Fireworks! Bang!

This posting originally came in two parts, united in fact by a sheer accident of timing, that two celebratory — fireworks! bang! — things happened  during a July weekend in the US: the first is a personal celebration, of an honor from the Linguistic Society of America that marks me as officially a kind of famous faggot (I happily embrace faggot); the second is the 4th of July holiday, an occasion as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie, but capable of being hijacked for raunchy purposes. But in the interests of getting something posted while I still live, I’m putting the second part off, to appear as a separate posting (which will require a warning of  irredeemable raunchiness; this part dips into sexual topics with some frequency, no surprise, but needs, I think, no more severe a warning than that).

Notes: I do love fireworks, because there are occasions when only excess will really do the trick; but like a stereotypical queer, I am at best lukewarm on sports (though I have an enthusiasm for the San Francisco Giants when they’re in the World Series — go figure); I enjoy eating the occasional hot dog (for its taste and texture as well as its phallicity), but it has to be kosher (I had my ritual Independence Day Hebrew National wurst on the 3rd); and I also enjoy eating apple pie, but my preference is for Julia Child’s Tarte aux Pommes (another faggy enthusiasm).

The other thing about holidays, the Fourth of July notably among them, is that they are occasions for elaborate advertising campaigns hawking homoware: men’s premium underwear (including oh my, jockstraps), steamily presented, and gay porn videos (not to mention sex toys for gay men), all of these items that I view both as sources of deep personal satisfaction (which I am happy to talk about in detail, in the plainest of street language) and as objects of academic analysis, on several levels.

And then I have contrived to make a more than accidental connection between celebrating my recognition as an LGBTQ+ linguist and celebrating the Fourth of July, by selecting a holiday porn ad that turns on the ambiguity of N and V bang, as referring to noise-making or as referring to sexual intercourse: consider this exemplary text, the Falcon Big Bang 2021 sale ad (for gay porn) that came in my e-mail on July 2nd:

(#1) On the lexical front, heavily working the sexual (big) bang, rocket, and blow ‘explode’ / explosive territory. Also of interest in its presentation of male bodies as objects of desire; in the subtle cock tease by the man on the right; and in its choice of particular facial expressions as cruise faces (designed to engage male partners for brief sexual liaisons) (the overstuffed American-flag briefs on the man on the left are just a holiday bonus)

For a gay porn ad, this one is visually extremely decorous; it’s clearly meant to be displayable in public, so there are no visible genitals or anuses. But beyond that, though the models’ briefs are well-filled, there are no visible outlines of partially or fully erect penises; the models are in fact clothed, though minimally, rather than being naked with their genitals concealed from view; and no kind of sexual act is depicted (even one with genitals concealed, indeed even kissing). The models in #1 could be from a conventional newspaper ad for underwear — for Macy’s, say — with just a bit of an edge to it. Yes, the models are muscle-hunks rather than ordinary guys with nice bodies, but conventional underwear ads have moved with the times, thanks to Calvin Klein.

For the record, though I’m not usually into muscle-hunks as objects of sexual fantasy, I’m much taken with the model on the right, probably because of his facial expression. (I’m a face guy.)

Oh, this style of writing — highly digressive, with material piled upon material in Whitmanesque profusion, full of self-reflection, mixing a wildly playful tone with dead seriousness, with embeddings within embeddings (as in the sentence you are reading right now) — is sometimes taken to be characteristic of gay male writers (characteristically faggy, if you will).

On the award.

The foreshadowing. On this blog on 4/26/21, “LSA to announce award for LGBTQ+ linguistics”, with the note: “details of the Arnold Zwicky Award to be announced”.

Then, the actual announcement, in mid-July:

LSA Launches New Award in Honor of Arnold Zwicky

The LSA is pleased to announce the establishment of its newest award, intended to recognize the contributions of LGBTQ+ scholars in Linguistics. Named for Arnold Zwicky, the first out LGBTQ+ President of the LSA [in 1992], the award recipient will be recognized at the Awards Ceremony at the LSA Annual Meeting in January of 2022.


Read on for more details about the award nominations and selection process:

Frequency: Annually, as nominations warrant.

Next Nomination Deadline: A preliminary nomination consisting of the nominee’s name, curriculum vitae (CV) and/or website URL, must be submitted here no later than August 1, 2021. A final nomination, consisting of a nomination form, an updated CV link for the nominee, and a brief citation that can be read at the presentation of the award, must be submitted at the same link by September 1, 2021. Self-nominations and nominations by others are equally welcome. If nominating someone other than yourself, please seek confirmation from the nominee of your intentions prior to submitting your preliminary nomination.

Eligibility: The Zwicky Award recognizes LGBTQ+ linguists who have made significant contributions to the discipline, the society, or the wider LGBTQ+ community through scholarship, outreach, service, and/or teaching. Eligible applicants will be current members of the LSA and identify within the LGBTQ+ community. Eligibility is open to nominees at any career stage.

The prize is intended to recognize distinguished accomplishments by LGBTQ+ scholars, whether working directly on LGBTQ+ issues in language or not. Nominations will be considered based on excellence in one or more of the following areas, focusing on the most recent 3-5 year period:

Scholarship, including presentations, reports, and publication

Outreach outside academia, including podcasts, interviews, and journalistic publications

Service to the LGBTQ+ community, including activist and advocacy work, organizing, and mentorship

Teaching, including excellence in course design, creation of teaching materials, and sharing teaching expertise with others

— Other information relevant to their work as an LGBTQ+ scholar in Linguistics

The Presidential Address, “Mapping the Ordinary into the Rare: Basic/Derived Reasoning in Theory Construction” (given on 1/9/93 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles). From my 2/7/20 posting “The BSDR Files” about the paper, first on the occasion:

Something that is actually relevant for my paper is that I was the first openly LGBTQ president of the society. That fact is not in itself remarkable, since I’d been fully out as a gay man in the academic world for over 20 years at that point, though on this occasion my queerness was on display: I appeared in a couple with my man Jacques Transue and we also hosted a huge OUT in Linguistics reception in the Presidential Suite at the Biltmore (an event open to all members of the society, so long as they were willing to be seen as gay-friendly). (It did seem to me that 1992 was awfully late for visible queerness, but, well, someone has to be first, and that just happened to be me.)

… I was given an affectionate introduction by the secretary-treasurer of the society, Fritz Newmeyer, who happened to have taken some courses with me at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, many years before. And I warmed up the audience with an old academic joke, as amended in a telling to me by Jim McCawley. From the RationalWiki site, with “An old joke … Challenge: Demonstrate that all odd numbers greater than 1 are prime.” [responses by various professions followed]

… What Jim added was:

— generative linguist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 appears to be composite, but underlyingly it’s prime, …

I’m inclined to believe that more people remember the joke than recall the paper, which was a serious exploration into the conceptual world of generative linguistics, in particular about how alternations between variants are to be described. The customary generative approach employs a basic / derived (BSDR) logic, with a basic variant from which alternatives are derived by mapping rules. I opposed this logic to one of defaults and overrides, which I argued was superior. The detailed handout is available in my 2/7/20 posting.

Characteristically (for me), the paper moves from straightforward linguistics (well, metatheoretical linguistics in this case; I’ve never given up practicing philosophy without a license) to a bonus section at the end on sex and sexuality (my blog postings on sex and sexuality tend to travel this road in reverse, with some surprise linguistics at the end). The bonus material:


Thomas Laqueur on BSDR conceptualization of sex, taking male sex as the basic; John Boswell on BSDR conceptualization of sexuality (in his Type C theories), taking heterosexuality to be the basic state. I am, unsurprisingly, dubious about these normative moves.

Back to the Arnold Zwicky Award. And the eligibility requirements.

Eligibility. “LGBTQ+ linguists who have made significant contributions to the discipline, the society, or the wider LGBTQ+ community through scholarship, outreach, service, and/or teaching.” This requires some interpretation, and I’m going to give you some interpretations of mine; I’m not speaking for COZIL or the LSA here. (I had no hand in framing the announcement of the award and will have no hand in selecting winners. And, on reflection, I’ve decided that it would be inappropriate for me to nominate people for the award; more on this below.)

First, LGBTQ+ linguist exhibits an ambiguity parallel to that of French linguist (‘linguist who is French’ vs. ‘linguist who studies the French language’): ‘linguist who is a an LGBTQ+ person’ vs. ‘linguist who studies the language / language use of LGBTQ+ people’: is the queerness in the linguist or in the linguist’s field of study?

Note 1. There are further potential ambiguities here, which I’m disregarding.

Note 2. The French linguist example might suggest that the ambiguity is simply a matter of the modifier being (copular / predicative ) Adj (‘linguist who is French’) vs. (patient / objective) N (‘linguist of French, linguist who studies French’), but parallels in Adj + N canine therapist and N + N dog therapist, both of which have both readings (‘therapist who is a dog’ vs. ‘therapist for dogs, therapist who treats dogs’) shows that this idea is at best too simplistic. (See some discussion in my postings “The canine therapist” from 6/3/18 and “therapist dog, dog therapist” from 9/22/18.)

Note 3: though the two readings are clearly separable in principle (it’s easy to find examples of linguists of all four types: ± queer person, ± queer field), it’s also natural for a scholar who’s in a group to study that group, at least occasionally. Especially if the group is derogated or threatened (who else is going to do it?).

In any case, a fair number of potential candidates will be LGBTQ+  in both senses, and that’s a good thing. But the eligibility requirements make it clear that the queer-person property is to be privileged over the queer-field property: “Eligible applicants will … identify within the LGBTQ+ community … The prize is intended to recognize distinguished accomplishments by LGBTQ+ scholars, whether working directly on LGBTQ+ issues in language or not”.

Indeed, when I was LSA President, I was very visible queer person: something of an activist in both Ohio State and its area and Stanford and its area, nurturer of LGBTQ+ students in both places (consequently the recipient of death threats in both places, demands that I be fired from both universities, and the object of years of police surveillance in Columbus — this sort of thing comes with the territory), the founder of OUT in Linguistics, and so on — but I was not yet generally known as a scholar of queer linguistics. My one conventional publication in queer linguistics — “Two lavender issues for linguists” (Hall & Livia, Queerly Phrased, 1997) — was still in the future, as was my one adventure in conventional writing for a general public on a queer topic, “The other F word” (Out magazine, 2003), about fag(got).

My queer-linguistics interest did appear in conventional academic publication in a series of examples in Arnold Zwicky & Ann Zwicky,  “Telegraphic registers in written English”  (Sankoff & Cedergren, 1981), examples we characterized as (in sequence, getting progressively more abbreviated) “lavatory graffiti proposing sexual liaisons” “graffiti advertising sexual favors” “advertisements for sexual favors” and “sexual advertisements” (“collected by Arnold Zwicky from Ohio State University men’s rooms serving as locales for sexual activity between men”) — the jottings of what are vernacularly known as t-room queens (not queen ‘ostentatiously effeminate gay man’, but the snowclonelet queen referring to an enthusiast of some activity — in this case, sex between men in mensrooms — with no imputation of effeminacy). The t-room theme appeared in my non-academic writing in the newsgroup soc.motss in a fictobiographical / gay porn story from 1991, “Roseate Tom” (describing events that took place in 1967, with a Coda scene set in 1974) that I eventually re-posted, lightly edited, on my XBlog (on 2/5/11). By then my blog postings frequently examined the world of t-rooms as a sociocultural phenomenon and the vocabulary used in talking about that world. Along with similarly analytical postings on other modes of subterranean or surreptitious sexual activity between men (for instance, gay baths, sex clubs, and cruising for sex), partly based on my personal experience.

Note 4. The eligibility requirements say that the candidate must “identify with the LGBTQ+ community” — meaning not merely that the candidate view themselves as belonging to this community, but that they do so publicly. They need to be out. Out enough to go to major academic conference and accept an award for being admirably LGBTQ+.

There’s a great tangle of complexities here. Acceptance of one of these identities comes slowly, often painfully, for many people (and not at all for some, who adopt the sexual practices but not the sexual identity or the association with the community or one of its subcultures), and the character of this acceptance can change over time. All of this is out of the public eye. People then come out, if at all, selectively, to different audiences and in different ways.

[Personal, but relevant, interlude. In my case, born in 1940, I unsurprisingly went through great pain and turmoil in accepting my homosexuality. Over some years came out to many close to me — in effect, coming out “privately” — but then came out spectacularly publicly when in 1971 I embarked on a sexual relationship with a graduate student (a multi-faceted relationship: my first male lover was an intellectual companion as well as a sexual one, and, most significantly, he had become politicized after Stonewall; he educated me in taking pride and in taking action). Of course such relationships are unwise, but they will happen, and they aren’t wicked; I realized immediately that to protect him ours would have to be maximally aboveboard (he should not be seen as getting special advantages through a secret relationship to me) and we would have to be maximally dissociated academically (I would have no hand in his formal education or power over his career in graduate school).

My solution became the model for handling other professor / grad student pairings in the department — there were more to come, all heterosexual — and then a contributor to the policy in the College of Humanities. That is a very good thing, and I’m proud of what I did. I am also deeply indebted to the principles of academic freedom and tenure — and the scrupulous observance of these by the relevant administrators at Ohio State — that protected my job during all of this.

In any case, I very suddenly became a Highly Visible Queer and embarked on a career in that role (among others). I can work that role for political, academic, or artistic purposes, but I can’t evade it: since 1971, I may have been many things in my public life, but a great many people will also know me as that obtrusive faggot in linguistics.

Now, the real point here, finally nearing on the horizon. In my fictobiographical writings about these times (where everyone except Arnold Zwicky has a pseudonym), this first lover is called Danny; I will call him D here. As lives will, D’s and mine have crossed and recrossed many times, and they have taken many surprising turns and gone to many unexpected places. Long and short, D ended up living and working (in linguistics, after some digressions) in another country (a country with much less tolerant social attitudes towards homosexuality than current American ones), with a long-term male partner (I’ll call him K), effectively his husband. To preserve K’s relationship with his family and D’s academic position, the men have had to largely conceal their relationship. (On D’s occasional visits to the US, he is of course completely out, free to talk about K and their lives together.) This is a bargain, the bargain of the closet: to get some things of value, you give up others. (We must all make bargains: do not be too hasty to condemn people just for making a bargain.) Being out is, I believe, generally good for the soul and for society as well, but it’s not for everyone on all occasions. End of personal interlude.]

But, of course, not being out should eliminate you as a candidate for the Arnold Zwicky Award; D, for example, should be out of the running, whatever the value of his work in linguistics (he would maintain that this work is too modest to deserve an award, but that’s not the point). For the good reason (to be expanded on in a later note) that naming such an award after someone is not merely raising a big huzzah for their achievements but is also holding the award’s eponym up as a model for others to aspire to, and for that the awardee has to be publicly known as LBGTQ+.

Note 5. Being out is being out to an audience. So (as I just noted) you can be out to one audience and not to another. A lot depends on way information flows between social groups. When I came out dramatically in 1971 as a Highly Visible Queer, I didn’t realize that even plenty of academics failed to get the message (I don’t read as queer unless I wear identifying signs and symbols or talk explicitly about my gay life, so heteronormative assumptions kick in; and information in the academy tends to flow along disciplinary, and of course geographic, lines). So for 50 years I’ve been endlessly coming out explicitly to new audiences (including LGBTQ+ groups, who don’t necessarily accept me easily as One of Them).

All of this is messy, but routine. The complication is that many linguists engage in fieldwork (studying language use in its sociocultural context) in many settings — in far-flung locations, in enclaves both urban and rural, in institutions and subcultures of all kinds (high schools, drag clubs, sports teams, fishing communities, t-rooms, whatever), on reservations, and so on. The people serving as the objects of study are sometimes viewed as subjects (recruited for study in laboratory settings or unknowingly serving as subjects for a participant-observer investigator), sometimes as consultants (or “informants”) selected for interviewing by an investigator. These studies are often conducted by teams, with a number of investigators working together or with staff hired for the purpose. And the studies require further staff for administration, technical support, arrangements for travel and living away from home, data analysis, and so on.

The whole business is highly social in character, but bringing together various groups of people who would not otherwise interact with one another and who are often socioculturally highly diverse, each group with its own world view, including attitudes and expectations about how people should behave. A diversity that easily puts LGBTQ+ investigators into tension with the people they work with. Sometimes quite serious tension; openly LGBTQ+ investigators in strongly homo-intolerant cultural settings could be in real danger, especially if their behavior is visibly discordant with local norms; and more generally they could face intolerant and uncooperative staff. (The problem isn’t confined to social science research; LGBT+ investigators doing, say, zoological or paleontological fieldwork can face the same issues with their staffs.)

So everybody adapts to some degree to their uncongenial situation, often by altering their behavior (which is typically hard to carry off, so it puts the investigator into a state of constant anxiety), but certainly by concealing their identities from most of the people they work with in the field — while being entirely out in their professional lives, of course. (Even I have used my ability to pass as straight to covertly collect anecdotes about men’s attitudes towards women and queers in relaxed settings of male sociability, like locker rooms.) It’s a tricky terrain to negotiate, one that could make things problematic for some number of natural candidates for the Arnold Zwicky Award; such public notice of their LGBTQ+ status could make it very hard for them to return to their fieldwork.

I have been asked in the past by colleagues in other fields to moderate what I say about them on this blog, because the blog has, over time, accumulated thousands of readers from all sorts of backgrounds, so it’s a form of wide publicity (such as receiving the Arnold Zwicky Award would be) and then also potentially a threat to their professional lives, especially in field settings. This has made me very cautious about what I say here about linguists; not everyone involved in OUT in Linguistics, for example, would want to be out to the world in general (even though the group explicitly welcomed (straight) friends).

In any case, nominees may have to consider whether they would welcome the publicity of the award.

Note 6. Above:

naming such an award after someone is not merely raising a big huzzah for their achievements but is also holding the award’s eponym up as a model for others to aspire to

As I, with all of my manifold faults, have served, since 1971. Being a public role model is an edgy business. In fact, some people have felt free to explain to me how unsuitable I am as a role model. I have broken a ton of laws, but some of that comes with the territory (for quite some time, all of the sex I had with other men was illegal in the local jurisdiction, and that continued to be true in some places until fairly recently — like, Oklahoma, as J and I drove together between Ohio State and Stanford for some years); and some of it still is.

But I didn’t flaunt these activities and invite physical attacks and arrest, as some of my role models did (notably, John Lewis and others in working for civil rights); instead, I confined my protesting to forms that should have been legal, managing in the process to protect my job (for my own sake and for those  who needed my support — my wife and daughter, and, later, Jacques). Some of my critics view this as simple cowardice. Certainly, not at all heroic.

I was outspoken, and politically active: in the Columbus branches of Gay Liberation Front, and after it the Gay Activists Alliance, and later in Stonewall Union in Columbus and with several organizations in the Bay Area. But that’s the simple minimum for a Proud Gay Warrior. And it came tainted by my obviously affectionate marriage to a woman — which then morphed into a very public married triple with Jacques. It wasn’t until after Ann died, in 1985, that I became half of an ordinary gay couple and so more acceptable to many in the gay community. J never put himself forward, but he was solid in his commitment to gay political causes and supported me, even encouraged me, in my public displays, which both entertained and impressed him.

We found some acceptance in corners of the gay community, mostly through the internet newsgroup soc.motss — and realized from the outset that we were now, rather scarily, serving as exemplars to the world outside that community. He was entirely prepared to serve as the support person for his linguist husband-equivalent (among other things, he continued to sit in on courses I taught and offered me useful critiques on both the content and on pedagogy — J was himself an extraordinary linguistics teacher), but he fretted about whether he could be good enough to represent Gay Men to the straight world. As was I. As am I

Note 7. Back to the award. After nearly a hundred years — the society was founded in 1924 — the Linguistic Society of America has accumulated a considerable number of awards, professorships, and fellowships named after people (one of them is named after C. L. Baker, my first PhD advisee, which just goes to show how old I am), one of which I received myself: the Sapir Professorship, named for Edward Sapir, which I held at the 1999 Linguistic Institute at the Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. But until the Arnold Zwicky Award, none had been named for a living linguist.  Though sometimes the honor was created soon after the eponym’s death: the Victoria Fromkin Award, created in 2001 (after Vicki’s death in 2000); the Kennth Hale Award, created in 2002 (after Ken’s death in 2001).

In my case, the impetus for the honor came from enthusiastic young people, who managed to get it approved and announced while I was still alive (which was very sweet). Now, since no other eponym had any say in naming the recipient of their honor, I have scrupulously stayed away from the  selection deliberations, currently in progress.


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