The Gap and How to Mind It: Intersections of Class and Sexuality (Research Note)
by Yvette Taylor
University of Newcastle
Sociological Research Online, Volume 10, Issue 3,
Received: 3 Nov 2004 Accepted: 22 Jul 2005 Published: 30 Sep 2005
This research note is grounded in the findings of my PhD thesis 'Working-class lesbians: classed in a classless climate' (2004), which examines the significance of class and sexuality in the lives of women who self-identify themselves as working-class and lesbian, who are necessarily, unavoidably, painfully and pleasurably, living out the intersection of class and sexuality. I aim to offer an oversight of the project, taking account of the material and subjective inputs into working-class lesbian identity. Drawing on data collected from a series of interviews I will highlight the interconnections between class and sexuality and the role they play in relation to identities and experiences. By drawing on and critically evaluating previous work in the field and related fields I will illustrate the various ways in which working-class lesbians may be seen to constitute a gap in the literature. Hoping to address this gap and this invisibility, I will examine the ways in which class and sexuality are negotiated and represented by my interviewees. I contrast lived experience with notions of a 'queer identity' and the material constraints imposed upon the normative expression of identity.
Keywords: Class, Sexuality, Reflexivity, Materialism, Queer
Introduction1.1 Class and sexuality are rarely considered together, yet both sexuality and class positions us all. In this short piece I want to highlight the intersections between class and sexuality in relation to working-class lesbians' identities and experiences, drawing upon my ESRC funded project. Many 'gaps' have been exposed in conducting this study and here I offer my suggestions regarding the reasons, endurance and depth of such a gap. In pointing to the empty spaces between materialist, queer and 'transformations of intimacy' accounts of sexuality, I highlight the ways that my intersectional study can bring connections and theoretical developments. The meanings of class for interviewees, and indeed myself, are pointed to against the absence, re-appearance and continued suspicion about the salience of class. In stressing the everyday spaces through which the development of working-class lesbian identity and subjectivity surfaces I do not, however, presume to have extensively or finally filled the gaps but rather to have provided some interconnecting bridges between often polarised debates.
1.2 Although the claim that class and sexuality do intersect is not new, indeed 'intersection' is now a common trope in discussion of other identities and social locations, in the case of class and sexuality intersections are often gestured towards without being fully interrogated. They are often assumed and implicit rather than empirically apparent. Are sexuality and class just one intersection too far? Even those who effectively and committedly examine the intersections between race, class and gender have omitted sexuality (Anthias, 1998, 2001). So would such interconnection dramatically capture lives lived through a double deviance or are working-class lesbians to be found sitting, perhaps invisibly and uncomfortably, at a crossroads between potentially fascinating sexual subjects and the rather more mundane and (some would suggest) disappearing classed subjects?
1.3 Here, I not only want to make explicit the research 'gaps' and the subsequent exclusion of working-class lesbians' experience from academic debates but also to interlink, but not collapse, my own subjectivity as researcher, the subjectivity of the research, from research findings and research processes, and the research participants' subjectivity. My aim is to swiftly pull out and point towards potential and actual connections and disconnections between class and sexuality, applicable to all of the above and to point to some research findings and the subsequent gaps that can be bridged, if not filled, through attention to these daily, concrete and vivid intersections. This piece is therefore part research note, in the sense that a summary of findings and a contextualisation of these are offered, and partly a somewhat polemical assertion of the intersection of class and sexuality - at once a personal and academic prodding of the gap, and how it can be minded. The erasure of class from lesbian sexuality and lesbian existence can be seen in recent empirical investigation of lesbian lives and I offer a brief critique of materialist and queer approaches. Class, a previous forerunner in sociological debate, has taken a dramatic fall, fallen back out of sight. But while some commentators insist that we have and are 'moving on', away from class, some people have undoubtedly been left by the wayside, out of the race. Nevertheless, although class has largely fallen off the sociological agenda it is, it seems, making somewhat of a comeback, albeit in a different form from earlier economist writings and ungendered analyses.
1.4 So in drawing out the variety of class, the subjective, material and cultural aspects to it, I follow other feminist writers in looking at the forms of economic, cultural and symbolic resources analysed by Bourdieu (1984) (Skeggs, 1997, 2001; Lawler, 2002). As such, I examine class as produced through social, cultural and economic practices, rejecting a straightforward situation and polarisation between 'old' 'objectivist' approaches, which seek to precisely name, measure and define class and 'new' culturalist class analysis models, in which working-class people are often increasingly depicted as subjectively dis-identifying from their 'spoilt identities' (Reay, 1998; Skeggs, 1997). The women who participated in my study did not primarily reject or dis-identify from their working-classness; their accounts are 'spoiled' only so long as they are absent from re-emerging class models.
1.5 The aim, then, is to put the stories, meanings, thoughts and feelings of the fifty-three women, who participated in my research, back into the discussion about the continued salience of class and its importance in sexuality studies. Interviewees came from Scotland (the Highlands, Glasgow and Edinburgh) and England (Yorkshire and Manchester) and took part in my research through a combination of one-to-one interviews, paired and group interviews: four focus groups took place in the above locations (see Taylor, 2004a). Since working-class lesbians are a 'hard to reach' group, it is inevitable that the women I interviewed are not representative of all who may fit this categorisation (Kitzinger, 1987); notably the majority of women in my sample are White with only one Asian woman participating. Thus a significant absence in my own study is the way that ethnicity also structures the participants classed experiences - a considerable gap still exists in the interconnections between class, sexuality and 'race'. Nevertheless, aside from the overwhelming whiteness of my sample, there was a substantial level of diversity amongst respondents, particularly across age groups. The average age of respondents, ranging from 16-64 years, was 34 years although the largest group of interviewees were between 20-25 years (fourteen women) and such diversity allowed the continuation of classed experience and class identification across life courses to be revealed. It is this multiple and varied continuation of class, as a material, cultural and emotional forces which also features in my own story.
Putting myself in my place - situating the academic2.1 My desire to chart the experiences of working-class lesbians was motivated by my personal experiences more than literature gaps and this led me to think about my own journey, complete with varying dis/advantages, through the education system and often negotiated on a shoe-string balancing budget. Here begins the connection then between personal experience which I un/easily assert here and subsequent research findings: both can be more thoroughly interrogated and situated in prevailing academic contexts. My student/care assistant status changed, from the outside at least, on becoming a PhD candidate, yet I wasn't so much capitalising on lesbian credentials, instead I was finding it difficult to articulate and live out what it meant to be both working-class and lesbian. Motivations to explain previous dis/affections - in relation to education, community, family, scene spaces, relationships - necessitated returning to those 'past' zones. But they were not past at all. The working-class background may never be just left there, in the background, but rather it can be the backdrop against which everything else forms. This is why it has been both difficult and easy for me to talk about class, and for that matter, sexuality: I am simultaneously positioned as un/entitled to capitalise upon such 'past' experiences, with accusation of in/authenticity also occurring; what right do I as an academic have to talk about class inequalities, to lay claim to a working-class identity? Once again the sexuality part in this connected experience is seen as relatively unproblematic, at least on a superficial level, a level I've never been that content with. The separation makes re-connection difficult, as does the assignment of some experiences to the past and the foregrounding of others to the present. Connection, and finding recognition for it, is also difficult when speaking in fear of bad mouthing myself, of mouthing off against that which I am now part of. Still, my research is not solely about me or the ways that I fall into, or out of, the categories of 'academic', 'working-class', 'lesbian'. And like Skeggs (2002) I also doubt that my own (classed) reflexivity is sufficient in pointing out sociological intersections.
2.2 So instead I used pre-existing and emerging sociological accounts to begin to chart the academic gaps and the applicability of certain conclusions to the experiences of the working-class lesbians I interviewed. But some characteristics, spaces, identities and histories have been left off the sociological map of diverse and uneven terrain, which left me somewhat lost in my search to locate, situate and finally to highlight and communicate the invisible and the uncharted. I can't claim to be a lonesome pioneer as my own research journey rested on those undertaken before, including the ever growing body of research based upon empirical investigation of lesbian lives (for example, Valentine, 1993; Dunne, 1997). In exploring debates on class identities, inequalities, sentiments and subjectivities I also gathered up that which I quite liked, agreed with, found interesting, while lashing resentful scepticism at those unable to accommodate my own questions, allegiances and tendencies: this was the stuff of my literature review which became, more and more, a battle ground to fight out the in/attention towards class and sexuality, the either/or's, the indignations and the claims to authoritative originality. Now, with a bit of self-assurance that comes with speaking to the absent 'actual people', my interviewees, I still find myself wondering why there remains so little research on this issue. True, there is some relevant work, which I have mentioned, including that produced by other self-identified working-class lesbians such as Munt (2000) and Allison (1988, 1992), cross-cutting literary, cultural and sociological disciplinary boundaries. Writing within a US context, Allison seeks to give the 'white trash' a voice, speaking against the misrepresentations of working-class women, lesbians and poor people in general, as trashy, distasteful, excessive and wrong (see also Skeggs, 2004). Davis and Kennedy's (1993) ethnography also charts the life experiences of working-class lesbians in the US from the 1930s to the 1960s in Buffalo and New York, speaking of particular places and times when working-class lesbians had more recognisable cultures, communities and scenes. But how can the current presence, or absence, of working-class lesbians be conveyed and appreciated?
2.3 Why, when presenting my own research, are the polite yet slightly subdued nods received when stating 'Working-class' met with decidedly more enthusiastic ones when I finish my seemingly contradictory and definitely confusing statement with 'lesbians'. This enacted separation, occurring between a nod in the right direction, a wink of approval and a gasp of disbelief and doubt, wrongly detaches these terms. I found my respondents, their views and experiences in all the usual sociological enclaves from school settings, families and work experiences to sexual, leisure and shopping experiences and it was in these places I sought to put together that which is usually missed out, to connect and allay the surprising and unexpected. Throughout my research I was reluctant to limit discussion, dialogue and debate on sexuality, both with interviewees and with framing academic debates, to personal relationships and scene spaces. I hoped instead to open up the possibility of being able to discuss class and sexuality simultaneously, rather than separately as can be the outcome when each is relegated to a specialist niche. Sexuality and class can combine to produce pleasures and pains, materialities and subjectivities, resistances and refusals and identifications and dis-identifications, and these move beyond and permeate both personal and academic territories.
'You can define it 'til you're blue in the face...'3.1 In my research I highlight the relevance of working-class and lesbian identity across various social sites from family background and schooling to work experiences, leisure activities and intimate relationships, drawing attention to the meanings of class that working-class lesbians themselves attributed to it, including both the 'obviousness' and variety of class. The repeated 'obviousness' was not taken as straight-forward factual accounts but rather I tended towards treating such testimonies as theorised 'realities' and claims on how class works, rather than assuming that respondents had the experience - and I had the theory. Interviewees knew only too well who they were, where they were and how they wanted to be known; a factor which should not surprise us. It is both remarkable and unremarkable that the lives and voices of the working-classes are charted in academic debates - I found them to be ever present and powerful voices, supported by the persistent echoes of past generations as well as by assured senses of working-class 'realness' or reality. Class not only existed as a material reality shaping interviewees lives, it was also something they actively theorised and strongly identified with, something which they felt and something which encapsulated a variety of mixed emotions, tensions and pleasures. The variety of class was repeatedly and powerfully expressed, becoming a 'mish mash and a variety of all your different identities mixed into one' (Jude, 31, Yorkshire).
3.2 From the school room to the bed room class counts, it can count against us, but what I heard time and time again was the stated worth in being working-class. To be working-class was not something that interviewees inevitably sought to 'escape' from, rather it shaped experiences, identifications - and frequent dis-identifications from heterosexuality and middle-classness: '... you think of the range rover and em, yeah, a stereotype which is a number of people's reality is like parochial, a bit smug, a bit narrow minded...' (Fiona, 29, Edinburgh); 'I don't think, it disnae matter how much money, I would still consider myself working-class. I don't think I could get that uppity bit about me...' (Amy, 29, Edinburgh). Many interviewees were disdainful in their contrast between middle-class 'pretension' and working-class 'reality': here, the commentary of working-class voices deciding and evaluating middle-class status is in sharp contrast to usual conceptualisations. Re-evaluations and challenges to legitimate and normative positions were widespread and a sense of scepticism was voiced about the possibility and desirability in living out their class or sexual identities separately. They were both, they were working-class lesbians and this was an out and out fact (not an out and out failure).
3.3 Coming out about sexuality is widely recognised and has in fact achieved a kind of cultural currency, it's a short-hand and we all know what it stands for, but coming out about class? (Plummer,1995). Coming out as 'one of them' takes on an added dimension in the interaction of disclosing, hiding and priding class identity as well as sexual identity. What then is the combined total of such a negotiation? Although dis/identifications around sexuality have received attention there can be no simple addition onto pre-existing discourses. I do not want to 'add on' class to sexuality, moving in or out of respective closets, or to establish causation: both these categories are already implicated in each other and it is the manifestation and 'obviousness' of this implication which deserves more attention. Nonetheless, my academic searching for concrete explanations and classifications did in itself prove to be an obstacle, causing a number of false starts and re-definitions, planting seeds of doubt, despair and despondency. My initial search for what class was, as something measurable and quantifiable, sometimes detracted my attention away from what class does: my interviewees helped solve that one, as did reflecting on my own reasons for doing the research in the first place - didn't I already know what it meant (for me)? Were classification tables, categorisations, and numerations ever important here? I thought of the factuality and objectivity of such definitions, of the fact that class does count in the pocket and that's something which can be measured. But by representing working-class lesbian identity in all its complexity, taking account of material and subjective underpinnings, I hoped to reinforce not only what class and sexuality are, but also what they do, moving from endless re-definition to articulation, resounding in Michelle's emphatic statement that 'You can define it 'til you're blue in the face, I am working-class...' (37, Edinburgh).
3.4 The movement from definition to substance began in the negotiation of positive and negative meanings of 'working-class', recognised and refused by working-class lesbians. Class was often spoken of as an entrenched social and personal experience, not that which they wanted to, or in fact could, 'give up'; it had made its mark and resurfaced in everyday experiences and emotions, entrenched in the attitudes and identifications of interviewees. Class wasn't something that was fixed in their accounts, it varied with every recollection and every re-occurrence, making a striking and salient impact upon enduring identifications. In this respect, the case for class could be made without accusations about fixing social agents to social structures, structures imposed from the outside. Classed terms and judgements continue to circulate and were highly relevant to the women I interviewed in describing their past and ongoing experiences, in saying what and who they are and what they are not, indicating the difficulty and ease in 'coming-out', not only in relation to sexuality.
3.5 Divisions of sexuality are inseparable from other forms of social inequality and as such working-class lesbianism has to be fully located in its social context, as neither exceptional nor extraordinary. However, as described earlier, I often found that simply voicing an interest in class was, and still can be, contentious, whereas my concern with sexuality was sometimes seen as the 'interesting' and redeemable part of my thesis. There is often less 'baggage' to plough through and less controversy aroused and a claim could be made on an interesting and, perhaps ironically, respectable research agenda: 'outing' myself and my research often occurred simultaneously and rarely satisfactorily. Exploring sexuality is not an easy thing to do and I wouldn't want to dismiss the enduring silences and discriminations still apparent - but the combination of this with class silences and discriminations can, it would seem, be a bit too much, too excessive and basically a bit too common: certainly not respectable. So where do I situate my research on class and sexuality? In the gap between un/interesting 'others', from the margins to the mainstream, from the material to the queer?
Not quite queer as folk4.1 To the lament of many materialist feminists, queer theory seems to be setting much of agenda on sexualities and identities (Hennessy, 2000; Jeffreys, 2003). Theories of lesbian identity, many argue, are increasingly preoccupied with the subject of desire, rather than with material needs and constraints, representing a separation between gender and sexuality. Queer theory has been associated with the pursuit of a queer lifestyle, an 'aestheticization of daily life' constructed through a 'postmodern consumer ethic' (Hennessy, 2000). As Hennessey argues, the queer emphasis on identities as 'performative significations' rarely takes account of the material distribution of opportunities for such self-fashioning. Queer opportunities may be available to middle-class urban dwellers, but a single lesbian on the minimum wage or a lesbian mother on benefits has few opportunities for engaging in subversive parodic practices. A queer identity may in fact only be accessible to those materially poised to occupy the position, a point reinforced in my empirical investigation of the lives of those excluded from both heterosexual privilege and the circles of the fashionably queer.
4.2 While the 'obvious' version of queer may appear to be more about playing, spending and being, the application of post-structuralist queer theory would seem only to highlight the gap between lives lived and books written. Not one of my respondents identified as queer, and whilst not wishing to ignore the obvious difference between queer theory and the use of queer as an identifier, that fact would seem to speak for itself. Working-class lesbians, it would seem, do not have much to do with queer, even if queer would like to have something to do with them. In attempting to situate readings of the respondents' understandings of class and sexuality, it would seem to be vital to foreground these within the terminology and models they themselves used. None of the women identified themselves as queer or as operating within queer space, opting instead to define as 'lesbian', 'gay', 'dyke'. When intersecting this with a reading of material inequalities and circumstances it is difficult to fully utilise and appropriate the fundamentally theoretical Butleresque readings of queer. Although Butler may usefully illuminate aspects of the operation of queer identity, the 'higher' reading of performance and performativity may mean little to the women in the bar. Conversely, it appears more appropriate to adopt a material 'reality' based reading of performance and portrayal and Skeggs (1999, 2001) may offer a more useful illumination of both classed and 'queer' identity.
4.3 Yet challenges offered by more materialist perspectives can themselves be 'queered' - materialist approaches also ignore classed individuals by 'abstracting' analysis to social structures. Calls for a 'political economy of sex' often still lack a sense of urgency about what it is to be 'working-class' and 'queer': 'Queer' or 'materialist', (or 'materially queer') where are the working-class lesbians? (Butler, 1997). Although the theoretical intersections between capitalism and sexuality are addressed in many materialist perspectives, not all the workers are working-class, and I see the benefit in investigating specifically classed individuals in particular places and spaces. To theorise this reconnection and intersection involved engaging with the practicalities, the everyday experiences of working-class lesbians who occupy both categories: mentioning classed individuals in the same breath as 'capitalism' and mentioning lesbians in, what some would describe, as an increasingly 'queer' world. My research problematised and made apparent these gaps and absences, offering some answers to these so far unanswered questions.
4.4 Class and sexuality are situated in the everyday spaces of real lives, lives lived on the margins yet lives which nonetheless deserve attention and respect; moving from the margins, maybe not into the mainstream, but definitely into sight. Intersections of class and sexuality, of the gaps and tensions in occupying the 'worst' of both are apparent in many spheres: both are carried through, displayed, regulated and judged, with interpersonal, subjective and material consequences, in a variety of settings and it is to these places, these concrete embodiments of 'intersections', that I now turn.
4.5 Working-class lesbians spoke about growing up and belonging to certain families and communities, with grief for communal loss, satisfaction with survival and resourcefulness and a sense of pride in their locations. Yet this was often matched by an understanding that who they were, and where they lived, were not valued outwith such zones of belonging. Moreover, these locations were often the most immediate places where daily inequalities, not having enough, were experienced (Taylor, 2004b). The story of not having enough to eat, no winter coat or shoes, is not disappearing with the sweep of history and the removal of the 'old working-class'. Instead there were many persistent stories, sad stories ones as well as very funny ones; remembered desires, unrealistic hopes (for example, the often longed for pair of trainers) and challenges to the worth of material possessions: the idea that although many of their childhoods were 'poor', poverty did not determine or define them. Working-class families and communities are neither pathologised nor romanticised as I tell the stories as they were told, often told with an acute awareness of the potential for misunderstanding. I teased out the meanings such spaces have for those who occupy them, while remaining, as interviewees did, conscious of the ways these and their inhabitants may be read, devalued and further marginalised, apparent in the demarcation of 'sink estates', delineating a spatialised 'underclass'. Working-class lesbians grow up in, live in and often quite like to live in working-class communities and families. These spaces have meaning for them and it is as simple, and complex, as that.
4.6 There has been little attention to the places that working-class people inhabit (although see Howarth, 2002), places that are often socially, economically, aesthetically marginal (Cooper, 1998), in comparison to 'trendy' and fashionable scene space. By looking at the ways that interviewees moved through and felt (un)comfortable in these spaces, I moved away from the sole focus on scene space as the site for examining sexuality: this does not make sense when charting the experiences of working-class lesbians who often cannot comfortably occupy (classed) scene space. Importantly, many women reported feeling and being 'excluded' from typical scene spaces, with a certain sense of disillusionment and disappointment. It was not that they were 'opting out' of this space, re-working it, or 'networking' in different spaces; rather identifications and dis-identifications were partially and powerfully made. Ultimately there was a sense that commercialised scene space was not really their space, which departs from the visible and alternative spaces created by working-class lesbians in making their own space, in a different place and time (Davis and Kennedy, 1993).
4.7 While analyses of sexuality in space are now becoming more popular (Bell, 1991; Valentine, 1993; Bell and Valentine, 1995) class, in contrast, unfortunately seems to be disappearing from this agenda. However, its reappearance features in the work of Skeggs (1999, 2001) particularly in relation to white working-class heterosexual women's struggles for respectability, legitimacy and spatial entitlement, and the ways that they are misrecognised as unworthy and unentitled: working-class lesbians are also misrecognised in different ways across different spaces. Thus, to fully link class and sexuality together involves attention to the ways that sexual subjects do not live out their sexuality in isolation from other social inequalities. They are not just, if at all, located in 'queer communities' and misrecognition is more than the door man not letting you in.
4.8 Limited resources do prevent participation in wider society and in lesbian/gay communities, communities which can in fact be stratified by class. Many working-class lesbians commented on the inaccessibility of scene spaces, describing inclusions and exclusions, how these occurred and the effects they had. Often access to such spaces required movement into cities, which incurred travel expenses as well as the emotional costs involved in moving between vastly different locations, made apparent in the disjuncture between 'classy' scene space and working-class home space. Going out to be 'out' does mean something rather different if it involves a bus journey from the 'geographical fringes'. Most women described how scene spaces were located in 'trendy' areas - even allowing for the varied trendiness between Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Highlands and Hebden Bridge - with the result that particular classed displays, images and 'performances' were required to enable entry. Multiple claims and entitlements were made upon scene space: having the money buys you in - having the 'right' clothes, the right style and taste can indicate that you 'deserve' to be there but 'looking like a lesbian' in these settings often requires unaffordable presentations. While many women spoke of learning and trying to adhere to these 'codes', with wry awareness and amusement as well as anxiety, there was also much criticism of scene space as 'pretensions', 'middle-class' and male. Accordingly, it is difficult for working-class lesbians to get desired affirmations in these spaces - it is not their space but many working-class lesbians still made claims upon it, albeit through a sense that something was 'better than nothing'. This is class intersecting with sexuality intersecting with gender and a consideration of all of these elements replaces a single 'better than nothing' focus upon working-class/lesbians.
4.9 For working-class lesbians in my study both class and sexuality were of crucial relevance in negotiating daily spaces and scene spaces. They often found that everyday working-class home space was not separate from workspace, leisure space or scene space, instead where they came from typically said a lot about them - and affected where they could and could not go. Homophobia was neither specifically situated in either working-class or middle-class locations, but the classed aspects of this were teased out: polite and even pretentious 'tolerance' was seen to reside in the smugness of the suburbs, the 'cosmopolitanism' of city and in those who had never felt the pain of being 'intolerable'. Significantly, there was a desire to protect even those working-class voices that would condemn them, an appreciation of the 'realness' of conflict and the diversity, discordance and mismatching amongst the working-class (Taylor, 2004b).
4.10 In addressing the material circumstances of working-class lesbians lives my findings vastly differ from those of Dunne (1997), who suggests that a lesbian lifestyle necessitates and facilitates access to higher female earnings. This results from differing samples and locations - but I think a classing of the differences between these accounts vividly points to the constraints facing working-class lesbians. They were evaluated through classed locations, as where they came from often stood for and indicated what they could be - a judgement enforced in school, both in the playground and more formally in the classroom. The heterosexualised schooling environment and curriculum have been highlighted by many (Epstein, 1994; Mac an Ghaill, 1994; Skeggs, 1997) but the interaction of 'coming-out' about both a stigmatised sexual identity as well as a 'deviant' class position, captured in my research, is a rather different and disturbing one, and many simply 'slipped out of the system'. So what about those lesbians who don't (economically) 'achieve' - are they not lesbians? Are they bad lesbians?
4.11 In my research I examined the 'choices' of employment, or unemployment, faced by many women upon leaving school (Taylor, 2005). Having already been deemed 'failures' in school many women left with few qualifications and entered low-paid jobs, Youth Training Schemes or voluntary work - the choices they made were constrained by class, gender and sexuality. Fitting in at the factory or the employment centre often meant hiding their sexuality; not many employers put 'working-class lesbians wanted' in their job advertisements. Discriminations were experienced at an interpersonal level, within and outwith workplace settings, where to do something was to be someone (or no-one) and where sexuality and class position was variously mis/recognised across these settings, as it had been in school environments. By examining visual presentations and misrecognitions, I illustrated the embodied nature of class and sexuality, the ways that these can and cannot be capitalised upon and the individual consequences of not 'fitting in'. Far from being an 'economic achievement', being a lesbian can be a factor leading to disadvantage - combined with class, the 'achievement' would seem to diminish.
4.12 Given the reported dissatisfaction with scene spaces, the economic hardships faced and the repeated and enforced sense of 'difference', I considered the opportunities working-class lesbians had to go out and meet other lesbians, linking this with issues of intimacy and personal relationships. Many interviewees never had access to effective support mechanisms to facilitate 'outness' or to meet other women and instead had to meet in potentially 'unsafe' places. From small ads to street corners, from the internet to the local carpark working-class lesbians clearly do meet other lesbians and I wouldn't want to portray these experiences as inherently negative, in fact many pleasurable hours can be spent frequenting the above, but this is often a make do and mends strategy undertaken in the absence of alternatives. Through looking at the ways that interviewees 'disclose' and 'hide' their sexuality in their families I suggest that processes of 'coming-out' may be classed, classing what can and cannot be said to whom. Even home spaces may not be all that comfortable, 'coming-out' to friends and families can at times fracture belonging and although this is not unique to working-class families and individuals, there can be classed effects, 'opportunities' and limitations upon this. This is more about subjective and material resources than it is a tale of individual transformation, coming-out, overcoming and moving on.
4.13 Cited changes, indeed 'transformations', in families, friends, intimacy and sexuality frequently gloss over enduring structural inequalities and the ways these are lived out interpersonally. Even those who have been cautious or critical of supposed transformations rarely explore class as a continued factor informing, constraining and even enhancing intimate relationships. So how do notions of 'equality', 'accountability' and 'reciprocity' apply to the experiences of working-class lesbians? Is it not impossible to enact equality in unequal circumstances (Jamieson, 1998) - or are all lesbian relationships exemplary 'pure relationships'? (Giddens, 1992) In my research class could be disconnecting, a potential gap between intimates, rather than a point of connection; something to struggle with economically and emotionally. While notions of 'emotional intimacy' emphasise mutual disclosure, I assessed the relevance of this in working-class lesbians' friendships and sexual relationships: classed resentments, identifications, denials, and privileges all suggests the continuation of inequalities in personal relationships, rather than a transformation of these. So if some groups are 'transforming' then who and what are those left behind? Are they reluctant, unwilling, and unable to make these 'lifestyle choices'? Are their relationships somehow more flawed? Assumptions about the 'transformation' of intimacy are so far devoid of working-class lesbians' experiences and I suggest than neither idealisation - or pathologisation - is sufficient in conceptualising what are structured patterns, rather than individual choices, individual sexualities.
4.14 So there are many areas and issues, from growing up to going out, from 'getting on' to 'getting on with it', to naming and being named, that clearly interconnect the material, embodied, structural and cultural aspects of class and sexuality. As someone who defines as a working-class lesbian, I started off my research with the desire to know more about other women's experiences - to try and answer the question of what it means to be both, by asking people who are, connecting and associating the sometimes abstract categories of class and sexuality with lives lived through, on and in-between these terms. My motivations were personal, political and sociological. Academically, I could position (and necessarily have positioned) my research as filling a 'gap', yet I would not want to position myself, my research and my participants in this space alone. I would instead hope to achieve something more substantive, to open up - and fill - more sociological gaps.
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