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I am more who I am here than I am anywhere: An ethnographic study of the influences of safety and connection on the co-constructions of gender and sexual orientation identities in adolescents in small groups

Sally S. Fleischmann Ember, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Abstract

Modernists theorists propose that one's self is fragmented, invisible, or false when one shows different versions of one's self in various situations. Believing this, Modernists further suppose that with respect to one's gender or sexual orientation identity, one is either appropriately representing one's biological gender and earliest understandings of one's sexual orientation (usually presumed to be heterosexual), or else one is pathological and needs clinical treatment. Poststructuralists look instead at context, and offer a view of the self which takes contextual factors into account, avoiding the pathologizing of anyone's social identity variations. Since identities such as gender and sexual orientation are lived in contexts which include social pressures and restrictions and one's reactions to and actions towards these pressures, emphases also must be placed upon analyzing gender roles and privileges, and the impact these have on one's expectations, apparent choices, and decisions for the living of these social identities. This two-year ethnographic study investigated how gender and sexual orientation identities were continually socially negotiated in two small groups. These groups met as part of a program whose purpose is to offer theatre training, counseling, and performance opportunities for volunteer adolescents. Also investigated were the ways the members' changing perceptions of levels of group and interpersonal connection and safety affected these social identity negotiations, and how the variations in gender and sexual orientation identities were perceived and received by members. Members described the program Norms, of confidentiality, respect, punctuality, commitment, and sobriety, as the main factors which positively guided the members' favorable interactions and created the safe atmosphere. Despite wider cultural backlashes and restrictions, variability in identities occurred frequently among these adolescents; negative attitudes about social identities, with rigidity and intolerance, characterized many of their early group interactions. Most research on social identities usually presents development as consisting of "stages," with clashes among those at different stages offered as the cause for most identity-based social problems. The participants co-created the theory that liberational, and authentic gender and sexual orientation identities may be co-constructed. Differential Authenticity describes the ways program participants flexibly lived these social identities. ^

Subject Area

Social psychology|Secondary education|Personality psychology

Recommended Citation

Ember, Sally S. Fleischmann, "I am more who I am here than I am anywhere: An ethnographic study of the influences of safety and connection on the co-constructions of gender and sexual orientation identities in adolescents in small groups" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9737523.
https://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI9737523

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