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The Opacity of Queer Languages

Since at least the sixteenth century, individuals who could in today’s terminology be referred to as LGBTQ+ or queer have been creating their own linguistic registers. The “closet,” for one, is a linguistic formation that only dates back to the mid-twentieth century, as we may be aware. What is perhaps less known is how these languages were produced in the context of the secrecy that the proverbial closet provides, and what parallels within that space can be drawn with Édouard Glissant’s concept of opacity and the right not to be understood. Furthermore, Jonathan D. Katz’s study on John Cage’s tactic of silence and passivity as a political stance continues into an analysis of the role of camp performativity in the success or failure of getting the (coded) message across.

After researching the coining of the expression “coming out of the closet” and focusing on the ways language produces the social space of the closet, I have shifted my focal point on how this linguistically formed locus also generates language itself, which in turn produces or reaffirms social space. Looking deeper into the cultures that surround the closet (and I’m referring to the closet as a production of heteronormativity that is inscribed in social space and which most of us are both inside and outside of at the same time), I started exploring the constructions of the closet as a language-generator itself.

These take the form of slangs (argots, or cants), or dialects, falling under the wider category of lavender linguistics, and they seem to have existed in geographically and culturally unrelated areas. They do not constitute languages per se in the sense that they do not have distinct grammar and syntax, although they do in some cases have a vocabulary extensive enough to allow one to speak exclusively in them. Although falling under the overlapping space of slangs and argots, since these idioms seem to have specific geographic radiuses and are produced and used by particular social groups, they could perhaps also be described as sociolects.

I already knew the Greek “Kaliarda” and the British “Polari” from living in Greece and England and associating with the local LGBT and queer communities. After research to find out if the phenomenon has been wider and appeared elsewhere as well, I discovered the Brazilian “Bajubá” or “Pajubá,” the Philippine “Swardspeak,” the Indonesian “Bahasa Binan,” the South African “IsiNgqumo” and “Gayl” or “Gail,” and the Turkish “Lubunca.”

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