International Feminist Journal of Politics

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2012 Enloe Award Essay

Abstract

In this article I investigate the possible uses of Cynthia Enloe's idea of ‘patriarchal confusion’ in understanding gay and lesbian military identity. Through an analysis of military discourses surrounding the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the British military since 2000, and using original interview data with serving personnel, I examine the contradictory ways in which queer identity has been incorporated within a military dominated by heteronormative masculinity. By examining conflicting attitudes towards gay and lesbian soldiers' participation in Pride marches, I show how patriarchal understandings of military identity become ‘confused’ by both heterosexual and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender personnel. I argue for a move away from viewing the integration of non-traditional recruits through the dichotomous lens of subversion or co-option, and instead call for an engagement with the ambiguities and confusions that arise from that integration. Reading this confusion through Butler's concept of performativity, I demonstrate how even confused ideas about gender can reproduce patriarchy, and why patriarchy often simultaneously fails to reproduce itself. A performative reading of ‘patriarchal confusion’ therefore indicates the radically contingent character of the reproduction of patriarchal norms in the military and suggests that sites of confusion might be fertile grounds for feminist interventions.

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