Gay and Lesbian Studies: Why Do I Choose?

Dr. Wisnu Adihartono

To be honest, I am always a bit confused when many Indonesians ask me what you studied in France while you were studying your doctorate. I said that my areas of specialization were gender studies, migration studies, family studies, and Southeast Asian studies. But there is one specificity that I have paid attention to, namely gay studies. Then many Indonesians ask me what did you learn in gay studies?

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer studies are separate but related fields of cultural inquiry that attempt to establish the analytical centrality of gender and sexuality within a particular area of investigation. Significant works in the field of gay, lesbian, and queer studies have been undertaken in a variety of disciplines, such as philosophy, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, classics, law, government, art, literature, popular culture, family, and education. While related, gay, lesbian, and queer studies define separate areas of inquiry, marked by different assumptions made about the connections between gender and sexuality. Very broadly defined, gay studies examines sexual difference as it is applicable to the male gender, lesbian studies examines sexual difference as it is applicable to the female gender, while queer studies examines sexual difference separate from gender altogether (Kaczorowski, 2015).

Just as the civil rights movement to some extent spawned the interdisciplinary field of African-American studies and the rise of feminism produced women’s studies, the field of inquiry known as  gay and lesbian studies emerged from the gay liberation movement. Gay and lesbian studies have existed, in any organized form, only since the late 1970s. With the advent of the gay liberation movement gay men, lesbians, and their allies began openly and self-consciously studying themselves and how they were represented in history and culture, which led them to inquire how gender and sexual orientations have been, and are, constructed and conceptualized (Kaczorowski, 2015).

The Focus of Gay and Lesbian Studies

Research in gay and lesbian studies has focused attention on the importance of historical and cultural factors in situating gender and sexual orientation. Gender difference refers to the spectrum of meaning defined by the binary terms “man/woman,” while sexual difference refers to those defined by the binary terms “heterosexual/homosexual.” Gay and lesbian studies studies investigates the kinds of social structures and constructs that define ideas about sexuality expressive acts and sexuality as an identity. Gay and lesbian studies investigate how various cultures, or various periods of time, have enforced ideas about what kinds of sexuality are “normal” and which are “abnormal,” which are “moral” and which are “immoral.”  Gay and lesbian studies attempt to understand how these categories of “normal” and “deviant” are constructed, how they operate, and how they are enforced, in order to change or end them (Kaczorowski, 2015).

Why Do I Choose Gay and Lesbian Studies?

Lesbians and gays have all experienced the discrimination and persecution that stem from living in a heterosexist society. But aside from this, there are many areas in which lesbians and gays are likely to differ in experience and thinking (Auchmuty, Jeffreys & Miller, 1992). Analysis is very much bound up with aims, why do we choose to study lesbian/gay studies? Among the many possible answers, the following are surely relevant (1) because we want to learn about the experiences of all people, especially those left out of traditional accounts, including lesbians and gays, (2) because we want to understand the social structures and dynamics that motivate dominant groups and shape the lives of minority groups like lesbians and gays, (3) because we want access to our own history, as a source of pride and continuity, and to place ourselves in the world, and (4) because we want to discover models of people and movements to emulate or reject, as a basis for our own efforts to change things (Auchmuty, Jeffreys & Miller, 1992).

The aims of the gay studies are much simpler. By and large, it is concerned to persuade straight society that gay men are as “normal” and “harmless” as heterosexuals. Gay activists want the right to live as freely and openly as straight people, to have equality in law and to be able to indulge their sexual practices without sanction. Gays are clearly critical of compulsory heterosexuality, but not because it oppresses women. They have no reason to criticize any other institutions of patriarchy since these work to their benefit (Auchmuty, Jeffreys & Miller, 1992).


Abelove, Henry, Michèle Aina Barale&David M. Halperin, eds. (1993). The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, New York: Routledge

Auchmuty, Rosemary, Sheila Jeffreys&Elaine Miller. (1992). “Lesbian history and gay studies: keeping a feminist perspective”, in Women’s History Review, 1:1, 89-108

de Lauretis, Teresa. (1991). “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities”, in Difference: A Journal of Feminist Critical Studies 3:2, iii-xviii.

Kaczorowski, Craig. (2015). Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Studies, in

Profile of the Author:

Dr. Wisnu Adihartono
He received his Ph.D in sociology (gender (gay and lesbian studies), sociology of migration, sociology of the family and Southeast Asian studies) from École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), France. He wrote some articles for the journals, book reviews and short articles for the website. He is an author of the book Migration et Soutien Familial: Le Cas des Gays Indonésiens à Paris (French version only). You can contact him at If you want to see and to read his academic papers, etc. you can Google his name: Wisnu Adihartono or Adihartono Wisnu. Now he lives in Jakarta, Indonesia.