Running head: ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 1
Issues of Leisure for People with Nonnormative Sexual Identities
and of Related Research: An Exploratory Review
Texas State University
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 2
This paper recognizes the permeation of issues related to nonnormative sexual identity
throughout popular and scholarly discourse as justified by the evident marginalization of
the LGBTQ population as well as the fundamental nature of sexual identity as a formative
element of psychosocial development. The focus is on issues of nonnormative sexualities
within the field of leisure studies. The purpose of the paper is to explore the major themes
found throughout LGBTQ leisure research to build a broad foundation of understanding of
this body of knowledge and to establish theoretical perspective as a primary determinant
of the effectiveness of research on this topic.
Keywords: LGBTQ, gay, lesbian, leisure, sexual identity, nonnormative, queer
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 3
Issues of Leisure for People with Nonnormative Sexual Identities
and of Related Research: An Exploratory Review
Topics related to the experiences and identities of individuals with nonnormative
sexualities, such as the dubious ethicality of gay conversion therapy or of transgender
individuals being denied admission to women’s colleges, have become increasingly
prevalent in popular news. These topics transcend speculative public dialogue as key
political and legal matters—the most heavily anticipated US Supreme Court ruling of 2015
will be on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, and there are over 100 bills that
could limit the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ)
individuals in US state legislatures as of April 1, 2015 (“State & Local Advocacy,” 2015).
With these stories dominating social media feeds and print headlines alike, it is
unsurprising that discourse concerning nonnormative sexualities has also permeated
academic literature. This permeation is justified not only by the cultural and systematic
marginalization of the LGBTQ community evident in these stories but also by the
fundamental nature of sexual identity, and particularly nonnormative sexual identity, as a
defining element of psychosocial development.
Like most social science disciplines, by their very nature primed for illuminating the
many components of this complex psychosocial topic, the leisure studies field has not been
exempt from this trend. Scholarly work related to nonnormative sexual identity has been
present in the leisure literature since the 1990s and only continues to evolve (Johnson &
Kivel, 2007). Throughout the development of this body of knowledge, several major themes
have been apparent: homonegativity and discrimination as primary issues for LGBTQ
leisure participation (Jacobson & Samdahl, 1998); leisure as a context for sexual identity
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 4
development (Caldwell, Kivel, Smith, & Hayes, 1998; Kivel & Kleiber, 2000; Johnson, 1999;
Kivel, 1994); and the critique of heteronormativity and the gender binary as compulsory
standards in leisure and sport (Sartore & Cunningham, 2009; Lenskyj, 2012; Elling &
Janssens, 2009). More recently, much of the literature addressing nonnormative sexual
identities and the leisure experiences of the LGBTQ population has been metaliterary in
nature, analyzing the theoretical perspectives of past research and addressing the need for
a shift in perspective to one that avoids transcendental pretense and better serves the
population considered (Johnson & Kivel, 2007; Jones, 2010; Robinett, 2014).
The purpose of this paper is not to prove the marginalization of the LGBTQ
population within leisure and call for its resolution or to delve into one facet of LGBTQ
leisure experience through a heteronormative lens. Rather, the purpose is to explore the
major themes identified above—surveying each through consideration of one or several
representative articles—in an effort to inform future study that is grounded in vaguely
comprehensive awareness of the body of knowledge related to issues of leisure for people
with nonnormative sexual identities. Moreover, the purpose is to consider the significance
of frame of research as a primary determinant of the effectiveness of research on this topic
and to further establish the need for LGBTQ leisure research written from intentionally
crafted perspectives that avoid the heteronormativity and dichotomous nature that it so
Homonegativity as an Issue of Leisure Experience
The multidimensional term “homonegativity,” which encompasses all negative
affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses towards individuals identifying as LGBTQ,
replaced the less effective term “homophobia” in the late 1970s (Roderick, McCammon,
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 5
Long, & Allred, 1998). Homonegativity, which can range from suppressed internalized
belief to belligerent physical violence, is recognized as destructive to both quality of
experience and basic safety for individuals identifying as LGBTQ. The incidence of
homonegativity and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals within leisure, as well as the
importance of effectively reacting to and deconstructing this stigma, is well documented
(Jacobson & Samdahl, 1998; Kivel, 1994; Elling & Janssens, 2009).
Jacobson & Samdahl (1998) presented the postulation that “[leisure studies
researchers’] a priori belief in the goodness of leisure has prevented [them] from exploring
the opposite side of this relationship,” and argued that this belief has resulted in an
established conceptual tilt limiting the study of topics such as homonegativity within
leisure (p. 234). They considered the possibility that leisure may serve as a reinforcing
context for stigma and discrimination experienced by generally marginalized populations
and addressed, from a broad social and ecological lens, the presence of and reaction to such
stigma and discrimination within the leisure experiences of lesbians over the age of 60.
Their research found that participants did experience both subtle and overt
homonegativity in and outside of leisure and that participants intentionally segmented
their lives due to fear of physical harm and societal devaluation. However, it also made
clear that this segmentation and the resulting intentional construction of alternative
community led to positive experiences such as meaningful activist leisure and validating
interaction with other “old lesbians.” The authors concluded that studying leisure as both a
function and determinant of environment—a context for both reinforcing and combatting
negative social constructs—will improve ability to understand those “who live their lives
on the fringes of society” (p. 253).
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 6
Leisure as Context for Sexual Identity Development
Leisure is almost universally accepted as a fundamental context for general identity
development throughout the lifespan (Kelly, 1983; Kleiber, 1999; Larson, 1994). There has
been much research exploring the notion that the same is likely true for nonnormative
sexual identity development (Caldwell et al., 1998; Kivel & Kleiber, 2000; Johnson, 1999;
Kivel, 1994). Johnson (1999) addressed ways in which leisure contributes to identity
development for LGBTQ individuals as well as various obstacles for this population to
accessing positive developmental leisure experiences. The study found that “leisure either
complicated or facilitated identity development depending on the extent to which it
affected identification with [the LGBTQ community] and the individual’s perceptions of
membership in that group” (p. 275). Positively, group enclosure was identified as a means
of developing positive gay identity, and leisure was recognized as an opportunity for
defining self in relation to others; negatively, marginalization was acknowledged as an
issue for those unwilling or hesitant to publically identify as gay—several participants
attested to either entirely avoiding situations that would stigmatize them or intentionally
passing as heterosexual. This homonegativity, the author concluded, is the primary
obstacle to accessing developmental leisure opportunities for LGBTQ individuals and to
effectively researching the leisure experiences of this population.
Caldwell et al. (1998) also explored the leisure context of LGBTQ adolescent identity
development and obstacles to this development. The article identified LGBTQ youth as at-
risk and as virtually ignored within leisure research, and investigated health and identity-
related factors as both determinants and results of their leisure. It established leisure as
“an important social and developmental context” for LGBTQ youth but found that leisure
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 7
may be problematic for this population, particularly gay males, due to acute awareness of
differences from the dominant culture (p. 350). The authors concluded that the
relationship between these two factors—the dual significance and problematic nature of
leisure—warrants further study “to identify how the leisure context, in conjunction with
other contexts, can be structured to facilitate the positive, healthy developmental
opportunities” needed by LGBTQ youth (p. 353).
Kivel & Kleiber (2000) responded to the call for further research issued in the
previous study with an attempt to develop overarching themes describing the role of
leisure in the process of identity formation for LGBTQ youth. The study determined that
“the influence of leisure contexts in terms of the integration of personal and social identity
formation was mitigated by the extent to which young people felt the need to conceal their
sexual identity” (p. 226). While leisure was identified as a useful tool for resisting narrowly
prescribed expectations (establishing nonparticipation as being at least as defining as
participation) and exploring sexual identity in unconventional ways, access to
developmentally useful leisure experiences was recognized as limited by the reinforcement
of institutionalized discrimination. For most adolescents, leisure is a means for exploring,
committing to, and internalizing both public and personal identities, but the same is not
possible for LGBTQ youth who do not feel as if they can internalize leisure identity without
fostering the perception of a stigmatized social identity. The authors suggested that
marginalization undermined even the very thought of a possibility that leisure might be
used as a context for developing social identity in LGBTQ youth, and concluded that this
group, in contrast to the general population, develops personal but not social identity
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 8
Heteronormativity as Compulsory Standard in Leisure and Sport
Societal heteronormativity is defined as “the assumption that there exists only two
sexes with dichotomously affixed gender meanings that substantiate heterosexual
attraction and relationships as the norm” (Sartore & Cunningham, 2009, p. 289).
Furthermore, it is the pervasive, institutionalized reinforcement of gendered hierarchies
and of the power and status differences existing between heterosexual individuals and
individuals with nonnormative sexual identities (Sartore & Cunningham, 2009, p. 290). The
context of leisure and sport is widely regarded as a construct in which heteronormativity is
socially and institutionally reinforced (Messner, 2002; Barber & Krane, 2005; Messner &
Solomon, 2007; Griffin, 1998), and various studies have examined the impact of
compulsory heteronormativity on individuals with nonnomorative sexual identities
(Sartore & Cunningham, 2009; Lenskyj, 2012; Elling & Janssens, 2009). It is also commonly
argued that leisure studies research operates within the same heteronormative,
dichotomous context that dictates the construct that it studies (Robinett, 2014).
Sartore & Cunningham (2009) addressed the causalities and consequences of the
lesbian stigma within the sport context. The article explains that social status is linked to
conformance to gender ideals and that, just as low status, out-group membership leaves
women vulnerable to stigmatization, high status, in-group membership allows male
dominance. The negative effects of lesbian stigma on women are both a result and a
perpetuation of heterosexual norms, and the stigma contributes to the continued gendered
nature of sport and marginalization of both women and LGBTQ individuals. The authors
conclude that nearly all women, whether they identify as lesbian or not, are conscious of
the lesbian stigma and can experience the status loss and discrimination that come with the
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 9
lesbian label. While the focus is on the impact of lesbian stigma on women of all sexualities,
the article acknowledges that women identifying as lesbian are susceptible to increased
negative effects due to their being either more or less vigilant to avoiding the stigma based
on the publicity of their identities.
Elling and Janssens (2009) employed poststructuralist quantitative methodology in
an effort to improve upon the largely postpositive, qualitative research that dominates
LGBTQ leisure literature. The authors conceded that these qualitative studies have been
successful in establishing the ideas that lower social status individuals participate in
mainstream leisure at a lower rate and that exclusionary mechanisms for LGBTQ
individuals do exist in various activities and organizational structures. They justified their
focus on compiling empirical quantitative data with the lack of participation figures for
LGBTQ individuals due to the stigma that has limited its study as an independent social
variable. The study considered the participation rates of LGBTQ men and women in
comparison to heterosexual men and women. The results suggested that participation
patterns are partly structured by sexuality as evidenced by the definitive impact of fear of
homonegativity on the leisure choices of gay men and by the tendency of lesbian women to
participate in “masculine” activities at a higher rate than heterosexual women. The authors
concluded that “non-heterosexual sports biographies do not only reflect ‘individual leisure
preferences’ but also constant – subconscious – negotiations of leisure motivations, social
identifications, and experiences or expected . . . constraints with respect to
[homonegativity] and heteronormativity” (pp. 83-84).
Lenskyj (2012) reflected on the characterization of heteronormativity and gender
identities in leisure and sport media as well as how sport and leisure discourse has fueled
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 10
heteronormativity and homonegativity. The article considered the perception that “in sport
‘all the men are straight and all the women are gay’” and discussed heteronormativity as
social control. The author concluded that, while more progressive trends in media
treatment of sexuality issues have emerged, it is crucial to continue to examine
heteronormativity and sexual identities through the development of intersectional analysis
LGBTQ Leisure Research as Metaliterary Critique
As the author has alluded throughout this paper, there is an ethic of consistent
academic consideration of effectiveness woven throughout the leisure research related to
issues of nonnormative sexual identities. This metaliterary critique of the effectiveness of
different theoretical perspectives and methodologies is the basis of many recent works
surrounding this topic. Robinett (2014) examined the level of corruption that
heteronormative ideologies have rendered upon otherwise socially just research. Johnson
and Kivel (2007) introduced a broader theoretical perspective building on queer theory
that “problematizes the rigid and mutually exclusive categories of identity that organize
contemporary social science research” (p. 93).
Robinett (2014) critiqued the tendency toward dichotomous, heteronormative
ideologies in leisure research, a tendency that he described as pervasive even in works on
topics of nonnormative sexual identities. The article is centered on the critical theoretical
perspective of emancipatory research. This methodology is characterized by the offer of
“the capacity for individual and collective healing when participants develop shared
understandings of relational positions, privileges, and tensions that are negotiated through
lived experiences” (p. 373). The article suggested that emancipatory research, supported
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 11
by the agenda of social justice, could allow scholars to frame their own experiences,
positions, and findings more effectively and to better negotiate the complexities of
individual and collective understandings. The author posited that this practice would allow
leisure scholars to better understand the level to which heteronormative ideologies have
“infected” research and to better prevent further “infection” in their own work. He
concluded that “mindful attention to what ideologies research counters or supports and
[clear positioning of] the researcher’s purpose can be practices of emancipation” (p. 376).
Johnson and Kivel (2007) suggested that leisure scholars have generally studied
issues relating to LGBTQ individuals without using LGBTQ theory. The least effective
studies, they argued, have examined aspects of LGBTQ leisure – satisfaction, health-related
benefits – without acknowledging the hetero/homosexual binary. Other more successful
studies have examined the binary but have failed to offer any substantial critique or to
challenge the stability of heteronormative leisure: “While Bialeschki and Pearce (1997),
Hekma (1998), and Jacobson and Samdahl (1998) all do an excellent job of examining, and
to some extent critiquing, the heterosexual/homosexual binary, they do little in the way of
deconstructing or challenging our current heterosexual ideologies and/or the socially
constructed heterosexual/homosexual binary” (p. 96). The authors established a need for a
more critical sociological analysis, as opposed to narrow social psychological commitment,
in studying issues of nonnormative sexual identities in leisure and sports. The authors
argued that this shift could be achieved with the critical employment of queer theory (see
subsection below) and that the use of queer as both theory and practice could transform
and subvert marginalizing structures of heteronormativity in both leisure practice and
study. The article concluded that “incorporating a gay and lesbian theoretical perspective
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 12
requires a shift in thinking beyond studies of those individuals who identify as gay or
lesbian” and seeks “to offer a framework to discuss topics that expand the opportunities
and resources for non-oppressive interaction by critiquing the underlying ideology that
surrounds dominant heterosexual attitudes, values, and beliefs” (p. 95-97).
Queer theory is rooted in the work of Foucault (1978), who argued that sex is a
cause, not an effect, of gender relations and encouraged sexuality scholars “to reason that
sexuality is always historically based on and produced by the dominant culture’s use of
power” (Johnson & Kivel, 2007, p. 97). It combines knowledge of genealogies of sex and
gender and the concept of homosexuality to critically examine the domination of
heteronormativity in a step toward liberating LGBTQ individuals (Johnson and Kivel, 2007,
p. 102). It is “not a singular or systematic conceptual or methodological framework, but a
collection of intellectual engagements with the relations between sex, gender, and sexual
desire” (Spargo, 1999, p. 9). It is a mass of scholarship on nonnormative sexualities that
attempts “to illustrate how lesbians and gay men negotiate with institutions and
individuals more or less hostile, neutral, or external to them” (Marcus, 2005, p.213).
Beyond this perspective built on the extant literature of LGBTQ experience, queer theory by
simple definition is the critical study of all things considered abnormal. Johnson and Kivel
(2007) suggest that queer theory can be critically employed to vastly improve the quality
and emancipatory power of leisure research on the issues of nonnormative sexual
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 13
Issues of nonnormative sexual identities have become pervasive topics of discourse
both in public and scholarly settings. The leisure studies discipline has followed this trend,
and there exists a diverse and expanding body of knowledge related to issues of leisure for
individuals with nonnormative sexual identities. In order to inform continued research on
the topic, the author has found it necessary to build vaguely comprehensive understanding
of the body of knowledge related to LGBTQ leisure. A survey of major themes—constraints
of homonegativity and discrimination, leisure as a context for identity development, and
the problematic nature of compulsory heteronormativity—contributes to this framework.
An understanding of the significance of intentionally selecting the most effective critical
theoretical perspective, as investigated within metaliterary studies regarding LGBTQ
leisure issues, has also been identified as crucial.
This exploratory review of themes throughout major contributions to the body of
knowledge has revealed an evolution of focus that will guide further research. While the
understanding of specific facets of LGBTQ leisure experiences (such as youth identity
development and successful aging) within the standard heteronormative view has and will
continue to be important, it is evident that research can be significantly more powerful if it
focuses on deconstructing this heteronormativity to enact social justice and galvanize real
emancipatory change. The critical adaptation of queer theory in LGBTQ leisure research, as
advocated in Johnson and Kivel (2007), can bring about a dynamic challenge to the
established structures of heteronormativity in society and in the literature by offering
“diverse subjectivities with multiple theoretical utilities” and “studying phenomenon such
as leisure and sport in ways that challenge normative discursive ideologies and arouse
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 14
political activism in an effort to eliminate injustice” (p. 103). By focusing on the systemic
problem that necessitates this research, and by expanding the definition from queer in the
sense of sexuality to all identities and experiences that are considered abnormal, leisure
scholars not only make themselves more powerful forces for change but also expose
themselves to seemingly inexhaustible opportunities for future study.
ISSUES OF LEISURE FOR PEOPLE WITH NONNORMATIVE SEXUALITIES 15
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