This thesis attempts to develop the insights of recent work on identity that has been influenced by poststructuralist theory, and in particular 'queer theory', through an empirical study of the social construction of lesbian genders. I examine sociological work on sexuality, queer theory and feminist work on butch/femme. Lesbian identities are constructed at the intersection of specific discourses, structures and conscious agency. There is a lack of sociological element in queer theory but I am interested in the potential for developing this despite the epistemological difficulties it raises. Queer theory has\ud enabled a radically different way of theorising butch/femme as transgressive queer practice with the potential to reveal the constructed and contingent nature of all gender.\ud \ud The study has involved semi-structured interviews with 31 women who have various degrees of identification with either `butch' or `femme'. I identify particular `interpretative repertoires' in identity narratives and examine the ways in which these are socially located. These findings are used to contest the assertion that community\ud understandings of identities differ radically from the constructionism that is the dominant theoretical paradigm. I outline the construction of specific contemporary butch and femme subject positions and the ways in which these are discursively located in relation to heteronormative discourses. Queer theory offers a way of understanding butch and femme as specific lesbian genders and I argue that the relationship between butch/femme and heterosexuality should be seen as interdependent rather than imitative. The ways in which dominant beauty discourses are negotiated and the possibility of constructing a specifically lesbian aesthetic is examined. I argue that lesbian genders can be subversive of the `heterosexual imaginary' but that this is context dependen
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