Date of Award

Winter 12-16-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dawn M. Baunach

Second Advisor

Griff Tester

Third Advisor

Don Reitzes

Abstract

Coming out of the closet and sharing a disclosure narrative is considered an essential act to becoming gay (Jagose 1996; Meeks 2006). Although coming out experiences vary by time and place, sexuality scholars note the assumed difficulties when claiming a non-heteronormative identity, including stress, isolation, and rejection (Chauncey 1994; Faderman 1991; Herdt 1993; 1996; Savin-Williams and Ream 2003). In the late 1990s, a post-closet framework emerged arguing that coming out of the closet has become more common and less difficult; “American homosexuals have normalized and routinized their homosexuality to a degree where the closet plays a lesser role in their lives” (Seidman Meeks and Traschen 1999:19). Moreover, post- gay activists and writers such as James Collard (1998) contended that being and doing gay “authentically” involves moving past oppression and despair and living an openly gay life. In light of such arguments, this dissertation research was constructed to explore coming out experiences. I collected 60 narratives from self- identified lesbians and gay men living in Atlanta, New York, and Miami and analyzed these narratives using an intersectional framework. Intersectionality highlights the ways in which multiple dimensions of socially constructed relationships and categories interact, shaping simultaneous levels of social inequality (Crenshaw 1989; 1995). Through the multiple and sometimes complicated intersections of race, class, gender, capital, place, religion, and the body, my analysis exposes institutional and interactional dimensions of power, privilege, and oppression in coming out narratives. Indeed, the kind of "American" or "routinized" homosexuality described by post-closet scholars privileges white, non-gender conforming, middle-class individuals, most often male and urban. Coming out stories that express or embody elements of non-normativity are marginalized and marked as different. In conclusion, intersectionality exposes how privilege functions as a dimension to coming out stories, leading to marginalization and oppression amongst already discriminated identities.

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