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Creak in Context
The distributional analysis of creaky voice in the preceding section provides two important pieces of information about Igal’s use of the feature. First, it indicates that creaky voice carries social and/or interactional meaning for Igal. This is demonstrated by the fact that Igal’s use of creak cannot be modeled by internal linguistic factors alone. Rather, the variation we find in the use of creak across topic categories can be taken as evidence that creak has a specific socioindexical value for Igal in this conversation. The second piece of information that the distributional analysis provides is that this socioindexical value is in some way related to Igal’s understanding of the intersection of sexuality and religion. This is apparent in that talk on this topic features proportionally more creaky voice overall and more creak in linguistically unexpected contexts (i.e., IP nonfinally and without other glottal elements in the syllable) than talk on other topics does. What the distributional analysis cannot tell us, however, is what precisely the socioindexical value of creaky voice is, or what sociolinguistic move Igal is using it to make. Answering these questions requires a close qualitative analysis of creaky voice “in action" which is what I aim to do in this section.
As I have already noted, the stylistic distribution of creaky voice across the interview indicates that the feature carries particular meaning for Igal in discussions of the intersection of sexuality and religion. I therefore begin my examination by looking at the orientations that Igal adopts with respect to Orthodox Judaism and same-sex desire separately, before turning to discussions of how the two interact. Aside from a couple of very brief introductory comments about how he “grew up in an Orthodox household” and “went to an Orthodox primary school” Igal never explicitly describes his faith or his relationship with Judaism in the interview. His orientation to religion is nevertheless implicit in his discussion of other major events in his life, most notably the story of his marriage to his wife of seventeen years. This story, which appears in (1), was volunteered by Igal toward the beginning of the interview in the course of providing a chronological history of his life and was not offered in response to any specific question on my part. Boldface and underlined text represent best approximations in the English translation of where creaky voice occurs in the original Hebrew.5
(1) “time to get married”
Igal: A:::nd I finished my BA. And I decided that it’s necessary, that the time had come to get married. So I started going out with women. People introduced me to women. Friends. Family. From here from there. Would go out with women (Heb. haja jotse im baxurot). Sometimes I didn’t like her sometimes she didn’t like me. Once it’s one thing, the next time it’s another. e:m I have no idea how many women I went out with. And I hated it. I hated that whole period.
You need to show yourself off and to sell yourself. e::::
EL: When was this? When you were in=
Igal: =24. I was 24. I finished my BA and said OK I have some time now to do this. e:m in the end I met- also there never really was this feeling of (1) yes this will work or no this won’t work. You you (.) it’s like with a man that you (.) you weigh all sorts of things. He looks good, he’s smart, intelligent, he’s interesting. He’s serious. e:: if there’s a chance or there isn’t a chance. A::nd fine so at the end of the day I met someone (Heb. misehi) and. We went out for three months and then we got engaged. And three months later we got married. And a year after that the eldest son was born, who’s already 15 years old now. e a year and a half after him the second son was born. A::nd (.) that’s it.
Igal introduces the topic of marriage by describing it as a necessary step in the progression of his life (the time had come to get married). He goes on to recount in a straightforward and generally affectless fashion how, after obtaining his undergraduate degree, he therefore began to go out with women to whom he was introduced by his friends and family. Igal’s description of these events is succinct and told in a detached narrative voice. He summarizes this period of his life with the phrase haja jotse im baxurot (‘would go out with women’), employing the third-person singular past habitual form haja jotse (‘he would go out’) rather than the first person hajiti jotse (‘I would go out’), in effect positioning himself as an external character in the story. He goes on to describe the transactional nature of these meetings, where you weigh all sorts of things . . . [to see] if there’s a chance or there isn’t a chance. Interestingly, he explains the terms of these transactions through analogy to romantic encounters with men, where a generic “you” determines whether the man in question matches the various criteria that have been set. Igal finishes the story by stating that, in the end, he met a woman (using the feminine form of the Hebrew word for “someone”), and moved quickly through dating to engagement to marriage to children. And that’s it.
Save the passing analogy to same-sex romance, Igal’s story is a fairly standard description of courtship and marriage within Orthodox Jewish communities, where marriage is something that is entered into relatively quickly, normally as early as possible and with the help of parents and friends who act as formal (or semiformal) matchmakers, and with the express purpose of having children very soon thereafter (Safir 1991; Lavee & Katz 2003). Igal does not, however, present his own story as a specifically Orthodox one or contrast it to other possible life trajectories. The analogy that he makes with same-sex romance (it’s like with a man) can actually be seen as a way to try to normalize his own experiences and render them comparable with the experiences of others (including, perhaps, me, the non-Orthodox gay man he was talking to). In the end, the events surrounding Igal’s marriage are presented as necessary and inevitable—things that had to happen once he had the time for them. I would argue that by backgrounding Orthodox conceptualizations of marriage and family in this way, Igal’s telling of this story serves to express an implicit orientation to the valuative framework of Orthodox Judaism. I suggest, moreover, that this orientation is characterized by a resigned acceptance of the expectations and obligations incumbent in Orthodox life, including, notably, those associated with marriage and family. Given my argument in this regard, it is perhaps interesting to note that there are eighteen tokens of creaky voice, which Laver (1994) has argued can serve to signal a stance of “bored resignation,” clustered toward the end of Igal’s story. It is unclear, however, whether these tokens function as acts of interactional stance-taking given that they all occur either IP-finally or in syllables that (in Hebrew) contain other glottal segments. It could therefore be the case that the appearance of creaky voice here is entirely determined by linguistic factors, and that the co-occurrence of creak with what I argue is a more general stance of “resigned acceptance” is coincidental. This possibility notwithstanding, the story in (1) is nevertheless useful in illustrating Igal’s alignment to the principles and practices of Orthodox Judaism, an alignment that engenders no emotion or affect on Igal’s part and is instead presented as an unquestioned and fundamental component of his subjectivity.
Immediately following this story, Igal segues into a new narrative about his first experience of same-sex desire. This narrative is presented in (2).
(2) “apparently I’m in love with him”
I:: (1) all this time nothing was clear to me about e (1) who I am or what I want or or (.) what it even means to be gay. e:::: and there
wasn’t any way to check it out or t- to ask anybody. u::m but e around around age thirty:: (2) there were two things. I went to to (.) abroad to (.) I went to study a language and and (.) there I met a man. We became really good friends. There was never anything between us. And only on the last day the day before the last day ((in English)) it dawned on me that that (.) that apparently I was in love with him. And and that there was something more there. And then uh I was already lying in bed, I couldn’t fall asleep, I called him to me and (1) for an hour tentatively and circling around it and here and there tell me are you are you (.) straight o:r (.) not? So he said he didn’t know a:nd. And that he had had experiences with men.
And that’s it, it ended at that. e he was the first person I had ever even talked to about it.
Igal begins by stating that throughout his engagement and the first five years of his marriage, he did not know who I am or what I want or or (.) what it even means to be gay. He continues by describing how this all changed when he went abroad, where he met a man and soon after discovered that he was in love with him. Unlike the story of his marriage, Igal provides a detailed recounting of the specific events in question, describing lying in bed unable to sleep until he finally musters the courage to ask the man directly whether he is straight o:r (.) not. And while nothing physical or romantic comes out of this exchange, it is clear from Igal’s telling that this was a turning point in his life, the first time that he had ever even talked about it.
In comparison with the unproblematic and inevitable character of the events in (1), the story in (2) reveals a much more personal and conflicted relationship with same-sex desire. From the very start, Igal expresses ignorance about what it means to be gay, implicitly indicating an orientation to that category without necessarily knowing what that orientation entails. This ignorance is juxtaposed with Igal’s subsequent realization that he was in love, and that there was something more there. This “something” is presented as both deeply subjective and demanding to be shared (I couldn’t sleep, I called him to me), in stark contrast with his realization six years prior that the time had come to get married. What I would argue emerges from the story in (2), then, is an orientation to same-sex desire that is much more affectively loaded than the orientation to Orthodox Judaism was in (1). It is, for example, telling that the concept of love appears nowhere in Igal’s description of his married family life, whereas it is through being in love that Igal’s orientation to gayness is realized. That said, it is I think equally important that Igal’s realization of same-sex desire does not actually involve his engaging in any same-sex acts, sexual or otherwise. In his story, Igal never tells his friend that he is in love with him, and clearly states that after asking his friend whether he was straight or not, it ended at that. In other words, Igal’s portrays his sexuality in a way that does not explicitly conflict with his commitment to Orthodox Judaism, allowing him to express affiliations with both of these otherwise contradictory identifications simultaneously.
From a linguistic perspective, the story in (2) is the first time that we encounter instances of creaky voice in Igal’s speech that cannot be accounted for by properties of the linguistic context. Both of these occurrences (that there was something more there, when Igal realizes that he is in love with a man, and tell me are you are you, when he voices his former self uttering those words to the man in question) are located at moments in the narrative when Igal’s personal affiliation with same-sex desire is the most heightened and, conversely, his orientation to Orthodox Judaism the most threatened. Crucially, it is not the case that we find creak appearing whenever Igal expresses an identification with homosexuality. The beginning of the narrative, for example, is the first (and only) time that Igal explicitly orients to the category gay, and yet there is no evidence that he is using creaky voice stylistically there. Instead, we only find stylistic creak employed when the conflict between same-sex desire and Orthodox Judaism is emphasized, and Igal’s affiliation with the former threatens to contravene his obligations to the latter. I would argue, therefore, that in these instances creaky voice functions as a stance-taking device. Specifically, I suggest that Igal uses creaky voice to adopt a deontic stance (Shoaps 2004, 2009), through which he acknowledges his moral responsibilities to the values of Orthodox Judaism despite his orientation to same-sex desire. According to Shoaps, acts of deontic stance-taking provide speakers with a mechanism for positioning themselves with respect to a set of moral rules and obligations and, from that position, to evaluate the people and activities described in speech. Here, I claim that Igal uses creak to adopt a deontic stance that positions himself within the valuative system of Orthodox Judaism and therefore to evaluate with ambivalence his expressed identification with same-sex desire. I believe that it is through this act of stance-taking that Igal manages to contain his affective connection with homosexuality in favor of a discursively privileged identification with Orthodox Judaism (cf. McIntosh 2009).
Further support for my assertion that creaky voice functions as a deontic stance-taking device can be found at points in the interview where Igal explicitly alludes to the conflict between his religion and his sexuality. In the extract in (3), Igal recounts a somewhat lengthy narrative about meeting the man who he describes as the biggest love of his life. This extract appears as one of a sequence of short narratives about the different sexual and romantic relationships that Igal had had over the past ten years.
(3) “the biggest love of my life”
And then e:: someone approached me who had already approached
me a year earlier and I had said no no (.) that I wasn’t interested.
e:: because (1) I didn’t even know who he was and he wasn’t attractive and. I told him that he was embarrassing me and that was the end of the story. A year later he tried again. And somehow we got into a conversation. And even though we were (.) complete opposites. He came a few times to Jerusalem and we talked and we talked and we talked and we talked. A:::nd that’s it. And then I went to him in Tel Aviv. And we slept together. And slowly something that he thought would just be this fun summer romance for him (.) e: turned into love that for me was the biggest love of my life. L never loved like I loved him. I guess I’d never truly loved anyone until I loved him. And also for him it was (2) things got a lot more complicated than he thought they would be. e:: uh u:::h I don’t know how t- t- to explain it. I was really in love. And and (.) I I (.) for him I was ready e (1) I fought with my wife and (.) I would go stay at his sometimes and stay over the night and come back the next day. Which I had never done before. e::: but from his point of view after a few months it became intolerable. Because he wanted, he said that he couldn’t be satisfied with once a week. And with all the patience, with all of that. And and he wanted me to come and live with him. And I said that there’s no chance. We both knew the restrictions on our relationship from the beginning. And that I had no intention of breaking up my marriage for something unknown. e:: (1) that’s it. it it. He said let’s stop then and I said no I don’t want to stop I love you and and. No it’ll be harder later, I said what do you care? I’m a big boy. And I want to stay, if it’ll hurt more then it’ll hurt more but as long as I can stay with you I want to stay with you. So we had about two arguments like that. And each time we stayed together a bit longer. And in the end we were together for seven months. e it was exactly at the end of de- December two years ago that we split up. e and I was ((in English)) devastated.
There are four clearly stylistic uses of creaky voice in (3). The first occurs when Igal states that he had never loved anyone like he loved the man in the story. In the context of the rest of the interview, this statement is unusual for its transparent emotional honesty. It also contrasts with Igal’s descriptions of his feelings toward other men he had been with, which are always portrayed sardonically and dismissively. Here, though, Igal expresses a deeply held affective commitment to this man, a commitment we are given to understand he has never felt before (including, presumably, for his wife). The second instance of creaky voice then occurs when Igal reports that the other man felt the same way about him. Again, this statement is unique in the context of the rest of the interview as it is the only time that Igal describes reciprocal feelings of love and affection. Finally, the last two stylistic uses of creaky voice appear when Igal describes the eventual dissolution of the relationship. This dissolution is brought about the fact that the other man couldn’t be satisfied with once a week, essentially disrupting the balance that Igal had achieved between his sexual and familial (i.e., Jewish) identifications. Yet despite the potential hazard that the relationship posed to Igal’s family life (exemplified most concretely by his arguing with his wife), the two manage to stay together a bit longer until, eventually, the relationship ends. These four instances of creak, then, occur at four pivotal moments in the story, moments when Igal’s same-sex desires threaten to exceed the space that he has allotted for them in his life. Elsewhere, this space is characterized by a lack of deep emotion and a set of very specific rules about what is possible (e.g., sex and fun) and what is not (e.g., spending the night). I therefore argue that, once again, Igal uses creaky voice at these moments as a way of (re)grounding himself within an Orthodox Jewish frame, from which he evaluates with ambivalence the acts and emotions he describes.
Finally, there are two instances in the interview in which Igal explicitly discusses the conflict between sexuality and religion, both of which contain telling examples of creaky voice. The first, extracted in (4), comes at the end of a lengthy discussion about lesbian and gay rights in Israel, during which Igal expresses the view popular among many Israelis (see Levon 2010) that there have been huge advances in this area over the past ten to fifteen years such that lesbians and gays are almost fully enfranchised in the Israeli context.
(4) “I also pay a heavy price”
but e:: absurdly this makes things harder for people who who who are in a situation like m- (.) my situation. e: I don’t envy a a person who (.) who is married today and who needs to decide (.) a religious guy and he needs to decide what to do. eu let’s say that he decides that he wants to live with a man or for the moment to live like a gay man (Heb. ki homo). And he ruins his life because becau:::se. e he goes into a place that there’s no coming back from afterwards.
It’s really hard to disconnect from this later and (.) and e (.) to to to build a family and to get married and all that. So I’m happy that I got into it (.) e without knowing and and and I’m not alone. I also pay a heavy price but but e:. I think that it’s worth it.
In the extract in (4), Igal describes how, in his opinion, the more generalized acceptance of lesbians and gays in Israeli society today makes life more difficult for people who are in a situation like m- (.) my situation. Though not explicitly articulated as such, I would argue that (4) can be taken as an example of what Ochs & Capps (2001) term side-shadowing, or narrative episodes in which narrators present a hypothetical series of events that could have happened had some earlier decision been made differently. For Igal, I suggest that what he is doing in (4) is describing the kind of life he could have led had he been born at a later time or made different choices. In terms of creaky voice, we find that it occurs in three places. The first is when Igal describes his own
“situation" directly admitting that it is a conflicted one. The second then occurs when he articulates the source of that conflict, namely, a desire to live with a man or for the moment to live like a gay man. The final instance of creak appears when Igal states that he pay[s] a heavy price for the choices he has made. In all three occurrences, the use of creaky voice coincides with an ambivalent self-positioning on Igal’s part, an evaluation of his own same-sex desires as something that cause significant strain but that he is nevertheless unwilling to give up. I would thus argue that, as before, creaky voice allows Igal to adopt a deontic stance of upholding Orthodox Jewish values even as he acknowledges an affiliation with same-sex desire that contradicts those same values.
The final extract I consider occurred immediately after Igal’s comments in (4). Responding to his statements regarding how difficult it would be to be accepted in an Orthodox context after having lived a “gay life” previously, I wanted to ask Igal about whether there are any overt discussions of homosexuality within Orthodox communities. Igal, however, interprets the beginning of my question differently, and interrupts me to comment on how men in his position negotiate the biblical prohibition on same-sex sex (i.e., Leviticus, ch. 18).
(5) “nowhere is it written”
EL: I wanted to ask a few questions about within the Orthodox community, e like=
Igal: = look (.) in the beginning (2) it’s it really bothered me. Later you come to understand that (1) e (.) as long as you don’t get into having anal relations e (.) then you haven’t really done anything worse than than masturbation. And that’s fine. You’ve done it before, you’ll do it again. If you find someone that you’re happy with, fine. Nowhere is it written that you’re not allowed to love a man or to hug him or to kiss him or to caress him. (1) e:: the the the: the other issue is much more problematic and. So some of the religious people (Heb. ha-dati’im) e (.) stop here. And say that I’m not going to do. And some of them (1) e everyone has (.) some some kind of different excuse some kind of different story (.) gets over it and says. OK. e: I don’t care so I’ll I’ll get my punishment in the next world or I’ll deal with it or it’s not relevant to me and so on and so on and so on. And and this too passes.
Compared to standard Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law (Heb. halaxa), Igal’s comments in (5) about what is and what is not permissible are relatively progressive (see Halbertal & Koren 2006). Igal, for example, argues that as long as individuals do not engage in anal sex, no biblical proscriptions have been breached. This contrasts with most Orthodox rabbinic commentary on the subject, which claims that all forms of sexual contact between men (including masturbation) are forbidden. Similarly, Igal argues that nowhere in the Bible is it written that men are not allowed to love one another, or to hug, kiss, or caress one another. While this is technically true, both traditional and modern interpretations of halaxa consider all these acts to be nonpermissible. Finally, when discussing engaging in behavior (like anal sex) that is clearly disallowed by Jewish law, Igal suggests that there are ways to get over it, by, for example, accepting the fact that a punishment will be forthcoming in the afterlife. The sort of personal and transactional relationship with God and divine law described by Igal here (i.e., “I’ll pay for it later”) stands in stark opposition to standard Orthodox beliefs about the necessity of “integrating biblical and rabbinic imperatives with internal experience” (Halbertal & Koren 2006: 44), such that one’s commitment to Judaism is expressed not (only) by individual faith but by daily obedience to communally shared commandments (Heb. mitsvot).When looking at the distribution of creaky voice across Igal’s comments in (5), we find that creak appears whenever Igal offers a reinterpretation of normative Orthodox beliefs. Creak is used, for example, when Igal claims that loving and hugging and kissing a man are permissible, and it is also used when he suggests that even if one engages in anal sex, punishment for that act can be postponed. As I have argued earlier, I therefore suggest that Igal’s use of creak in (5) is an act of deontic stance-taking through which he reaffirms his positioning within the valuative framework of Orthodox Judaism even while the content of his talk troubles that positioning.