We tend to think that our identity is something which emerges from the inside – but according to social constructionist accounts, in fact we build our sense of identity by drawing on the narratives that we encounter in our families and in wider society. Each of us is born into a pre-existing web of narratives about life – identity – and none of us begin with a blank sheet of paper.There are ‘approved’ narratives – how to be a ‘proper’ man, or woman – that we all position ourselves alongside them, but even if we reject them, they still exert great influence over us and how we think about ourselves.Without these narratives our lives would consist of random events: human beings are meaning-making machines – we craft these events into stories - something we do naturally all the time – e.g. what’s your story of how you travelled here today? And what’s the current story that describes how you’ve become the person you feel yourself to be today?
Social constructionism challenges our typical views that our ‘real’ ‘inner’ selves are private, inherent part of who we are. Instead, we are seen as being shaped by the narratives that surround us. We may resist them, or work to change them, but they exert huge influence over our ‘private’ narratives too.
What were the narratives about same-sex attraction that I could draw on as an 18 year old?Margaret Thatcher; Mary Whitehouse; ALEX Carrington (Dynasty) – ambiguousMostly negative – very few positive stories (or in fact none that I can remember) – I didn’t know anyone who was gay – ‘official’ line was negative and pathologising – HIV and AIDS were still to emerge, and that of course led to more negative narratives about gay sexuality – So inevitably, I internalised strongly negative thoughts about my own sexual feelings – I knew that I most definitely did NOT want to be gay!And who can blame me? With a lack of positive narratives to draw on, I failed to create one for myself – that would come many years later.
Obviously things have changed enormously since then!And yet…
So against this basic narrative, people who begin to realise that they do not share the same feelings begin the process of having to swim against the current of heteronormative narratives, and possibly against the gender expectations
And of course some are stronger swimmers than others: some may be very good at swimming upstream so to speak – others less so, and in some cases where the currents are very strong, it may actually be impossible to swim against them.At universities, we bring together students from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds – some with more liberal narratives of identity, others with much more rigid ones. It would be wrong to assume that sexual orientation or gender issues are problematic for all sexual minority students – but equally it would be wrong to assume that they are not.
The words we use, the way we think of others/ourselves is constantly evolving – there is an interesting debate going on about what is the ESSENTIAL quality of being a man or a woman – which, depending on your point of view, can be incredibly hard to articulate!So narratives are SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED ways of defining and limiting experience. In a sense they are all ‘fictions’ because none of them is ever quite enough to capture all of our own lived experience – so ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘straight’ ‘bisexual’ – all capture something – but not everything that is important about us.
…or lesbians, or bisexuals, or transgendered people……or heterosexuals…The narratives did not exist……and individuals did not think of themselves as being defined by their sexual behaviour/attractionSexuality did not equal identity
When I was at Uni, the narrative about ‘being gay’ was only just beginning to gain some acceptance or understanding in wider society.What is the impact on individuals of societal narratives about ‘being gay’ or ‘being transgendered’?What are those narratives?
If you had a son or daughter who was lgbt or q, how sure are you that the university that you work for would give them a warm welcome, that it would celebrate their identity in the same way that – for example – students from faith communities will expect to be welcomed and there is institutional provision in the form of chaplaincies and chaplains – not just by other students, but by the institution itself?One good way to find out is to google university of xx and gay – and see what comes up! If it’s all research papers, that’s not great!! And also – I’d suggest – that if it’s ONLY the lgbt society, that to me suggests a certain passing on of responsibility from the institution to the student body.Idea of a ‘reminiscence bump’: the ages of 19-25 are particularly key for each generation as they come to an understanding of who they are and craft their own life-story.
It was a pretty ‘thin’ narrative – just emerging – nothing very solid or secure. It passed me by.I didn’t see any positive reflections of people who identified as gay or lesbian; it was always tragic and sad – usually perverted. Those narratives still exist today – even amongst certain therapists!The need for affirmative narratives, from institutions, is real.
Narratives and why they matter
Dr David Mair Head of CounsellingUniversity of Birmingham
Wemake sense of our lives through the narratives that are available to us at the time and place in history into which we have been „thrown‟.
Our tales are spun – but forthe most part we don‟t spinthem, they spin us.K. Gergen
1978University of Newcastle upon Tyne Me - 18 YEARS OLD Sexuality: unknown DON‟T BE COY JOIN GAYSOC
The “Heterosexual Assumption” the notion that “…every adolescent will find a partner of the opposite sex, settle down, get married, ultimately procreate and raise children” (K Plummer, 1981)
There is nothing „fixed‟ about our identity narratives Think about how narratives have changed and are continuing to change about…
So sexuality as a basis foridentity = modernphenomenon
PERVERTED SICK BEING TRUE TO YOURSELFNATURAL VARIETY EQUAL OPPS CONFORMING INDIFFERENCE SINFUL
Western liberal narratives of sexuality v Religious/Other cultural narratives of sexuality Essentialist narratives of masculinity/femininity, homo/heterosexuality clash with queer narratives of identity Clashes are increasingly common in a globalised society Can lead to huge internal distress for individuals
Indifferent? Supportive? Proactive? Reactive? Any „space‟ for s.m. students? How are they „mirrored‟ and welcomed? How do we – should we? – affirm life narratives of sexual minority students?