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Identity satisfaction in sexual minorities: A queer kind of strength - Associate Professor Mark Henrickson


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Presentation by Associate Professor Mark Henrickson at the symposium LGBTTI Wellness & Suicide: What do we need to change? Hosted in Auckland on 27 February 2013 by Auckland DHB, Affinity Services, OUTLine NZ, Rainbow Youth and the Mental Health Foundation.

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Identity satisfaction in sexual minorities: A queer kind of strength - Associate Professor Mark Henrickson

  1. 1. Identity satisfaction in sexual minorities: A queer kind of strength A/P Mark Henrickson, PhD, RSW Massey University, Auckland +649 414 0800 x 43350
  2. 2. A queer kind of strength: Introduction• We know what the problems are • Higher levels of suicide, mental health, health, substance misuse among sexual minorities, particularly youth• But we frequently focus only on the problems, not on the strengths, resilience and resources
  3. 3. A queer kind of strength: What divides us• Language is fraught • I choose ‗sexual and gender minorities‘ to be as inclusive as possible, because we come in all flavours, shapes and colours • Not heterosexual‘ • ‗Queer‘ • ‗Rainbow‘ • ‗LGBTITTFFQQ…‘
  4. 4. A queer kind of strength: What divides usTakatāpui (Māori) Bujang-gadis, becong (Indonesia )Fa’fafine (Samoa) Supik-jantan, tom-boi (Indonesia )(Faka-)Leiti (Tonga) Lakín-on (Philippines ) Bakla, bantut, bayot (Philippines )Raerae (Cook Islands) Maotoane (Sesotho)Pinapinaaine (Tuvalu) Umbunkotshani (Ndebele)‘Miss July’ (Kiribati) Hungochani (Shona)Māhu (Tahiti) Esenge (Ovambo)Wadna (Fiji) Nkoshana (Zulu)Aikāne (Hawai’i) ‘yan daudu (Hausa)Hijra (India) Woubi, oubi, ibbi (Wolof)Tongzhi (PR China) Kuchi (E. Africa) Xanith (Oman)T, Bo (Chinese Taipei) Etc.Kathoey(Thailand)
  5. 5. A queer kind of strength: What unites usThe things that unite sexual and gender minorities are• Oppression• Social exclusion• Epistemological framework
  6. 6. A queer kind of strength: What unites usAlienation (experience of difference) and disclosure (theneed to announce one‘s difference) are two mediators ofa queer epistemological framework which shape the waysexual and gender minorities live in the world, processinformation and create coherent communities
  7. 7. A queer kind of strength: What unites us
  8. 8. A queer kind of strength: What unites us―Not another movie about straight people in love. I’m sick ofextrapolating.”
  9. 9. A queer kind of strength: HeteronormativityWe develop this queerepistemology because ofheteronormativity, the prevailingsocial view that a heterosexualidentity is normative (mostcommon) and normal (non-pathological)
  10. 10. A queer kind of strength: A resolutionHammack (2005) proposes an integrated ‗life course‘ perspective on the development of human sexual identity• Sexual orientation is biologically based • This includes desire, arousal and intimacy• Orientation is different from identity • Individuals internalise the sexual story possibilities of a culture– the ‗cultural press‘, outside conscious control • ‗Ethnic‘ minorities in multicultural contexts form multicultural identities• Interpersonal relationships are salient in forming sexual minority identities • Men and women follow different trajectories and processes
  11. 11. A queer kind of strength“He rubbed your belly and it felt good– that doesn’t make you gay”
  12. 12. A queer kind of strength: Stages of ‗coming out‘• Traditional stages of coming out (Cass, 1979) • Pre-coming out • Coming out These are not • Exploration linear or • First relationships • Integration sequential! • [Synthesis]
  13. 13. A queer kind of strength: Are we post-gay?Are we in a post-gay environment?• Some researchers say young people are no longer confined by identity categories • We construct identities along continua, not binaries• Others find that ‗traditional‘ labels are still useful • Provide established communities, identities• Until heteronormativity is completely eliminated, some process of differentiation, exploration and identity reintegration will be necessary
  14. 14. A queer kind of strength: The literature on identity satisfaction• Interpreting social/cultural environments is a challenge• Even the legacy of the ‗gay liberation‘ movement is contended • Did the movement simply create a generational and political rift? • Did it just replace one cultural (hetero-)hegemony with another of White, Western, middle-class values that mimic idealised heterosexual pathways (e.g. monogamous marriage for life)? • Where do bi-, trans- intersex and other people who do not affiliate with ‗mainstream gay/lesbian‘ culture(s) belong? • In addition to challenging heteronormativity, we need to challenge ‗homonormativity‘, the prevailing gay paradigm that has emerged over the last 40 years
  15. 15. A queer kind of strength: The literature on identity satisfaction• Literature on general life satisfaction and happiness over the life course • Finds that for general population men there is a U-shape with nadir (lowest level of life satisfaction) at 52.6 years (US) and 46.5 years (Europe) and for general population women, 38.6 (US) and 46.8 (Europe) (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2008) • This age-defined is chronos (chronological, age-dependent) time• In self-identified gay men • Happiness, satisfaction with life and self-esteem decreased during the first stages of coming out (confusion, comparison and tolerance), and • Increased over latter stages (acceptance, pride and synthesis) (Halpin & Allen, 2004) • This was chairos time (age-independent, stage-dependent) • I searched, found no similar studies for women
  16. 16. A queer kind of strength: The literature on identity satisfaction• We know sexual minority youths experience higher levels of of depression, self-harm, suicidality, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, and bullying compared to opposite- sex attracted young (Iwasacki & Ristock, 2007; Rossen, Lucassen, Denny & Robinson, 2009; Wright & Perry, 2006) • Cover (2005) challenges these notions, and suggests that these behaviours may be related to other contributing factors rather than ‗caused‘ by sexual minority status• Merely finding a community of like others is not a guarantee of successful identity development • Some youths found that referrals to youth support groups increased likelihood that the young person would use alcohol, drugs and risky sexual behaviour (Wright & Perry, 2006; Rossen et al., 2009)
  17. 17. A queer kind of strength: The literature on identity satisfaction• Sexual minority elders have both extra challenges and extra coping skills (Riggle et al., 2008): • Belonging to a community • Creating families of choice • We’re not Having strong connections with others • Serving as positive role models • Living an authentic self all bad, sad • Honesty, personal insight, and sense of self and mad! • Increased empathy and compassion • Social justice and activism • Freedom from gender-specific roles • Exploring sexuality and relationships • Egalitarian relationships • Ability to manage loss
  18. 18. A queer kind of strength: The literature on identity satisfaction• Concept of resilience is fuzzy, but it is a ―dynamic process that leads to positive adaptation within the context of adversity‖ • Contributors to resilience include (Windle, Markland & Woods, 2008): • Good social support • Self-acceptance • Strong developmental support • ―Following a particularly stressful adolescence many GLB adults appear to make a rebound toward greater mental health and to achieve a level of psychological adjustment on par with heterosexual comparison groups, even though they continue to face unique stress factors‖ (Elizur & Ziv, 2001)
  19. 19. A queer kind of strength: Lavender IslandsLavender Islands: • A national study of 2,269 LGBs in New Zealand (Henrickson, Neville, Jordan & Donaghey, 2007) • Among many other things, respondents were asked: • Milestone developmental ages (difference, coming out) • Mean satisfaction with sexual identity, by age group and gender (1=low, 7=high) (n=1,208 men, 1,001 women)
  20. 20. A queer kind of strength: Lavender Islands• Milestone developmental ages • At what age did you feel different from other children or your peers? • Men (n=423) 11.2 yr (s.d.=5.08) • Women (n=568) 14.3 yr (s.d.=7.70), p<.001 • At what age did you come out to yourself? • Men (n=649) 18.7 yr (s.d.=7.63) • Women (n=511) 23.0 yr (s.d.=9.23), p<.001
  21. 21. A queer kind of strength: Lavender IslandsAge Men Women Totalgroup Mean N Mean N Mean N<20 5.15 73 5.10 52 5.13 12520-29 5.58 300 5.60 209 5.59 50930-39 5.98 284 5.93 254 5.95 53840-49 6.05 287 6.10 307 6.08 59450-59 6.05 168 6.33 147 6.18 315>60 6.07 96 6.41 32 6.16 128
  22. 22. A queer kind of strength: Lavender Islands
  23. 23. A queer kind of strength: Lavender IslandsMale Young Adult: It has been very hard— ―[I] would notwish it on anyone. [It w]as bad at school with bullying andthe teachers let it happen. When I came out to myfamily, all except my mother wanted nothing to do with mewhich continues today. You have to be strong to be gay.‖
  24. 24. A queer kind of strength: What do we need to change?• Sexual/gender identity is fluid, continues to evolve over time, and is not merely linear • Chronos vs. chairos time• We are strong• It will indeed get better– • Satisfaction with sexual minority identities increases during later stages of identity development • But we can‘t and shouldn‘t wait
  25. 25. A queer kind of strength: What do we need to change?•If alienation is part of a queer epistemic framework then weneed to be aware that •Sexual and gender minority clients will approach us from an experience of not belonging, yet seeking a place to belong •They will not trust us, and will need to mediate everything we say through their own individuated experiences•If identity is fluid and disclosure is part of that framework •We need to ensure that we do not approach from a hetero- (or homo-) normative position •We need to reassure that fluid identities are uncomfortable, expectable, and ordinary •We need to normalise those experiences
  26. 26. A queer kind of strength: What do we need to change?• Move from passive/responsive to active/preventive • Don‘t wait for complaints about assaults, bullying, etc. • Enhance contributors to resilience• Child protection workers must keep sexual minorities in mind• Challenge cisgendered heteronormativity wherever it exists • Health/Mental health systems, education, social services, child protection, youth justice, prison and probation, domestic violence, immigration, ageing and other residential care facilities, social policy, workplace, etc.• Challenge homonormativity and our own stereotypes wherever they exist (see above)
  27. 27. A queer kind of strength: ReferencesHenrickson, M. & Neville, S. (2012). Identity satisfaction over the life course in sexual minorities. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 24: 80-95.All references and a copy of the paper on which this presentation are available on request from: