Sea change: Gender, sexualities, mobility, and home



Publication Details

Waitt, G. (2014). Sea change: Gender, sexualities, mobility, and home. In G. T. Bonifacio (Eds.), Gender and Rural Migration: Realities, Conflict and Change (pp. 211-227). New York, United States: Routledge.


Migration, movement, and mobility are major themes in the sexuality literature. Fortier (2001, 2002, 2003), Knopp (2000, 2004) and Gorman-Murray (2008) call for greater scrutiny of ideas that explore the relationship between intranational migration and sexual difference through rethinking the binaries that have informed conventional thinking and their imagined geographies of rural spaces as a 'gay closet', including: urban/rural, straight/ gay, public/private, and belonging/alienation (see Weston 1995; Cant 1997; Parker 1999). Fortier (2001, 2003) offers the terms 'queer homecomings', Knopp (2004) explores a 'queer quest for identity', and Gorman-Murray (2008) discusses an 'embodied queer identity quest' to challenge migratory frameworks that fix understandings of bigness and urbanity as essential qualities for sexual difference and sexual liberation. Their contention is to challenge the essentialist categories that align smallness and rurality with compulsory heterosexuality and heteropatriarchy. When small rural towns are configured as a bastion of heterosexualities, the life of those not conforming to heterosexual norms is imagined as purgatory, and unidirectional migration from small rural towns to large urban centers becomes positioned as inevitable. For instance, Binnie (2004, 92) argues that "for lesbian and gay migrants within national borders, the primary shift is from rural to urban; provincial to metropolitan." Queer migration is too often neatly conceptualized through a symbolic rural/urban binary and conflated with rural-to-urban displacement.

The aim of this chapter is to extend contentions that trouble unidirectional rural-urban intranational migration that silence possibilities of sexual difference outside of large metropolitan centers and intimate a rural-to-urban migration as a once-and-for-all emergence from the rural 'closet'. In order to do this the chapter explores the relationship between mobility, sexuality, space, and home through a queer lens that is detached from rural/urban migration thinking and receptive to the diversity of relocation paths, patterns, and scales of relocation. This means challenging the understanding that the spatial boundaries of home pre-exist their performance as sites of coherence and continuity that protect heteropatriarchal subject positions. Rather, the spatial boundaries that enable individuals to territorialize spaces as home is conceived as always in the making and unstable: the outcome of interconnected embodied, performative, discursive, and material practices. This requires thinking about not only how spaces territorialized as home shape the subjectivities of bodies, but also how the actual movement of bodies shape those spaces territorialized as home. Consequently, it is important to remain mindful to how individuals have the capacity to both rework and fix categories that define home. The wider remit of the chapter is to answer Phillips et al. (2000) and Halberstam's (2005) call to decenter sexuality research and disrupt metropolitan-centered narratives.

To explore how a queer perspective offers possibilities to explore the intersection of intranational migration, the production of subjectivities, and homemaking, the chapter is divided into two sections. The first section, 'telling stories', outlines the fieldwork and methods. Justification is provided for interpreting the international migration narrative of one same-sex couple who are given the pseudonyms of Bill and Anton. Pseudonyms play a crucial role in assuring confidentiality and minimizing potential harm in making narrators' home stories public. However, each narrator was given an explanation why total anonymity could not be guaranteed. Consent to participate was given on the understanding that their identities may be recognizable to anyone who knows them, even from the thematic excerpts. In 2007, Bill and Anton sold their house in an inner-western suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, and migrated some 400 kilometers south, having purchased a property some nine kilometers outside of the coastal town of Bermagui, in the Bega Valley, New South Wales. The next section discusses three emerging themes from Anton's and Bill's narrative to explore the interconnections between the geographies of home, migration, and the intersections of the categories of sexuality with race, gender, and class. Attention is given to how neither home nor subjectivity is fixed, but rather mutually and ongoingly spatially (re)constituted.

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