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Coming Out as as Act in Itself


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In my my graduate course on Sociolinguistics, we were assigned to perform a micro analysis on a topic of our choosing using the methodology of our choosing. I chose the act of "coming out" and …

In my my graduate course on Sociolinguistics, we were assigned to perform a micro analysis on a topic of our choosing using the methodology of our choosing. I chose the act of "coming out" and conversation analysis to examine what was happening line by line in the dialogue.
While CA has been used to document "coming out" as a a live act before, it has never been in shown in such an isolated context where the only purpose for the interaction was the act of "coming out" itself. Maybe my analysis can reveal insights in the management of turn taking and negotiation through a heterosexist society that is at the heart of any "coming out."

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  • Ingraham, 2001, p. 73).
  •  “ Virtually all the talk on which the classic findings of conversation analysis (CA) are based is produced by heterosexuals, who reproduce in their talk a normative taken-for-granted heterosexual world. Whatever their internal sexual desires and fantasies, and however they might privately describe their own sexual orientations, the public identities they display in interaction are insistently heterosexual—and over the course of the interactions in which they are engaged, these co-conversationalists reflect and reproduce a profoundly heteronormative social order. Nowhere in the data sets on which CA is founded does anyone announce that they (or anyone else they know) is heterosexual or preface a turn with, “Speaking as a heterosexual ... ,” yet the heterosexuality of the interactants is continually made apparent” (Kitzinger, 2005, p. 222).   “ One interactional problem for LGBT people in heteronormative contexts may be a difficulty in making apparent their homosexuality in the service of some action in which they are engaged without having the revelation of their sexual identity treated by the recipient as the main action” (Kitzinger, 2005, p. 233). “ There is only one identifiably homosexual speaker in the data sets re- viewed here: a caller to the suicide prevention center in the data collected by Sacks. Although many of the suicide calls involve problems in heterosexual relationships (spousal deaths, divorces or abandonments), and although many callers make apparent that they are heterosexual, nobody calls the suicide line because they are heterosexual. Rather, heterosexuality in these calls, as elsewhere in the data corpora collectively, is a taken-for-granted backdrop. By contrast with these suicidal heterosexuals, the one suicidal homosexual caller presents his sexual orientation as the reason for the call. This speaker is alone in these data corpora in orienting to his talk as conveying information about his sexual orientation (i.e., he is speaking as a homosexual in a way that no heterosexual in these data is ever speaking as a heterosexual” (Kitzinger, 2005, p.254).   “ This research, then, lays some empirical groundwork for using CA to explore the relation between the casual disclosure of sexual identity by heterosexual people who are doing “nothing special” and the management issues attendant on disclosing a lesbian or gay identity—“the love that is famous for not daring to speak its name” (Sedgwick, 1993, p. 45). We can use the foundational discoveries of CA (turn taking, sequence organization, repair, etc.) to explore how sexual identities are interactionally managed, displayed, negotiated, and concealed” (Kitzinger, 2005, p. 258).
  • Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma. London: Penguin.] “ Those who must strategize whether and how to disclose potentially discrediting information in mixed contexts will have to be alive to aspects of the social situation that others treat as uncalculated and unattended. What are unthinking routines for normals can become management problems for the discreditable” (Goffman, 1963, p. 88).
  •   There is a choice in deciding whether or not to 'come out' to family, heterosexual friends, work colleagues, or others (Marlowe, 2002). "In choosing to come out or not, LGBTQ young people have to consider who to come out to and how to come out, as well as weighing up the perceived costs and benefits of doing so" (Clarke et al., 2010, p. 164). Found in Marlowe's study (2002), reasons given for not coming out were protecting others, lack of necessity to tell particular people, the possibility of negative attitudes, and overall a sense of feeling afraid. For whatever reasons, fear of rejection, fear of a violence reaction, fear of humiliation, fear of identity loss, fear of losing friends and family, etc., fear is, in most cases, why people choose to stay 'closeted.' In 'coming out,' this fear of the unknown, self-assumed negative response is ever present (Marlowe, 2002). While the question of why the subject of my analysis chose to 'come out' to his dad is not discussed nor relevant for my purposes, knowledge that fear could possibly play a part in the act of 'coming out' may be helpful in getting at a better understanding of the interaction.  
  • Here we see that the purpose for calling is a news announcement or reveal. As Kitzinger puts it, we can recognize these instances because “they begin with classic phrases (“pre- announcements,” Levinson, 1983) like ‘Mum, I’ve got something to tell you,’ or ‘Guess what?’
  • News announcement normatively makes relevant from the recipient an acknowledgement of news receipt and assessment of the information so conveyed. When ‘comings out’ are done as news announcement, then, they would make relevant assessments which can be anything from ‘Oh no! it’ll kill your father’ to ‘Oh, that’s wonderful, I’m so pleased for you’” (Kitzinger, 2000, p. 186). However, as we can see in line 40, that is not the case here. The only response from the Dad is ‘ok.’ Before we talk about the use of ‘ok’ in the dad’s response, let’s first look at what the son does next. Lines 42 through 51 show the son making a long speech. Here we can refer to this as a long TCU or turn constructional unit.
  • Turn constructional units (TCUs), whole sentences, phrases or sometimes just words, constituting a complete turn. Each speaker is initially entitled to just one of these at a time. It was Schegloff in 1982 that said a TCU is “designed to minimize turn size” (p.73). In the case of the marked TCU, speakers must work at maintaining them. Schegloff again tells us that these long or multiple TCUs should be seen as “achievements and accomplishments” (p.73). They have to be worked at; they don’t just happen. Kitzinger (2000) lists some of the techniques people use when they want to keep speaking for a long time: ‘ if/then’ sentence structures taking a big in-breath making a bid to tell a story (‘did you hear about the time when . . .) using a list launcher (‘four things . . .’) rushing through possible transition points (not pausing to take a breath between thought units)
  • However, if we look at this conversation, in the absence of these long TCU characteristics, I don’t think it can be known as to how hard the son is working to maintain the length of his TCU. It appears that he takes several out breaths and substantial pauses, which would allow the dad’s next turn. This makes it hard to say whether the son wants to make a long speech or, on the other had, just doesn’t want silence. That said, I think the case can be also be made when looking at LGBTG psychology that a long turn could perhaps keep away what the son would feel as the coming of a negative response (Marlowe, 2002).
  •   Beach’s research also studies how “okay” can be used as a transitional marker, begin a closing sequence, and project subsequent and fuller turns (Beach, 1995, p. 130). Yet, this is not the case. The “ok” used by the dad is neither a part of a fuller turn, nor is it transitional. Free-standing as the dad’s usages are, “ok” in this case seem to be simply a conformation of receipt. And while it is possible that the dad’s usage of “ok” could imply “affiliation/alignment (e.g., agreement) with the prior speaker’s utterance, in looking at the following turns, I would like to argue that the son does not receive it as such.
  • Qualitative work on coming out relies overwhelmingly on retrospective self-report: lesbians and gay men are asked, in interviews, to describe how they came out, and this is usually taken as a reflection of how their coming out was actually done. This naturalistic approach to ‘coming out’ stories treats interviewees as informants transparently revealing truths about themselves and their world – ‘telling it how it really was.’ Other work treats retrospective self-report as a form of sexual story telling and investigates them for their ‘narrative iconicity’ (Kitzinger, 2000, p. 181)   What does not exist in the lesbian and gay psychology literature is any study in which ‘coming out’ – the act of disclosure itself – is the primary data source, that is in which ‘coming out’ is actually captured as a live event. (Kitzinger, 2000, p. 181) This lead to Kitzinger’s own word with ‘coming out as a live act. However, Kitzinger makes a distinction between a couple ways to ‘come out’: as a news announcement or as an aside, “as a list item or as a passing or illustration of some other point altogether” (Kitzinger, 2000, p. 184). Admittedly, her own research only deals with the second of these two types. This data represents the more marked of the two, the news announcement. Taking a step further, while some of Kitzinger’s later work does present coming out as an announcement, she acknowledges it’s “mundane’ nature, made in support groups where it had already been established that the environment was safe and welcoming of LGBT peoples. This data possibly represents the first of it’s kind where CA is used to examine the live act of ‘coming out’ in a setting where the outcome of the announcement is unknown to the subject.
  • Transcript

    • 1. The Act of ‘Coming Out’ Talk-in-Interaction Live Matthew Barbee SLS 660: Sociolinguistics DAD &SON
    • 2. Heterosexism“Like whiteness in a white supremistsociety, hetero-sexuality is not onlysocially produced as dominant but is also taken-for-granted and universalizing.”Ingraham (2003).Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 3. Heterosexism Heterosexism—the privileging of heterosexuality as the only “normal,” “natural,” and taken-for-granted sexuality— underpins social policy across the world. Macro v (Kitzinger, 2005) s. Micro Nowhere in the data sets on which CA is founded does anyone announce that they (or anyone else they know) is heterosexual or preface a turn with, “Speaking as a heterosexual ... ,” yet the heterosexuality of the interactants is continually made apparent. (Kitzinger, 2005) Sacks’ data collected at a suicide prevention center as an example.When heterosexuals reveal their sexuality, it is “nothing special.” Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 4. The act of ‘Coming out’ “Those who must strategize whether and how to disclose potentially discreditinginformation will have to be alive to aspects of the social situation that others treat asuncalculated. What are unthinking routines for ‘normals’ can become management problems for others.”Goffman (1963).Stigma Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 5. The act of ‘Coming out’If we lived in a society in which same sex relationships were asacceptable, and positively valued and as normal as opposite sexrelationships, coming out . . .would not be an issue. Coming out -in the sense of coming to identify oneself and the disclosure of thisinformation to others - must be seen in the context of thediscrimination that lesbians and gay men [LGBT community]experience within a predominantly heterosexual society. (Marlowe, 2002) In coming out to others, categorization as LGBT may obscure otheridentities and become a dominant identity status that overshadowsall other identity possibilities in the eyes of others It’s a cho (Marlowe, 2002) ice! FE AR Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 6. Telling my dad that I am gay-LIVE. DVAgz6iyK6A Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 7. Transcript Lines 1 - 6 1-6: Summons and opening sequence. Orientation to the roles of father and son. 6: Dad refers to son as “bud,” shows recognition, familiarity, and perhaps fondness for the son. Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 8. Transcript Lines 7 - 21 7-12: Q&A sequence 1. Inquiry about the dad’s current situation with a request for clarification and eventual response from the dad. While this type of adjacency pair has been shown to be a pre-sequence to an invitation (Levinson, 1983), here it seems to act as a check as to whether this is a good time for the dad to take the call. 14-16: Q&A sequence 1 (recast). The son reposes the original question with more details, including “now.” 17-20: Q&A sequence 2. 7-21: Son establishes the dad’s situation, if it’s ok to talk to his dad at this time, if he’s alone. While the dad isn’t alone, the son must think the setting is appropriate for the purpose of this call. Son continues. Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 9. Transcript Lines 21 - 29 21-29: Son establishes the reason for calling, an announcement, signified here by a pre-announcement (Levinson, 1983). This sequence includes dad asking for clarification, son repeating original question, and dad confirming that the son can tell him something. Tell being stressed and slightly raised in pitch implies that what the son has to tell his dad is perceived by the son to possibly be shocking or surprising. (Celce-Murcia 2010) Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 10. Transcript Lines 30 - 36 30-36: Q&A sequence 3. The son hedges by posing and reposing a further question instead of fulfilling the purpose for calling, WHAT he wants to tell his dad. The question “will you love me period?” seeks absolute affirmation from the dad. The son then recasts the question to add the detail, “always.” In both cases the dad, responds with affirmation > “yes” and “always.” Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 11. Transcript Lines 37 - 53 37: After two deep breaths and two substantial pauses, the son finally announces what he wanted to tell his dad. The son must give a lot of weight to the revealing of this information. Perhaps he doesn’t know how his father will respond, if it will be received well or not. 39-40: After the longest pause thus far, the dad responds with the shortest response thus far, “ok,” the most common discourse marker (Beach, 1995). Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 12. Turn Constructional UnitsTCUs are whole sentences, phrases or sometimes justwords, constituting a complete turn. Each speaker is initiallyentitled to just one of these at a time.Schegloff (1982)Designed to minimize turn sizeLong TCUs should be seen as achievementsKitzinger (2000) lists some of the techniques people usewhen they want to keep speaking for a long time:‘If/then’ sentence structuresTaking a big in-breathMaking a bid to tell a story (‘did you hear about the time when . . .)Using a list launcher (‘four things . . .’)Rushing (not pausing to take a breath between thought units)
    • 13. Transcript Lines 37 - 53 40-51: The speech does several things: a) provides a history of his knowledge of his sexuality, b) gives a reason for why he is “coming out” at this time and over the phone, c) demonstrates a high level of hesitation, hedging evidenced by several pauses, deep breaths, and tone quality of his voice. The hedging may show that the son expects a negative response, or in the least, is uncertain of his dad’s reaction. 52-53: Again the dad, after an equally long pause as before, only responds with “ok.” Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 14. “OK” as a Free-Standing Receipt MarkerBeach, W. A. (1995)Recipients may rely on “okay" to show: Confirmation of receipt Affiliation, alignment, or agreementIn these ways ‘ok’ can and often does stand alone, adjacently placed and specifically designed to demonstrate recipients orientations to the topic and activities at hand” (Beach, 1995, p. 130).In this case. . .“okay” does not show agreement.
    • 15. Transcript Lines 54 - 67 54-58: Still uncertain of how the dad has received his “coming out,” the son seeks direct affirmation, repeating the same question as before the reveal, modified slightly. 57: The dad, after a short pause, provides strong positive confirmation using stress and repetition. The pause (4.1) would have been a natural place for the son to take a turn, but doesn’t for some reason. (shown again in line 63). 60: The son seeks repeated confirmation that the dad has received the announcement well. 62-66: End of affirmation sequence. Dad explicitly states that the reveal has changed nothing, using stress and repetition as shown before. Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 16. Significance of this data Lesbian and gay psychology has produced an enormous literature on ‘coming out’ to others as lesbian, gay, bisexual or as having (had) same-sex sexual experiences. (Kitzinger, 2000, p. 181) History of Qualitative work = Narratives and story telling “Coming out” as a live event wasn’t studied until Katzinger’s work in the 1990s: As an aside. As a news announcement in a safe environment or as a part of a larger purpose. As repair and error correction.. . . as an act in itself. Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 17. Conclusion Ironically, when isolated, the act of “coming out” looks like nothing morethan a heavily weighted announcement. And yet, so much more negotiation and management goes into it’s construction within the context of heterosexism. Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 18. Because I like happy endings. . . Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 19. ReferencesAtkinson, J. M., & Heritage, J. (Eds.). (1984). Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Beach, W. A. (1995). Conversation analysis: "Okay" as a clue for understanding consequentiality. In SJ Sigman (ed.). The consequentiality of communication. (pp.121-162). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc, Inc.Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. M., & Goodwin, J. M. (2010). Prominence and intonation in discourse. In M. Celce-Murcia, D. M. Brinton, & J. M. Goodwin (Eds.), Teaching Pronunciation: A course book and reference guide (pp. 221-272). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma. London: Penguin. Ingraham, C. (2001). Heterosexuality: It’s just not natural. In D. Richardson & S. Seidman (Eds.), Handbook of lesbian and gay studies (pp. 73–82). London: Sage.Kitzinger, C. (2000). Doing feminist conversation analysis. Feminism & Psychology, 10, 163–193.Kitzinger, C. (2005) Speaking as a heterosexual: (How) does sexuality matter for talk-in-interaction. Research on language and social interaction, 38 (3). pp. 221-265.Land, V., & Kitzinger, C. (2005). Speaking as a lesbian: Correcting the heterosexist presumption.Research on Language and Social Interaction, 38, 371–416.Levinson, S. C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Marlowe, L. A. (2002). Coming out as lesbian. In A. Coyle & C. Kitzinger (Eds.), Lesbian and gay psychology: New perspectives (pp. 63-80). Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd.Schegloff, E. A. (1982). Discourse as an interactional achievement: Some uses of ‘uhhuh’ and other things that come between sentences. In D. Tannen (Ed.), Analyzing Discourse: Text and Talk. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Telling my dad that I am gay-LIVE. [ONLINE VIDEO]. (2011). Retrieved from Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 20. Transcription conventions Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]
    • 21. QUESTIONS Matthew Barbee [ SLS 660 ]