LESBIAN EXCLUSION: 'I DIDN'T LEARN IT IN A COGNISANT SENSE, I ABSORBED IT THROUGH MY SKIN' by ProQuest

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									Gay & Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2009



LESBIAN EXCLUSION: ‘I DIDN’T LEARN IT IN A COGNISANT
SENSE, I ABSORBED IT THROUGH MY SKIN’
SUZANNE DYSON

                     Abstract                                    negotiated clinical spaces. Ethics approval was
                                                                 obtained from the Human Ethics Committee at
This article explores the ways in which a                        La Trobe University to conduct this research.
group of women in a study about lesbian
health negotiated their sexual identity over                     While the women in this project had no prob-
time. This occurred through experiences of                       lem identifying with lesbians as a group, a
exclusion, being rendered unrecognisable as                      minority actually claimed a lesbian identity,
lesbian subjects and by embodying normalis-                      preferring instead to identify as dyke, queer
ing and homophobic discourses that produce                       and gay, or to refuse identity altogether. Few
lesbianism as deviant. Many of the experi-                       saw themselves as invisible. They managed
ences related by the women happened early                        their interactions with health care providers
in their lives, but the impact remained with                     (including counsellors) strategically, making a
them in the present. These experiences affect                    choice to come out or remain silent about
the ways in which they negotiated the health                     their sexuality depending on whether they
care system and their own sexual subjectivity.                   judged the provider to be trustworthy and
The paper draws on the work of queer theo-                       conditions to be safe.
rist Judith Butler in relation to survivable sub-
jects, intelligible genders and domains of                       One of the questions I asked in interviews was
speakability. It concludes by drawing attention                  about how participants first learned that there
to the implications for this in clinical practice.               might be something wrong with their feelings
                                                                 of attraction or desire for other women. Three
Key Words: Lesbian identity, recognition,                        themes emerged – lack of recognition, exclu-
subjectivity, exclusion, speakability, Butler                    sion, and embodied knowledge.

                  Introduction                                   Being out or passing are both options for sex-
                                                                 ual minorities, unless they choose to be visi-
This paper draws on qualitative doctoral re-                     ble, lesbians can go unrecognised. Butler
search carried out between 2001 and 2006                         (1997) raised the issue of “survivable sub-
that sought to understand how a group of                         jects”:
lesbians from the state of Victoria, Australia,
produced and managed their own health, and                          One ‘exists’ not only by virtue of being recog-
to understand their interactions with health-                       nised, but, in a prior sense by being recognis-
                                                                    able. The terms that facilitate recognition are
care providers. Lesbian health discourse has
                                                                    themselves conventional, often through exclu-
tended to focus on lesbian invisibility in health
                                                          
								
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