‘Masculine Normal Guy Here' – Lonely Hearts and ‘Normal' Gays in Cyberspace

‘Masculine Normal Guy Here' – Lonely Hearts and ‘Normal' Gays in Cyberspace

Martin Paviour-Smith (Massey University, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch010
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This chapter examines the discourse of dating advertisements on a small-scale dating site, NormalGay.com. I analyse the deployment of linguistic resources of identity-making, in particular, the term, normal, and how members take up or reject this position. Examining the profiles as strategically managed displays of capital on the dating market reveals normal to have a number of meanings which are encoded in different ways. Many profile creators deploy the rhetorical strategy of the enthymeme to covertly define the term with respect to heterosexual norms. Others, who see the dating site as an extension to their off-line lives, define the term against the backdrop of “the gay scene”. The interpretation of identity terms such as normal requires construing the positions taken up with respect to their imagining of the community, heteronormative masculinity and understandings of gay male sociality.
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Research into the lonely hearts print advertisement is not new. Published inquiries have largely focused on heterosexual advertisers. The suite of research that Coupland (1996) and others (Davis, 1990; Jagger, 1998, 2001; 2005; Koestner, & Wheeler, 1988; Marley, 2002, 2008) deliver key findings for linguists interested in the discursive constructions of texts of desire and the desiring and desired identities they contain. Coupland (1996) provides a benchmark for the analysis of the generic discourse architecture of the print lonely hearts ad that has been used in subsequent research conducted by her and others. The majority of research however has taken the heterosexual market place as its subject and seems to be confined to the print media. Non-heterosexual identities on the lonely hearts market has seen little focus on the research (Davidson, 1991; Gonzales & Meyers, 1993; Jones, 1997; Thorne & Coupland, 2000). These studies, however, tend to take a contrastive approach between populations of advertisers, or inquire into the impact of HIV/AIDS on the gay lonely heart. The internet 2.0 revolution too has seen the market migrate to online contexts. It seems that despite the presence of the lonely heart online and a cultural obsession with the possibilities of computer mediated romance, little research has been conducted in this context. Ellison, Heino and Gibbs (2006) provide an excellent analysis of the processes of identity management in online dating contexts. Their research with members of Connect.com breaks new ground in understanding interaction and interpretation in this emerging communication domain. Their analysis focuses on managing authenticity while creating an attractive identity and used interview techniques to understand the way participants interpret reference to identity features. This contrasts to the approach taken in this research, where discourse analysis of the texts of profiles allows us to see the self-positioning and identity management in the data.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Hegemonic masculinity: – the dominant masculine ideal of a given culture, a set of identity features which must include heterosexuality, and the dominant ethnicity of a particular cultural setting. The hegemonic nature of this ideal implies that the features of this masculine identity and the power it wields go uncontested by those who are dominated and devalued by it.

Heteronormativity: – the set of discourses and behaviours that validate the dominance of heterosexuality, and the privileging of masculinity.

Cotext: versus context – in the analysis of texts, cotext refers to linguistic material in the surrounding text. Context refers to information outside of the text, available to a reader through understanding of genre, situation, and world knowledge. In the structure of the enthymeme, for example, one premise is part of the cotext of a conclusion, while the suppressed premise is not in the text, but available in the context.

Positioning theory: – a method of analysis developed in psychology that examines discourse, usually oral interaction to find ways of understanding how identities are produced and performed for that interaction. It seeks to understand the roles interactants attribute to themselves and others, and how they react to the roles they are put in. The positioning of the self and the positioning of others can be revealed through the use of language – through word choice, metaphor and rhetorical strategy.

Homonormativity: – a subscription by gay identities to the dominant discourse of gender and sexuality, reproducing social behaviours, norms and beliefs of the heteronormativity particularly as a strategy that hopes to achieve the rights and responsibilities bestowed upon heterosexual identities; essentially the discourse argues that gay identities are no different to straight identities excepting the target of desire.

Enthymeme: – an enthymeme is a discursive or rhetorical strategy which resembles the three part logical form known as the syllogism. The difference is the suppression or omission of one of the premises upon which the conclusion is built. This premise however can be reconstructed from the discourse by the audience

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