Use scenario below and discuss how you would proceed if working with this client. Do not use any outside sources besides journals attached. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE PARTS OF THE JOURNAL. DO NOT DO ANY DIRECT QUOTES FROM THE JOURNAL ONLY CITE INFORMATION ACCORDING TO THE PAGE OF THE JOURNAL THAT IT PERTAINS TO IN YOUR PARAGRAPH. EXAMPLE

Roger is an obese 40-year old man and suffers from other health issues. Roger reports that he lives alone and has very few friends. Roger is single and would like to be married. However, he is afraid that women will reject his advances due to his weight. To further complicate the issue he reports struggling with homosexual thoughts. Roger sought your help because he recently contemplated suicide.

Personal Biases and Limitations
Every counselor needs to consider personal biases and limitations carefully. If the topic is a hot-button or you lack sufficient knowledge to be effective with the client then you would need to refer. Identify possible problems in working with the client. Be clear in explaining why these issues could detract from counseling.

What goals would you like to achieve with the client? Why do you believe that these goals are important? What would you do if the client refused to accept a goal that you believe would be helpful? If you were allowed only one goal, what would that goal be? Why do you believe this would be the most beneficial goal?

Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research
2012, Vol. 6, 62–75 ISSN: 1935-3308
intrinsically negotiated by the individuals engaged
in the composing process. The author
identified three proponents of composing processes:
author (the writer), audience (perceived
or genuine), and product (the text). In college
composition classrooms, audience includes
both the author’s peers and the classroom facilitator;
writing is often a result of the interaction
between both. Composition classrooms
entrench writers in constant negotiation among
Flower’s (1990; 1994) investigations asked
what happens at points of conflict and points of
decision in composing processes. When the inner
voices of teachers, collaborators, and peers
speak together, how do writers negotiate these
multiple, often conflicting guides to meaning
making? How do these complex, internal representations
of meaning shape text? How does
the negotiation of inner voices shape the hidden
Meaning, knowledge, and identity in writing
have been part of a long-standing conversation
in composition studies. In 1990, Flower
showed that academic writing, in particular,
is rich with negotiation because of the context
in which it occurs: “Academic papers are typically
written in the context of a rich rhetorical
situation that includes not only the conventions
of academic discourse, but the expectations of
the instructor, the context of the course, and
the terms of the assignment” (p. 35). In 1994,
Flower asserted that writing is a social act in
which aspects of meaning and knowing are
Transforming Experience:
Negotiations of Sexual Identity in the
Composing Processes of Gay Men
William F. Berry
Cape Cod Community College
Negotiating meaning, knowledge, and identity is fundamental to composing
processes. These negotiations occur both individually and socially for
writers. Sexual identity is an intrinsic part of these negotiations, but is
often overlooked by researchers. This study explored the phenomenon of
negotiating sexual identity in the composing processes of self-identified
gay men. Using purposeful intensity sampling, I selected 7 gay men for
semi-structured interviews. These interviews were analyzed using narrative
analysis (Reissman, 2003) and the science of phenomenological
inquiry as outlined by both Giorgi (1985) and Moustakas (1994). The
data presented 7 emergent themes: (a) discovery, (b) expression, (c) courage,
(d) being out, (e) reflection, (f) negotiating public and personal identity,
and (g) integration. The essential experience of the phenomenon
was transformation, wherein the qualities of engaging sexual identity in
composing processes allowed the participants to bring deeper structures of
meaning into written form.
William F. Berry, Ph.D, is Associate Professor of Language
and Literature at Cape Cod Community College in
West Barnstable, Massachusetts.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed
to [email protected].
logic of the text? In answer to these questions,
Newkirk (1997) suggested that students are
not expressing a self, they are creating a self.
Newkirk argued that the objective characteristics
of language shaped the way in which the
social characteristics formulated the creation of
a linguistic identity, or self. Hence, negotiating
meaning, knowledge, and identity is social,
and writing is socially constructed. However,
Emig (1971) presented another answer to these
questions: “Persons, rather than mechanisms,
compose” (p. 5). Emig focused on two modes
of writing: reflexive writing (student’s feelings
about their experience) and task-oriented writing
(writing for a particular purpose). The author
emphasized the individual’s place in composing
processes. Emig accepted that language
carried meaning both socially and individually,
but argued that meaning was negotiated personally.
Hence, negotiating meaning, knowledge,
and identity is personal, and writing is
constructed individually.
While Emig emphasized the individual’s experience
in composing processes, Newkirk emphasized
the social aspects of composing processes.
Both supported Flower (1990; 1994) in
agreeing that writers are entrenched in conflict
and expectation, and that personal and social
negotiations are embedded in composing processes.
In applying this proposition, one could
argue that negotiating sexual identity in composing
processes is natural, and that there are
entrenched conflicts and expectations. Hence,
negotiating sexual identity for gay writers is
risky because the related negotiations are difficult
and complex.
When examining the discourse of gay writers,
patterns of heteronormativity emerge in
both the language and the discourse community.
Bergman (1991) discussed the strategies
that gay men use to fashion their sense of sexual
identity, and argued that gay men build their
sexual identity around constructs of heteronormativity:
“For example, since heterosexuality
approves of sex that is ‘natural,’ gay writers
have showed that homosexuality is ‘natural,’
and, thus, worthy of approval” (p. 26). The
author contended that constructing gay sexual
identity as something natural negates gay
sexual identity: “[This strategy] authenticates
both the dominant and subordinate [and is] unable
to fully acknowledge the extent to which
the former negates the latter” (p. 26). The author
explained that creating gay sexual identity
in response to heterosexuality was a way of
rendering heterosexuality as normative: “Gay
men have fashioned their sense of themselves
out of and in response to the heterosexual discourse
about them, gay men, even as conceived
by gay men, cannot be viewed outside of the
constructs of heterosexuality” (p. 26). Thus,
the language of sexuality becomes both a way
of othering those who do not fit into predominant
heteronormative categories and a means
of validating heterosexuality; the language of
sexuality becomes a way of codifying people as
opposed to a discursive tool. For example, Malinowitz
(1995) reasoned that it is not unusual
to see the issue of sexual identity in one of
two lights, as an issue of rights and/or personal
identity. The author warned, however, that
consigning gay and lesbian existence to a matter
of mere personal identity can negate the issue
of culture and community; likewise, consigning
gay and lesbian existence to a matter of
mere culture and/or community can negate the
issue of personal identity and choice:
The presence of lesbian and gay discourses
in the classroom, then, contributes
significantly to our understanding
of the ways that seemingly remote, autonomous
identities are in fact deeply
implicated in one another’s existence—
and of the ways that in writing we produce
ourselves through our production
of the other. Such notions suggest, too,
that identity is not immutable and static,
but rather may be reconstructed, repositioned,
or redefined. The absence
of a particular discourse may itself be a
message. (p. 29)
One of the ways that heterosexuality receives
affirmation is through implicit, unspoken recognition
of itself as a normative category of identification,
and most of the colloquial language
used to discuss sexuality is hegemonic and affirms
heterosexuality over homosexuality (Armstrong,
1997). Unless sexuality is otherwise
labeled, heterosexuality is always assumed.
Writers are often unaware of the social and personal
assumptions concerning language, even
when that language concerns them.
According to Armstrong (1997), in discourse,
all participants are assumed to be
heterosexual until information contradicts.
When other sexual identities are present in discourse,
they are often negotiated as a binary opposition:
heterosexual versus homosexual. This
kind of negotiation can create an adversarial
discourse in which the phenomena of omission
and othering can occur. However, Malinowitz
(1995) argued that systems of classifying sexual
identities had begun to change as a result of
post-modern theory:
Theorists of sexuality have challenged
the systems of classification by which
identities become inscribed, predominantly
the dualistic thinking that has
produced the homo-hetero opposition.
In popular imagination, homosexuals
are made, while heterosexuals just naturally
exist in nature. Much of the writing
that has come out of lesbian and
gay studies—influenced by postmodern
theory—challenges this dichotomy
by demonstrating how all identities are
constructed. (p. 43)
The author explained that in the complex negotiation
of sexual identity, constructions of
choice, rights, personal identity, and culture
happen from varied vantage points in both social
and individual contexts; thus, indexed in
writing are the patterns, network, and sexual
identities they carry and/or construct.
The foregoing literature review reveals some
of the myriad, complex issues embedded in the
phenomenon of negotiating sexual identity in
composing processes for gay men and presents
some of the perils of revealing and negotiating
discourses about gay sexual identity. Ilyasova
(2007) maintained that because of these perils
and complexities, the field of composition studies
has disregarded issues of sexual identity:
Within the composition field sexual
identity issues have often been overlooked,
in spite of the increasing attention
the composition field has paid to
other identity issues such as race, gender
and socio-economic class as factors
that shape writing practices. In contrast,
queer sexual identity issues have
tended to be ignored and heterosexual
identities taken, uncritically, for granted.
(p. 3)
The present study responded to Ilyasova’s assertion
and explored how the phenomenon of
negotiating sexual identity in composing processes
is a core part of composing processes.
Engaging transformation in the texts of writers
engages negotiations of knowledge and meaning
within composing processes. By recounting
how the participants negotiated their sexual
identity in composing processes, the present
study further explored how sexual identity
shape and transform both the writing and the
I selected participants for this study using
“purposeful intensity sampling” (Patton, 2001,
p. 234). It was important that each participant
self-identified as a gay male and had experience
writing in academic settings. However, it was
not necessary that they were engaged in academic
writing or part of a composition classroom.
The saturated data achieved the study’s
results, and the sample size of seven fell within
the appropriate range of 5 to 25 participants for
a transcendental phenomenological study (Creswell,
2007). The seven men who constituted
the final pool of participants manifested the
phenomenon in an intense, rich, and common
manner; a brief narrative description of these
men follows:
Chris is a white male in his mid twenties
who has taken several composition courses at
a Midwest community college. Chris is an avid
writer and intrigued with literature and art. He
is a creative writer of both fiction and non-fiction
and has enjoyed his college composition
courses, where he wrote extensively for academic
Steve is a white male who teaches reading
and literature at a Northeast community college.
He teaches reading and literature and lived for
12 years as a cloistered monk. He didn’t come
out as a gay man until after age thirty. He facilitates
writing processes in his courses, but does
not consider himself a writer. He is an ordained
Bob is a Vietnamese-American who lives in
the Northeast region of the U.S. is in his early
thirties and is very close to his family. Bob
works as a dentist and had a strict Catholic upbringing.
Bob did not come out as a gay male
until after college. His current writing is mostly
private, but he has experienced writing in college
Transforming Experience
Mark identifies as a gay Christian. He is a
white male in his late twenties. Mark attended
a Christian liberal arts college where he could
not express his gayness. Mark came out as a
gay man after he left college. Mark writes for
his church and wrote several essays while in
Stu is an African-American male in his early
thirties who works as an addiction psychiatrist
in a large metropolitan city in the Northeast
region of the U.S.. Stu identifies as an African-
American gay male. Stu mostly writes for professional
purposes, but has experienced writing
in academic contexts.
Kirk is a white male in his early forties who
lives in the Northeast region of the U.S. He
identifies as a gay male and has worked as a
journalist, writing in his field for predominantly
gay oriented media, as well as having done
writing in college contexts. Kirk works for a
Northeastern community college where he does
Tom is a white male in his late twenties
who identifies as a gay male and sings with a
gay men’s chorus, living in Northeastern city
where he also attended college. Tom does not
consider himself a writer, but he has written essays
for college and has done research papers
for academic purposes.
I used semi-structured interviews to explore
the phenomenon with the study’s participants.
Seidman (1998), in his work Interviewing as
Qualitative Research, stated: “[Interviews lead]
to deeper understanding and appreciation of the
amazing intricacies, yet, coherence of people’s
experiences” (p. 112). Phenomenology often
relies on informal, interactive, open-ended interviews
(Moustakas, 1994). Using the central
question of the study as a starting point, I interviewed
each man separately, at different times,
and in different places. I audio-recorded these
interviews and later transcribed them. The primary
questions for the interview emphasized
the focus of the study:
a) How do you feel your sexuality impacts
your writing process?
b) If you were in a basic writing class
(English 101) and asked to write a basic,
expository essay that would somehow allow
you to reveal your sexual identity, how
would you respond?
c) What are the experiences of addressing
sexual identity in your composing
The interviews incorporated other questions, as
needed for clarification and to prompt deeper
insight and description from the participants.
There was plenty of opportunity for participants
to be spontaneous and allow the interview to
take its own form. In accordance with the
methodology of qualitative research and standards
of phenomenological reduction, which
indicate that it may be necessary to conduct a
follow-up interview and verify the transcription
and transformations with the participants (Giorgi,
1985; Moustakas, 1994), I provided each participant
with a written transcription of both his
interview and the transformation of his interview
for verification.
The need to regulate the study to composing
processes in academic or composition classrooms
was unnecessary. Thus, the specific college
curricula each participant experienced was
not core to the context of this study; each participant’s
descriptions of his experiences in
and out of these varied, academic settings was
core. However, the participants needed to have
some experience writing in composition classrooms
because this experience made it possible
for each participant to understand and describe
their composing process.
In order to review the data in the early stages
of analysis, I used the process of phenomenological
reduction. Moustakas (1994) outlined
the process: “The method of Phenomenological
Reduction takes on the character of graded prereflection,
reflection, and reduction, with a concentrated
work aimed at explicating the essential
nature of the phenomenon” (p. 91). I kept
an informal research journal about my biases
and preconceptions and noted any expectations
that may have interfered with the results.
This process was ongoing throughout the data
transcription and analysis, as well as during the
write-up of the data.
I followed eight steps in analyzing the data
that Giorgi (1985) outlined. His method of data
analysis is concerned with providing the psychological
perspective of experience: “[It is] a
direct analysis of the psychological meaning of
naïve descriptions of personal experiences” (p.
1). As the present study explored the personal,
often psychological descriptions of sexual identity
in composing processes, Giorgi’s (1985)
emphasis on psychological meaning was essential
for my data interpretation.
First, I collected, transcribed, and reviewed
verbal descriptions of the phenomenon. Second,
I transformed significant statements from
each interview into meaning units. As I transformed
each interview into meaning units, I engaged
in imaginative variation, the art of perceiving
the interviews from various perspectives,
which Moustakas (1994) explained: “[Imaginative
variation seeks] possible meanings through
the utilization of imagination, varying frames of
reference, employing polarities and reversals,
and approaching the phenomenon from divergent
perspectives, different positions, roles, or
functions” (p. 97). This process determined all
possible significances in the data. Third, I created
a specific description of the phenomenon
based on the transformed meaning units of the
interview. I created the specific description of
each interview from the determined meaning
units. I gathered the data and sorted it to determine
relevant from non-relevant aspects of the
phenomenon, the process of horizonalization.
Fourth, I extracted a general description of the
phenomenon for each participant. Fifth, I identified
the emergent themes. In the fourth and
fifth steps, I used narrative analysis (Reissman,
2003) and more fully engaged that data. This
process allowed me to explore the narratives on
three levels: a) the external narrative mode, the
description of what happened; b) the internal
narrative mode; the description of the feelings,
reactions, preconceptions; and c) the reflexive
narrative mode where the question of meaning
is addressed and extracted (Reissman, 2003).
The use of narrative analysis in conjunction
with phenomenological methodology allowed a
richer, more complete description of the themes
to emerge. Thus, I discovered and correlated
the emergent themes of the phenomenon with
the identified meaning units of the data, and I
developed a general description of the phenomenon
as a whole. This description contained
both the emergent themes and the essence of
the phenomenon. Hence, in the sixth step I analyzed
the emergent themes in accordance to
the identified meaning units and placed each
meaning unit into an emergent theme. I analyzed
the general description of the phenomenon
by using each participant’s specific description
and transcribed interview and provided
further analysis of the emergent themes within
the phenomenon and to show how each theme
correlated with the essence of the phenomenon.
Seventh, I described each individual emergent
theme using the transcribed interviews of the
participants. Finally, I synthesized the descriptions
of the participants into a general description
of the phenomenon as a whole and the essence
of the experience. Giorgi (1985) stated:
This last step is a difficult one because
more so than with traditional research,
where conventions are already established,
one has the freedom to express
findings in multiple ways. To a large
extent, how the findings are presented
very much depends upon the audience
with whom one is in communication.
(p. 20)
Thus, I used the language and literature of the
study of composition and rhetoric and contextualized
the emergent themes, descriptions, and
essence of the phenomenon I studied.
I summarize the findings of this study and
culled from each participant’s interview the
emergent themes and essential experience of
the phenomenon. From each participant’s interview,
I identified seven emergent themes:
(a) discovery, (b) expression, (c) courage, (d)
being out, (e) reflection, (f) negotiating public
and personal identity, and (g) integration. The
themes correlate with the essential experience
of the phenomenon based on the examination
of the participants’ external narrative modes
(what was experienced) and internal narrative
modes (how it was experienced) of the phenomenon
described. Transformation was the essential
experience of the phenomenon, extracted
from the participants’ descriptions by examining
the reflexive narrative mode (wherein the
question of meaning is addressed). I present
the general descriptions of the themes here.
The participants experienced the act of writing
as providing new avenues of discovery into
their sexual identity. Chris, a community college
student in his 20’s, stated: “I came to terms
with my sexual identity first in my reading process.”
He defined his process of discovery:
This is part of what I call my ‘me
search.’ So I take this me search and
Transforming Experience
I write about things that I’m reading
about that have to do with who I am
and incorporate that into my process.
I start to write and just start to brainstorm
about what can I write about?
What do I feel like writing about?
What is my objective in this? And then
I write.
For Chris, the experience of discovery led him
to understand not only how his sexual identity
shaped the perspective from which he wrote,
but how composing processes worked for him.
Similar to Chris’s description, Mark, who
identified as a gay Christian and studied writing
at a conservative Christian college, described
how writing helped him uncover his sexual
I was going through college and realizing
that I was actually gay and not fitting
this perfect mold. And after hearing
for 4 years that God can’t love gay
people and all this stuff, that’s when I
think I realized that I couldn’t let other
people decide what my life should be
about; what I should write and how I
should write it.
For Mark, the process of discovering his sexual
identity had direct impact on his composing
I really needed to just figure out what
my own voice was and who I was as a
person and who I was as a spiritual being,
and I had to stop living other people’s
lives and what my parents expected
of me or what the college expected
of me and what I had to be. And I think
that’s when I realized that I could finally
start discovering who I was as a
writer rather than trying to fit someone
else’s mold and whatever they wanted
me to do.
Mark’s description of discovery highlighted uncovering
the private, more personal aspects of
his sexual identity in order to convey the more
public, social aspects of his sexual identity.
Stu, an addiction therapist who writes
mainly for professional purposes, described the
theme of discovery as such:
College afforded me an opportunity to
take lots of classes on isms: racism,
sexism, ageism, heterosexism, and homophobia.
So in college, I think, even
though I was not out, my interests grew
out of that feeling that I couldn’t necessarily,
at the time, be out without some
sort of negative repercussions.
Discovery was a way of coming to understand
both his sexual identity and his writing interests.
The participants described acts of discovery
in composing processes as something that perpetuated
the negotiation of sexual identity, publicly
and privately. They stated that discovery
occurred in composing processes before, during,
or after writing tasks. Thus, they experienced
discovery as an essential component of
the phenomenon about negotiating sexual identity
in composing processes.
The participants engaged the expression
of their sexual identity with intrigue and passion,
if not a tempered sense of external audience.
In essence, they described it as the ability
to articulate their sexual identity in writing.
Steve, a community college professor and ordained
minister, described his ideas of expressing
his sexual identity in writing. He began
with a description of writing in general: “That’s
what composition is about, painting a picture in
writing, as well as just putting words together.”
Steve described his writing as directly affected
by his sexual identity:
I feel that we put more emotion toward
our writing than a heterosexual male
would. I think that we know that women
and men speak differently in communication.
And I think that, as a gay
man, I probably tend to do that more;
writing might be a bit more flowery.
Steve’s sexual identity affected his writing to
the extent that his writing style itself is, from
his description, inherently gay.
In contrast, Stu, a clinical psychiatrist, talked
about how his sexual identity was not expressed
in his college writing:
Although, to some degree, it did impact
the types of subjects that were interesting
to me, such as HIV and AIDS.
And the impacts of those illnesses on
gay men were certainly an interest at
the time and remain an interest, but not
to the degree that I would do any writing
on it.
He further stated that in his professional field,
sexual identity is often unexpressed and even
It’s common in medical discourse to describe
or discuss a patient by their age,
by their race. Sometimes you may use
their gender as well, so you might describe
someone as a 59 year old White
male or a 27 year old Black female, and
there’s an assumption of heterosexuality
in that term. But if you have a patient
who’s gay, usually gay men, you
identify that this gentleman is a 59 year
old homosexual Caucasian male, and
depending on the writer, they may use
the word gay or homosexual. I find homosexual
tends to be used much more
often. And I guess in my own writing
as a psychiatrist, I tend to use the word
homosexual in describing men.
Stu’s description indicated that the omission of
expressed sexual identity in writing may be the
norm and affirmed that gay sexual identity is often
represented by omission and assumed heterosexual
until stated otherwise.
Bob, a very private writer by his own admission,
supported Stu’s notion. He described
the difficulty expressing his sexual identity in
writing: “When I was in college, I don’t think
I would be comfortable enough to write something
about my sexuality.” However, Chris described
expression differently:
I mean we’re experiencing a kind of
love that is foreign to the majority of
the heterosexual society, so they don’t
really know what we’re experiencing,
which is why I feel it’s important to incorporate
that into my writing style.
Chris found expression in his composing processes
as liberating because of his ability to
share his experience with others.
Through their experiences, the participants
described expression as an act of revealing.
These acts occurred both personally and
publicly. The participants’ descriptions showed
that expression varied from discreet to explicit
in composing processes. Expression also took
the form of stylistic choice, subject matter, and
genre. The expression of sexual identity in
composing processes was sometimes a way of
overcoming homophobia. Often, as the participants
described, the more indirect negotiations
of sexual identity were the effect of homophobia;
omission was a form of the expression of
sexual identity. Whether for personal or public
expression, the negotiation of sexual identity
as it is expressed in writing, an essential
component in the phenomenon of negotiating
sexual identity in the participants composing
The participants demonstrated courage
through the ways in which they chose to express
and negotiate their sexual identity in their
writing. The risk of doing so was very real for
them. Tom, who rarely wrote about his sexual
identity in academic contexts explained:
Well, you know, I just think that being
gay in our society is just really difficult.
You know, there are a lot of people
who just want you dead and who
can’t stand that fact that you live and
that you love, or that you have sex with
whoever you do.
Steve, who worked with student writing for several
years, affirmed Tom’s interpretation:
Having taught high school for several
years, I can imagine being an 18 year
old kid who’s popular on the football
team and life’s going great all of a sudden
saying, “I think I’m gonna be gay.
I think that it would be more fun to be
hated by my classmates, be thrown out
of my church (by) my parents.”
While Tom’s interpretation of risk may not have
seemed as extreme as Steve’s, the consequences
of revealing sexual identity were often heartfelt,
as Chris stated: “When I first started writing, I
would have taken that experience as almost a
death threat because I was so concerned about
people knowing who I am, and I was afraid of
being abused or beaten up.” Whether it was
fear of a violent response or a loss of social acceptance,
the courage to address sexual identity
was a cornerstone of negotiating sexual identity
in writing processes.
Kirk chose to assert his sexual identity and
selected a topic for a class project that he considered
was gay-identified. He wrote about putting
on a condom: “You know, in ’95, I don’t
know, even though it was only 12 years ago, I
don’t think there were a lot of straight boys writing
about, you know, how to put on a condom.”
Transforming Experience
Kirk described his courage and the awareness of
his difference. Chris described his experience:
“In writing courses where this [sexual identity]
came up, I was fearful and yet excited to
be able to share these experiences with people
even if they were anonymous.” The impact that
fear had on composing was in the form of the
choice as whether to write about sexual identity
or not. Chris explained that, in composing
processes, fear would cause him to limit his
writing: “[The act of writing] can be limiting at
times because of my nervousness.” The consistent
dichotomy of fear and courage was ever-
present when negotiating sexual identity in
composing processes.
Weighing the risks against the rewards of
revealing sexual identity in writing was another
component of composing processes. Mark
embraced his sexual identity as part of his spirituality:
“I realize that my life isn’t going to be
accepted by everyone and that there will be
people out there who will say I can’t be Christian
or I can’t be this or I can’t be that, but I’m
doing those things.” Mark was not alone in his
description of the rewards of embracing and expressing
his sexual identity. Bob enjoyed more
private aspects of writing: “Well I think as I get
older, coming out and meeting other gay people
and being more open about my sexuality, my
writing has gotten more emotional.” Bob described
the experience of creating writing that
was more honest as a result of his courage to
express his sexual identity.
Being Out
As the participants experienced, to privately
live with awareness of one’s sexual identity
does not necessarily beget publicly expressing
one’s sexual identity. However, awareness is an
important step to public expression. Regardless
of the choices one makes in his private and personal
expressions of his sexual identity, being
out is a fundamental act negotiated in the composing
processes. Yet, in order to be out, one
must first come out.
Coming out, or becoming aware of one’s
sexual identity, uniquely happened for each
participant. While the experience of coming
out was not the focus of the present study, it
was a primary facet of being out and negotiating
sexual identity. Coming out led to being
out, and was a core component in negotiating
sexual identity in composing processes. For
Steve, being out was important: “The world is
still very ignorant of what the gay and lesbian
lifestyle is.”
Kirk had an interesting description of being
out: “It wasn’t necessary for me to come out if
I lived in Provincetown because I was living the
gay dream.” Because Provincetown is a wellknown
gay resort town, Kirk described his sexual
identity as being implied by the culture in
which he lived. Thus, coming out in his writing
was unnecessary:
Most of the writing I did publicly was
for either a publication called Bay Windows,
which is a New England weekly
gay newspaper. I did some arts writing.
And then I did some arts writing for
Provincetown Banner and they’re not a
gay newspaper per se, but it’s the Provincetown
weekly paper, the gay press
today, you know, content by default it’s
a gay writer. And by writing it, you’re
sort of implying your sexuality.
Kirk described how his sexual identity is implied
by the context in which he writes and the
community in which he lives.
The participants described the experience
of not knowing or just coming to know about
their sexual identity, as Bob described in his
college experience:
I think back then, when I was in college,
I don’t think I would be comfortable
enough to write something about
my sexuality. I don’t think I really
came into my sexuality until I was into
my late twenties. So if I was in college
and I was asked to write an essay based
on my sexuality, I don’t think that my
orientation would come out in any way
Chris described his first college writing experiences:
“I did notice trepidation in the beginning
because of all of that, and it took me several
years to get comfortable enough to, to really
identify myself in writing as being gay.” Mark
I think part of the reason I went through
the depression and failed out of school
and all that was because I was just so
caught up in the idea that other people
could tell me who I should be; who
I could be; who God wanted me to be.
Stu stated:
In college, I was not out and, but I had,
even though I wasn’t out, an awareness
that I was gay. I think because of
that, my inclination was to write about
themes related to social justice and
prejudice and even impacted the major
that I selected in college. Now, I
was in the process of coming out, and
subsequently came out during graduate
school, but I’m not necessarily sure
that my coming impacted the kind of
writing it did. Although to some degree,
it did impact the types of subjects
that were interesting to me.
The participants described two primary aspects
about how sexual identity is expressed in writing.
One of these is not being out and thus not
being able to write about sexual identity directly.
The other is choice.
It is important to note that while the participants
may not have been explicitly negotiating
sexual identity, they made a conscious choice
to not do so. However, the participants experienced
a freedom in expressing their sexual identity
through writing. Chris illustrated the process
of negotiating sexual identity in composing
processes by describing what it was like to write
as an out gay man: “I can’t take on this other
persona of someone that I never was and try to
live through that, otherwise my writing process
would be almost invalid; it would be false, and
people would, I feel, see through it.” Chris described
his writing processes as essential to his
being out.
According to the participants’ descriptions,
being out and coming out were intrinsic to each
other. How this was negotiated in the participants’
composing processes occurred both within
composing processes and outside of them.
Whether the participants were personally out
about their sexual identity or not, the participants
negotiated their sexual identity and either
engaged it in writing acts or chose not to do so.
The participants found themselves in continual
negotiation with the landscape of sexual identity
during their composing processes.
The participants’ descriptions affirmed that
writing as an innately reflective act. When composing,
the participants engaged the process of
reflection by considering the ways their sexual
identity could affect their writing. Reflection
was as a way of coming to understand one’s
When asked how one might respond to an
essay prompt that allowed one to address sexual
identity, the participants reflected on the difficulties
of the question. They reflected on it
through both their life experience and hypotheses,
and asserted the impossibility of having
been able to address their sexual identity
in writing while in college. For example, Tom
You know, I’m not really sure. I didn’t
do a lot of writing about my sexuality. I
think I did an abstract story once about
two gay boys not boys, young men. It
was in a creative writing class, and it
wasn’t very good mainly because I’m
not a creative writer.
Stu stated: “I’ve never really had to write something
like that. I don’t think I’ve ever been
asked to write that.” It was through reflection
that this awareness presented itself to the
The participants described reflection as providing
a sense of completion and understanding.
Kirk reflected on how he would write an
essay concerning his sexual identity: “I think I
would definitely. For me it would immediately
start at my childhood because my sexuality
was sort of muted. It is very much a part of
my story.” Kirk would have incorporated his
life experience into the narrative, if he had been
provided the opportunity and had the personal
awareness necessary to write about his sexual
identity. Mark stated: “You have to be honest
with yourself and you have to figure that out,
otherwise there would be no point in writing
an essay that would reveal your sexual orientation.”
Through reflective acts, Mark came to
understand why writing about his sexual identity
was difficult for him
The participants said that reflection naturally
and spontaneously occurred in their writing.
They showed that reflection also occurred
outside the contexts of composing processes.
Reflection allowed them the ability to discover
the nature of their experience and describe
it completely. Through the description of their
experiences with composing and their descriptions
of their lives, the participants described
Transforming Experience
the links in negotiating their sexual identity in
composing processes.
Negotiating Public and Personal Identity
Two primary ways in which the participants
negotiated their identity were personally
and publicly. The ways in which the participants
negotiated their sexual identity in
composing processes provided a look into how
they negotiated their sexual identity as moving
from private contexts of identification into public
expression. Kirk described this negotiation
of public and personal identity as being influenced
by culture. He used his professional career
as a journalist to demonstrate:
Well you know, sure, I mean, like, culturally
I think sometimes editors would
choose me for a topic because they
knew I would get it without any, you
know, intensive study of, you know,
something had to be written within a
week’s time.
The public negotiation of sexual identity for
Kirk was externally focused: “I would rather
look out toward other people than look too
introspectively.” Kirk said this was a result of
the media for which he wrote, which was gaycentric
and imbedded in a gay-centric culture.
Kirk experienced the negotiation of his sexual
identity uniquely; it was expected that his
writing would be gay. He stated: “People just
know who you are, or that’s the gay guy that
works at the AIDS support group, and he’s freelancing
about this gay topic. Isn’t that nice?”
Kirk showed that culture influences how sexual
identity is negotiated, because culture is the audience
for whom one writes.
The culture in which the participants negotiated
sexual identity was a core component
in choosing to engage or ignore sexual identity.
However, they experienced personal and public
identity, regardless of social context, as inseparable.
Within composing processes, this negotiation
was intrinsic. Tom stated:
Well, like I said, I certainly look at
things from a different perspective than
say a straight man would. So in that regard
it does affect my writing process;
what I write about would be affected;
what I choose to write about would be
affected; and it would be, you know,
topics that would be, you know, if it’s
a story about a paper about a health
the AIDS health crisis in the early part
of the gay community or in the earlier
Chris claimed: “At first, I tried to separate my
sexual identity and my writing process.” He
later felt this was unnecessary: “I’m just thinking
if they’re not sleeping with me it’s none of
their business, but I’m gonna write.” The participants
described the negotiation of personal
and public identity as a way of negotiating culture
and context.
Writing exists within the confines of culture.
However, the context of that culture allowed
the participants to experience their sexual
identity differently. Some of the participants
described composing experiences positively;
others described their experiences as stilted,
even negatively. Whether writing personally,
professionally, or academically, the negotiation
of personal and public sexual identity was a primary
component in the composing processes
for the participants.
The participants described integration as
the process of incorporating sexual identity into
both personal and public identities. They experienced
the process of integration as a long one
that involved many steps and struggles; however,
the resulting integration was empowering.
Integration was intrinsic to their descriptions.
Tom discussed integrating his sexual identity
in writing as relief: “It is validating in many
ways, and it’s a good way to sort of get things
out.” Chris stated: “And then the more I became
more comfortable with myself, the easier
it became in the writing process.” The effects of
integrating sexual identity are clearly described
by these two participants. He added: “Everything
that I write about is slanted on my own
experiences, my own experiences being a gay
man.” The way in which Chris’s sexual identity
has integrated itself into both his personal
identity and his composing process is evident.
It is experienced as something essential. Steve
said: “I think it’s a lifestyle to which we’re born
in.” Chris explained: “My sexual identity because
that’s who I am, and that’s what I’m capable
of grasping. I don’t know that I have the
imagination as of yet to write about heterosexual
love because I haven’t experienced that so in
writing. I basically have that viewpoint of GLTB
identity and use that in my writing.” Tom explained
his experience in great detail:
I just think that I would approach
things, you know, as a gay man. I
would approach everything that way. I
certainly look at things from a different
perspective than, say, a straight man
would. So in that regard, it does affect
my writing process in the sense of the
process of writing.
The participants’ sexual identities became a
component of who they are. Thus, they experienced
writing as being more authentic. Stu
described how sexual identity operated in his
composing processes:
Now, I would say that my writing continues
to be more of a technical kind of
writing related to my career. How my
sexuality may impact my writing today.
It’s interesting. I have on occasion gay
patients, and I’m always surprised or
interested how other people refer to
those patients … And I think that my
own writing, because of my own sexuality,
I feel like I can handle that with a
certain sort of sensitivity that someone
else without this particular perspective
Stu then reflected on what it might be like if he
were writing from his current perspective in a
college classroom:
And I think because I’ve moved past
that in my life, if I were to write about
it now even in an English 101 class, if
I were to write about it now, it would
be more regular, more matter of fact. It
just is what it is. There’s not a lot of
thought that goes into it. There’s not
a lot of thought that goes into it, but
because there really isn’t much struggle
now, I don’t think I’d write about it
from that perspective.
For Stu, integration was the final stage of negotiating
sexual identity in composing processes.
Integration allowed both the author and the
reader to engage in the discourse of sexual identity
with acceptance and understanding. While
the participants described the process of integrating
sexual identity into personal and public
identities as a life-long process, they stated that
the negotiation is well worth the risks. Steve
I think how glad I am that I am who I
am; that I don’t have to worry about
that. Also, the time in which we live
that we don’t have to worry about being
put to death as a result of who we
The end result of this integrative process, as
Steve described, was transformative.
Writing is an innately transformational act
(Malinowitz, 1995). Paranto (2005) stated:
“Writing can transform and heal writers; writing
makes personal and social change possible”
(p. 3). Paranto’s study defined writing as transformative
by both teachers and students and
something innate to one’s sense of identity, culture,
and community:
Students draw on multiple and complex
discourses to define transformative
writing. This study suggests that
for these students writing is a sociocultural
practice deeply imbedded in their
sense of self and their constructs of
knowledge and power. This study also
suggests that writing in a classroom
that creates the space for students to
connect their subjective experience and
knowledge with academic literacy practices
is transformative. (p. 3)
In the composition classroom, this kind of academic
literacy, Paranto argued, is innate to
Within this transformative process of writing
is the negotiation of personal and public
identities, meaning and knowledge, and authority
and power (Malinowitz, 1995). The
discourses of sexual identity, both written and
oral, can, as well, become transformative ways
of producing more authentic writing. The essence
of negotiating sexual identity in the composing
processes of gay men was transformation.
I identified transformation as a process
marked with acts that produced a continued
change, both personal and social, and that is
imbedded in the emergent themes of the phenomenon.
It was through transformation that
both the experience and knowledge of the participants
connected with written meaning.
Hence, the transformative experience of negotiating
sexual identity in composing processes
Transforming Experience
allowed the participants to bring deeper structures
of meaning into written form.
The emergent themes of this phenomenon
have been ordered in such a way as to suggest
this process for transformation, but this ordering
does not attempt to assert that this is the
only process through which transformation can
or will occur. The ordering of the seven themes
presented in this study suggests that the thread
of transformation can be traced through the
emergent themes; this thread can be, as with
most human experience, linear or not. To better
explicate the transformative nature of the
phenomenon, I offer a discussion of how each
emergent theme inter-relates.
The participants described discovery as
a way of coming into awareness. Discovery
happened when there was an absence of understanding
about something. The discovery
of sexual identity was often an essential moment
of personal growth. However, discovery
did not necessarily beget acceptance. Malinowitz
(1995) stated: “Sexual identity is a component
of personal and social identity highlighted
for gay men because homophobia in the culture
makes it problematic” (p. 24). As a result,
as the participants discovered their sexual identity,
it often led to years of denial and/or constraints
of expression. The author supported
this description:
Because gay men must constantly assess
the consequences of being out and
negotiate the terms of disclosure, often
necessitating elaborate monitoring
of what is said and even thought
(‘internalized homophobia’), a particular
complication is woven into their
processes of construing and constructing
knowledge. Even for those who
are most out, acts of making meaning
involve constant confrontation with
many of the premises and mandates of
the dominant culture. Gay writers do
not have to be familiar with reader-response
theory to know that in a homophobic
society, the transaction between
a heterosexual reader and a homosexual
text can yield explosive meanings.
(p. 24)
It took the participants courage to discover and
express sexual identity in writing because it involved
confronting the mandates of the dominant
As the participants experienced, courage
was not the absence of fear, but the quality of
mind and spirit that allowed the participants to
face difficulty and/or pain regardless of fear.
Courage was necessary to overcome adversity
and choose to live a life of being out, or to live
openly and publicly with awareness. Malinowitz
wrote about the experience of being out and
creating a sense of self:
The risks that [gay men] take in coming
out, the rewards that motivate and
enable them to come out, the ways they
calculate those risks and rewards, the
factors that position them to negotiate
that calculation, the ways they locate
and define and propel themselves within
the master narratives of hegemonic
heterosexual culture, the communities
and identities they form within and in
opposition to that culture—all of these
things produce particular sorts of relationships
to the world that have everything
to do with who they “are.” (p. 7)
By reflecting on the world in which they lived,
the participants experienced being out as living
openly and publicly with awareness. In contrast,
they experienced the closet as living privately
or secretively, often without awareness.
The participants also experienced reflecting or
meditating on sexual identity as part of negotiating
personal and public identity.
Constructions of identity in writing are often
based around a fairly simple premise: audience
and expectation. For gay men, identity
is negotiated chiefly around heteronormativity.
One writes according to the precepts set
forth by one’s audience, according to the participants’
descriptions of their experiences. In
support of this idea, Hickey (1993) showed
that identity and voice, or written identity, are
shaped through the constant tension of the constructed
and the “distinctive self” (p. 25):
Any reader, like any writer, is in a state
of both constancy and flux. Each writer
strives to discover and communicate
her private relationship to the world in
which she lives, yet that same world
pressures her to conform, to please. All
we can do, I believe, is live with the
tension. Its existence is part of what
it means to be an individual and a
member of a community. Every day,
our voices are spoken and heard, written
and read, within that tension. The
sound of that struggle, however, is often
what’s missing in print. (p. 25)
The process of constructing identity and knowledge
of that identity was in constant flux with
the participants’ perceptions. However, what
Hickey illustrated as the primary tension between
the constructed self and the distinctive
self, the participants experienced as the process
of integration. This integrative act was defined
by Hickey (1993): “The sound of that struggle”
(p. 25). This struggle was often the continued
result of identity discovery and/or construction
or, as Malinowitz (1995) postulated, something
essential in the process of discourse: “Creating
a new kind of discourse through community,
and a new kind of community through discourse”
(p. 267).
Negotiating sexual identity in composing
processes occurred both literally and figuratively.
The descriptions and experiences the participants
presented held within them a transformative
quality. While sexual identity was often
constructed differently in various settings, the
participants described negotiations of sexual
identity as something essential to the way in
which they experienced themselves. Through
the lens of composing processes, the participants
engaged a sense of who they are by revealing
themselves with unabridged descriptions
of how they experienced negotiating their
sexual identity in composing processes.
In summary, each emergent theme of the
phenomenon explained another texture of transformation
in negotiating sexual identity in composing
processes. Discovery provided a way of
uncovering sexual identity; expression provided
avenues of revealing sexual identity; courage
provided a sense of being able to overcome perceived
and inherent risks in identifying sexual
identity; being out provided avenues of knowing
about sexual identity, reflection provided
further insight into sexual identity, negotiating
public and personal identities provided ways
of combining and incorporating sexual identity,
and integration provided a means for which
sexual identity became something normative
in the lives of the participants. Within each of
these emergent themes, the participants experienced
acts, processes, and instances of transformation.
The patterns that emerged as the
descriptive qualities of these themes serve to reinforce
the transformative quality of each emergent
theme and the phenomenon as a whole.
Through an explication of these themes, transformation
rooted itself as the essential experience
and the participants were able to bring
deeper structures of meaning into their varied
Limitations and Future Research
There are several limitations in the present
study. First, this study describes the phenomenon
of writing and the observations and experiences
of a small population. It cannot be
determined whether a larger pool would have
revealed different results. However, the data
from the participants saturated quickly and
richly, and data analysis was validated by external
readers. Second, along with the participants,
I identify as an out gay man. Additionally,
I am a college-level writing instructor. Thus,
I had the potential to influence the results of the
study. Because of my perceptions of the congruence
between the writing process and sexual
identity, I could affect the participants’ interviews.
I engaged Moustakas’ (1997) epoche to
help address this issue.
The descriptions of the participants are presented
for an audience that includes researchers
and educators in the field of rhetoric and
composition and queer studies, as well as gay
men. Future qualitative research into the relationships
between sexual identity and composing
processes can help shape future pedagogies.
By better understanding how sexual identity
reveals itself through writing, composition instructors
can better understand the composing
processes of gay men.
Exploring the voices of sexual identity in a
variety of composing processes can help create
a better understanding of their unique contexts.
In turn, this understanding will help create
more awareness of these contexts. By exposing
the impact of sexual identity on writing processes,
teachers can better facilitate and negotiate
the experience of their queer student writers.
By exploring gay voices in writing, new ways
of interpreting texts will evolve that will continue
to provide new insight into composing processes.
New ways of understanding constructions
of meaning, identity, knowledge, power,
and authority can continue to emerge through
Transforming Experience
the exploration of queer voices in writing and
the composition classroom.
This study shows how future researchers can
continue to expand on what is known about the
relationship between sexual identity and writing.
For educators, this study furthers the discourses
about identity and composing processes.
For gay men, this study provides continued
validation for exploring sexual identity. In the
end, this study on negotiating sexual identity in
the composing processes of gay men, built upon
existing research, hopes to shed more light on
the ways in which queer voices resonate in writing
and in our societies.
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Copyright of Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research is the property of Journal of Ethnographic &
Qualitative Research and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv
without the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email
articles for individual use.


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