Queering Discourses of Coming Out in South Africa

  • TL McCormick
Keywords: Discourse, Queer Theory, Coming Out, Queer Linguistics, South Africa, Homosexuality


The performative act of “coming out” authenticates a homosexual identity and in the South African context the coming out narrative has gained such momentum that it is now regarded as an imperative for closeted homosexuals by the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project (LGEP). However, coming out has been critiqued by queer theorists who argue that it is problematic because it forces a person into an already established identity category, strengthens the regulation of sexual categories and is complicit in the reconstitution of these categories. In this paper, these queer critiques of coming out will be employed in order to explore the question of why a person is compelled to confess to the ‘truth’ about their homosexuality in South Africa. The data for this exploration is drawn from three non-fiction gay and lesbian books: “Male Homosexuality in South Africa: Identity Formation, Culture and Crises” (1992) by Gordon Isaacs and Brian McKendrick, “Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives: Female Same-Sex Practices in Africa” (2005) by Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa, and “Performing Queer: Shaping Sexualities 1994-2004 – Volume 1” (2005) edited by Mikki van Zyl and Melissa Steyn. The data was analysed using content analysis and the findings show how homosexuality is extricated from negative discourses of abnormality, promiscuity and fraudulence and reformulated into positive discourses associated with identity politics, normality and progress. In such positive discourses, a person is compelled into disclosure because it is viewed as a necessary step to combat homophobia and conservative family and social norms. This paper argues that as long as the coming out narrative is embedded in the positive discourses of progress, health and enlightenment, it will remain immune to critique of the role that it plays in strengthening heterosexuality as unitary and normative. Finally, this paper suggests that refusing to succumb to the pressure of categorisation could potentially undermine the constraints of the homosexual/heterosexual binary on which the categories of male and female are contingent.

Keywords: Discourse, Queer Theory, Coming Out, Queer Linguistics, South Africa, Homosexuality


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eISSN: 2224-3380