How do young people developing minority sexual identities construct ‘sexual identity’?
Sexual identity development is understood as an important task of identity formation during adolescence (Erikson, 1959, 1962). Models of minority sexual identity development (e.g. Cass, 1979; Troiden, 1989) have traditionally presented a series of linear stages from early awareness and confusion to later acceptance, pride and integration into an overall sense of self. However, such models have been criticised for relying on the retrospective recall of adults, lack of validity beyond their samples of primarily gay men, and privileging of identities that do not challenge heteronormative power structures (Eliason & Schope, 2007).\ud To address these shortcomings, it was decided to explore sexual identity formation with a diverse group of young people. 15 young people attending LGBT youth groups, and aged between 13 and 17, participated in one of two focus groups, an individual interview, and / or an online discussion forum. Using a critical realist epistemology, a discourse analytic approach inspired by the work of Michel Foucault was employed to analyse the young people’s talk. Four discursive ‘sites’ in the constructions of ‘sexual identity’ were identified: ‘Identity development or identity positioning?’, ‘Being normal’ (with love constructed as the same for all, but gay/lesbian sex constructed as different), ‘Rainbow sheep’ (e.g. social isolation), and ‘Coherence and stability’ of identities.\ud Theoretical stages of identity development were recast as subject positions made available through discourse and material conditions; rather than simply psychological, they are inherently social. A deployment of ‘equality’ was found in the construction of love as being the same for all regardless of sexual identity, tying minority sexual identities into a heteronormative framework of romantic relationships. Heteronormative constructions of sex cast gay and lesbian sex as ‘different’ but also limited the availability of alternative views of sex outside this frame. Implications for research, service provision and clinical psychology practice are discussed.
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