excluded the prying eyes and ears of a hostile and vicious world?
Using archival, interviews and other forms of linguistic evidence, this talk paints a very different picture of language before Stonewall. This was a language of discretion, not secrecy. It helped speakers talk back to the authority of surveillance, as much as it diverted the focus of the outsiders’ gaze. “Outsiders” (including LGBT allies as well as sex workers and undercover police officers) as well as LGBT persons became speakers of this language, given the various opportunities for language learning that circulated widely in public and private settings before Stonewall. And gendered, racial/ethnic, urban/rural, generational and other contrasts made this language diverse, and always in process of change.
Why do we remember language before Stonewall as a secret code filled with in-group centered messages if so much evidence describes language use in terms of different types of public performance? And how do descriptions of LGBT life before Stonewall become recast, if the language(s) of LGBT life were public, subversive, and socially diverse, rather than buried beneath the shadows of linguistic/social concealment? The talk uses examples of language use before Stonewall to address these questions.
ABOUT WILLIAM LEAP
William Leap is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at American University (Washington DC) and an Affiliate Faculty in the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton). He is the senior founding editor of the Journal of Language and Sexuality. He has written extensively on topics in language and sexuality studies and queer linguistics, including his forthcoming book, Language Before Stonewall(Palgrave, 2019).