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Inequalities of the heart: the performance of emotion work by lesbian and bisexual women in London, England

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The institutionalization of heterosexuality in, for example, the law, religion and marriage, regulates the expression of emotions and feelings between men and women. Based on sex and gender, it provides guidelines about emotional behaviour in everyday interactions in everyday places. Adherence to these guidelines supports and maintains the dominance and 'naturalness' of heterosexuality. In this paper I utilize the concepts of socially constructed emotions, feeling rules, emotion work, performativity and space to argue that the institutionalization of heterosexuality and its regulation of emotional behaviour creates and perpetuates spatial inequalities between sexualized groups at an emotional level. My argument is illustrated by drawing on my doctoral research based on a sample of lesbian and bisexual women who lived, worked/studied and socialized in London, England, and on an examination of their emotional experiences of sexualized spaces. I argue that the 'spatial supremacy of heterosexuality' ( Valentine 1993a ) is supported by the performance of emotion work by sexual minority groups including lesbian and bisexual women in everyday places to the extent that this supremacy is naturalized. In other words, the performance of emotion work is a key feature of performing sexuality and crucial to the construction of sexualized spaces, but paradoxically contributes to the invisibility of minority sexualities in everyday places. By considering women's emotional experiences of places on London's lesbian, gay and bisexual social scene, I also highlight how emotion work is performed while asserting sexual diversity in alternatively sexualized spaces, and is central to the performance of racialized sexualities in racially sexualized spaces.

Keywords: 'race'; emotion work; emotions; feeling rules; sexuality; space

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Independent

Publication date: December 1, 2004

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