Lesbiennes de l’immigration. Construction de soi et relations familiales
Editions du Croquant, 2018
The condition of North African origin women is rarely evoked outside of heterosexuality. Addressing the issue of Maghrebi origin lesbians allows us to engage with a category in all its diversity, often reduced to a classic scheme of domination and submission to men and heterosexuality. How do social relations of gender, race, and class influence the social construction of lesbianism? The author goes beyond analyses based on binary confrontations and proposes a reflection based on the complexity of gendered social relations, particularly in the context of North African immigration. Documenting the aforementioned complexity through several interview excerpts, she makes space for the women, far from fantasy.
Based on a life story survey of twenty-one lesbians and a field observation (supported by thirty-one informal interviews), this book aims to report on the social construction of lesbianism in the context of intersectionality of social relations of gender, class, race, and sexuality. Its main purpose is the analysis of “lesbian career” and family relationships through the study of cross-paths as women of North African descent and as lesbians. What is the process by which these women construct lesbian pathways in a migratory and post-migration context? The main research hypothesis is based on the idea that these lesbians act on two fronts: that of self-construction on the one hand, and the management of their family relationships, which they often try to preserve somewhere else. This research is the first of its kind engaging with the issue of lesbianism in Maghrebi immigration in France. It proposes an enabling analysis to update the mechanisms of oppression and resistance strategies of women who undergo multiple dominations.
The results of the research allow us to assert that in the face of socio-familial heteronormative constraints, many North African lesbians and of Maghrebi descent prefer filial and family loyalties while continuing to live their lesbian affective and sexual lives. They thus push back the family expectations of heterosexual marriage and maternity by making themselves available to the various domestic and administrative tasks of their parents. By studying in detail the different educational and academic backgrounds of the respondents, this work reveals links between self-construction as lesbians and certain choices of school and university orientation. Indeed, the choice of sectors and places of study is indicative of the desire of the majority of these lesbians to permanently associate both geographical distance and relational proximity. Thus, by choosing to study the Arabic language and Islamic studies in places far from their parents, they make the choice of individual autonomy while showing an interest in parental culture. Access to higher socio-professional positions than parents also allows for financial and residential autonomy that makes lesbian relationships possible.
The analysis of the relations of the respondents in terms of gender, that is to say as girls / women within their families, allows to better understand their social and family behavior in terms of sexuality, that is to say as lesbians. Thus, from the awareness of their homosexual orientation to the various future projections of lesbian conjugality and parenthood, lesbian careers are marked by a number of obstacles. The constraint to heterosexuality is accentuated by religious and family pressures related to the social expectations of heterosexual marriage and maternity. In these conditions, the leeway of lesbians depends on several criteria: age, social class, socio-family environment, relationship to religion and the degree of financial and residential autonomy. Some lesbians therefore decide to move away from the parental home for professional reasons or to pursue their higher studies taking advantage of this geographical distance to live an affective and sexual lesbian life. Others find themselves faced with the obligation to first go through the heterosexual marriage (real or convenience with a Maghrebi gay man) and sometimes maternity to meet family expectations before divorce and start a “second life” as lesbian with more serenity.
Finally, the analysis of the majority of life stories shows “parallel lives” between self-building as lesbians and the management of family relationships – especially parenting. Thus, apart from a few exceptions of outing or coming-out to family that resulted in family breakdowns, all lesbians encountered during this survey chose not to display their lesbianism in certain areas (close and extended family, school, neighborhood and the medias). They continue to be closely attached to their parents. This does not preclude alternative forms of coming out as the everyday expressions of their homosexuality or the use of “strategic lies” as presenting the lesbian partner as their roommate. These lesbian careers are built either on family breakdowns or unstable equilibrium between lesbian lives on the one hand and family relationships on the other.
Lesbiennes de l’immigration offers an analysis of diverse aspects such as the process of constructing lesbian pathways with experiences of coming-out, couple life and motherhood, and the relationships that lesbians have with their families and religion. Beyond the norms of “sexual modernity” and heterosexual norms, we can ask, are lesbian immigrants re-inventing new ways of being post-migrant lesbians?
Salima Amari holds a doctorate in sociology from Paris 8 University. She is a member of the Center for Sociological and Political Research in Paris (CRESPPA-GTM) and Assistant Professor at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
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