Volume 12, Issue 2
  • ISSN 2211-3770
  • E-ISSN: 2211-3789



This paper draws on linguistic-ethnographic fieldwork in Chengdu, China to consider the utility of broad labels such as and in accounting for the performance of sexual and cultural identity. I problematise work which takes such notions to be stable and self-evidently referential, arguing instead that identity is much more fluid, emergent and discourse-dependent than conventional understandings tend to imply. I focus on visibility of queer sexual identity partly because it is an especially accessible example of the role of language in identity performance, being most often achieved through verbal interaction. More broadly, however, this focus emerged through my ethnographically informed, discursive-sociocultural approach to my life and research in mainland China during the period 2008–2019. Specifically, I use spoken data from the interviews which formed part of this process to argue that social practice within related ethnic and/or social groups is best understood in terms of the situated use of sociolinguistic tools and the entailed negotiation of pertinent ideological systems. From this perspective, the ostensibly insurmountable ideological pressures that “Chinese gays” are typically seen to face, and which tend to be attributed to a taken-for-granted and monolithic “Chinese culture”, are better interpreted with reference to the complex relationship between language, culture and identity. Thus, I do not assume the right to make broad claims about what do, or to state that they are categorically different from their presumed homogenous counterparts. Instead, I discuss what certain individuals say in certain conversations, noting how their performance of identity is often highly individualised, being shaped according to the interactants present and the interactional aims relevant to specific moments of communication.

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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): China; culture; discourse; identity; sexuality; Sinophone
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