Narrating the Closet: An Autoethnography of Same-Sex Attraction

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Croce illustrates what Tony E.


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Adams, Stacy Holman Jones, and Carolyn Ellis refer to as "illusory boundaries and borders between scholarship and criticism". Or as Craig Gingrich-Philbrook wrote, "any evaluation of autoethnography Prominent philosopher of science, Karl Popper, when claiming that falsifiability was a basic criteria of a scientific theory said:. A theory is falsifiable As autoethnography makes no claims that can be verified, it is no longer falsifiable.

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Under this criterion, autoethnography becomes pseudoscience. In her book's tenth chapter, titled "Evaluating and Publishing Autoethnography" pp. Who Judges? First, Ellis mentions Laurel Richardson , pp. The criteria are:. Autoethnographic manuscripts might include dramatic recall, unusual phrasing, and strong metaphors to invite the reader to "relive" events with the author. These guidelines may provide a framework for directing investigators and reviewers alike.

Further, Ellis suggests how Richardson's criteria mesh with criteria mentioned by Bochner who describes what makes him understand and feel with a story.

Hardest Part Of Experiencing Same-Sex Attractions

Bochner, , pp. The list takes encompasses descriptive , prescriptive , practical, and theoretical goals for evaluating autoethnographic work. Adams, Ellis , and Jones define the first goal of autoethnography as a conscious effort to "extend existing knowledge and research while recognizing that knowledge is both situated and contested". I knew I had to contribute to knowledge about coming out by saying something new about the experience I also needed a new angle toward coming out; my experience, alone, of coming out was not sufficient to justify a narrative.

Adams, Jones, and Ellis define the second goal for assessing autoethnography with four elements which include "featuring the perspective of the self in context and culture, exploring experience as a means of insight about social life, embracing the risks of presenting vulnerable selves in research, and using emotions and bodily experience as means and modes of understanding".

In Jones' Lost and Found essay she writes,. I convey the sadness and the joy I feel about my relationships with my adopted child, the child I chose not to adopt, and my grandmother. I focus on the emotions and bodily experiences of both losing and memorializing my grandmother'. The careful and deliberate incorporation of auto the "I", the self into research is considered one of the most crucial aspects of the autoethnography process.

Narrating the Closet

The exploration of the ethics and care of presenting vulnerable selves is addressed at length by Adams in A Review of Narrative Ethics. Autoethnography showcases stories as the means in which sensemaking and researcher reflexivity create descriptions and critiques of culture. Adams, Jones, and Ellis write:. A focus is placed a writer's ability to develop writing and representation skills alongside other analytic abilities. Adams switches between first-person and second-person narrationin Living In the Closet: The Time of Being Closeted as a way to "bring readers into my story, inviting them to live my experiences alongside me, feeling how I felt and suggesting how they might, under similar circumstances, act as I did".

Autoethnographers exploring different narrative structures can be seen in Andrew Herrmann's use of layered accounts , Ellis' use of haibun , and the use of autoethnographic film by Rebecca Long and Anne Harris. Among the concepts in qualitative research is "relational responsibility". Researchers should work to make research relationships as collaborative, committed, and reciprocal as possible while taking care to safeguard identities and privacy of participants.

In the critique he also questions how relationally irresponsible he was by including several brief conversations in his work without consent and exploited other's experiences for his own benefit. Similar sentiments are echoed throughout Adams, Jones, and Ellis critiques of their own writing. As an idea that emerged from the tradition of social constructionism and interpretive paradigm, autoethnography challenges the traditional social scientific methodology that emphasizes the criteria for quality in social research developed in terms of validity.

Carolyn Ellis writes, "In autoethnographic work, I look at validity in terms of what happens to readers as well as to research participants and researchers. To me, validity means that our work seeks verisimilitude; it evokes in readers a feeling that the experience described is lifelike, believable, and possible.

You also can judge validity by whether it helps readers communicate with others different from themselves or offers a way to improve the lives of participants and readers- or even your own" Ellis, , p. In this sense, Ellis emphasizes the "narrative truth" for autoethnographic writings. I believe you should try to construct the story as close to the experience as you can remember it, especially in the initial version. If you do, it will help you work through the meaning and purpose of the story.

But it's not so important that narratives represent lives accurately — only, as Art Arthur Bochner argues, "that narrators believe they are doing so" Bochner, , p. Art believes that we can judge one narrative interpretation of events against another, but we cannot measure a narrative against the events themselves because the meaning of the events comes clear only in their narrative expression.

Instead, Ellis suggests to judge autoethnographic writings on the usefulness of the story, Bochner , rather than only on accuracy. Ellis, , p. Narrative is the way we remember the past, turn life into language, and disclose to ourselves and others the truth of our experiences Bochner , In moving from concern with the inner veridicality to outer pragmatics of evaluating stories, Plummer also looks at uses, functions, and roles of stories, and adds that they "need to have rhetorical power enhanced by aesthetic delight" Plummer, , p.

Similarly, Laurel Richardson uses the metaphor of a crystal to deconstruct traditional validity Richardson, , p. A crystal has an infinite number of shapes, dimensions and angles. It acts as a prism and changes shape, but still has structure. Another writer, Patti Lather, proposes counter-practices of authority that rupture validity as a "regime of truth" Lather, , p.

She mentions the four subtypes: "ironic validity, concerning the problems of representation; paralogical validity, which honors differences and uncertainties; rhizomatic validity, which seeks out multiplicity; and voluptuous validity, which seeks out ethics through practices of engagement and self-reflexivity Lather, , pp. With regard to the term of "generalizability", Ellis points out that autoethnographic research seeks generalizability not just from the respondents but also from the readers. Ellis says, "I would argue that a story's generalizability is always being tested — not in the traditional way through random samples of respondents, but by readers as they determine if a story speaks to them about their experience or about the lives of others they know.

Readers provide theoretical validation by comparing their lives to ours, by thinking about how our lives are similar and different and the reasons why. Some stories inform readers about unfamiliar people or lives. We can ask, after Stake, "does the story have 'naturalistic generalization'?

The focus of generalizability moves from respondents to readers p. This generalizability through the resonance of readers' lives and "lived experience" Richardson, in autoethnographic work, intends to open up rather than close down conversation Ellis, , p. Denzin's criterion is whether the work has the possibility to change the world and make it a better place Denzin, , p.

This position fits with Clough, who argues that good autoethnographic writing should motivate cultural criticism. Autoethnographic writing should be closely aligned with theoretical reflection, says Clough, so that it can serve as a vehicle for thinking "new sociological subjects" and forming "new parameters of the social" Clough, , p. Though Richardson and Bochner are less overtly political than Denzin and Clough, they indicate that good personal narratives should contribute to positive social change and move us to action Bochner, , p.

In addition to helping the researcher make sense of his or her individual experience, autoethnographies are political in nature as they engage their readers in political issues and often ask us to consider things, or do things differently Chang Also, autoethnography as a genre frees us to move beyond traditional methods of writing, promoting narrative and poetic forms, displays of artifacts, photographs, drawings, and live performances Cons, p.

Denzin says authoethnography must be literary, present cultural and political issues, and articulate a politics of hope. The literary criteria he mentions are covered in what Richardson advocates: aesthetic value Richardson, , p. Ellis elaborates her idea in autoethnography as good writing that through the plot, dramatic tension, coherence, and verisimilitude, the author shows rather than tells, develops characters and scenes fully, and paints vivid sensory experiences. While advocating autoethnography for its value, some researchers argue that there are also several concerns about autoethnography.

Chang warns autoethnographers of pitfalls that they should avoid in doing autoethnography: " 1 excessive focus on self in isolation from others; 2 overemphasis on narration rather than analysis and cultural interpretation; 3 exclusive reliance on personal memory and recalling as a data source; 4 negligence of ethical standards regarding others in self-narratives; and 5 inappropriate application of the label autoethnography" p.

Also some qualitative researchers have expressed their concerns about the worth and validity of autoethnography. Robert Krizek contributed a chapter titled "Ethnography as the Excavation of Personal Narrative" pp. Krizek goes on to suggest that autoethnography, no matter how personal, should always connect to some larger element of life.

There are several critiques about evaluating autoethnographical works grounded in interpretive paradigm. First, some researchers have criticized that within qualitative research there are those that dismiss anything but positivist notions of validity and reliability. Smith and Smith and Heshusius critique these qualitative translations and warn that the claim of compatibility between qualitative and quantitative criteria cannot be sustained and by making such claims researches are in effect closing down the conversation.

Smith , p. What is clear How we are to work out this problem, one way or another, would seem to merit serious attention. In short, the book fills a tremendous gap in the literature and is cross-disciplined enough in nature that it may be a handy resource for any classroom of the social sciences, liberal arts or humanities. After discussing the importance of the subject matter, the author writes about decisions to enter the closet to oneself and to others , to stay in it, and possibly to leave it--including the paradoxes of these behaviors for the lesbian or gay individual and others with whom she or he interacts.

Finally, he offers advice to people who have same-sex attractions--and those who interact with them--with an eye to making being in or leaving the closet more tenable. He concludes that tolerance between groups can result from mutual understanding of the various problems involved. In the appendix, he describes the methods of his research, giving both the positive and negative aspects of it. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. Adam's narrative style has a poetic rhythm and cadence, inviting the reader to trust him as a narrator. While scholarly in nature, Narrating the Closet is accessible to a variety of academic and non-academic audiences.

Scholars interested in gender and sexuality studies, queer studies, communication studies, and qualitative research will find Narrating the Closet a beneficial edition to their collection. Adam's book extends the boundaries of qualitative research and encourages scholars to utilize their lived experiences as a site for critical inquiry. Narrating the Closet also provides advocates with insightful stories and information that can be used to tackle bullying, harassment, and LGBQ suicides.

Narrating the Closet is an affirmation of LGBQ identities that reminds young gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer individuals that they are not alone. It is a work that begins to deconstruct and critically reflects on the legacy of same-sex desire and culture as well as moving towards another 'paradigm shift' whereby the shibboleths of coming out of the closet, gay pride and gay consumer culture and capital are as problematic as they are empowering. Adams' contribution to this field is both relevant and original, offering a multifaceted alternative to some of the facile and supercilious examinations of same-sex desire, identity politics and representation.

The ways in which he examines the relational and contingent construction of the closet means that his work can be read as an autobiographical account used as a methodological resource or read as a critical text in the fields of psychology, sexuality and identity politics. Professor Adams provides historical, cultural, and rhetorical implications of the proverbial closet in which so many members of the GLBT community have found themselves. The book thoughtfully weaves observations, reflections, analyses, and insights as it disentangles the coming out process of a co-culture that has been maligned, ridiculed, and hated by a large cross-section of American citizens.

As the U. His work both depicts and honors the 'voices' of those whose life experiences have been misunderstood or ignored.

As you read this extraordinary tome, your heart will break at times and be uplifted at other times. Throughout, however, you will find a candid, compassionate, and engaged author who embraces an other-centeredness rarely found in any published work. While it is indeed a scholarly work, as an autoethnographic research, Tony s storytelling certainly makes this book accessible for everyone.

For the reader who is less interested in the scholarly aspect of the storytelling, it is possible to be engaged by the stories. For the reader who is more interested in the scholarly research production, this book provides a rich contribution for the study of cultures, particularly of constitutive invisible and ephemeral. Marcela Polanco, The Qualitative Review". Adams communication, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Narrating the Closet would likely appeal to any person interested in issues surrounding lesbian, gay and bisexual identity. Though the book does read with an academic tone, the personal narratives and the simple descriptions of the metaphor of the closet make it a work that would be a worthwhile read for any same-sex attracted person, their friends, their family, their allies, and, in fact, their adversaries who are in need of education Joshua C.

Communication Error Occurred.

Grounded in storytelling, Narrating the Closet convincingly models personal vulnerability and academic integrity. Adam s narrative style has a poetic rhythm and cadence, inviting the reader to trust him as a narrator. Adam s book extends the boundaries of qualitative research and encourages scholars to utilize their lived experiences as a site for critical inquiry. I quit talking to members of my family. I isolated myself from close friends. I engaged in acts that put my health at risk.

I acted carelessly and felt alienated. There I worked on projects outlining my struggles with identifying as gay and projects discerning relational characteristics of internalized homo- phobia, a self-inflicted fear and hatred made possible by a personal embrace of same-sex attraction Adams, , a.

Eventually I came to this book as a necessary culmination not only of my previous research and experience but also of my love for Brett and my grief over his death, a loss that left me confused and a loss that revealed untidy questions about the closet, coming out, and same-sex attraction. In particular, I wondered: How is same-sex attraction discussed and lived? What does it mean to come out of—and, consequently, stay in— the closet? When and how does—and should—coming out happen?

How can I work to make experiences of same-sex attraction and the closet more humane? Method1 To investigate these questions I reflected on my experience of the closet and coming out, and I documented conversations that I had with others about same-sex attraction. I have self-identified as gay for a decade.

I make my gay iden- tity known most everywhere. Most of my family knows I find men attractive, and I openly discuss my intimate same-sex relationships with friends and acquaintances, colleagues, students, and strang- ers. Consequently I am frequently held accountable, by myself and others, for many of the assumptions about the closet, coming out, and same-sex attraction outlined in this book; they inform, emerge in, and are reinforced by my interactions.

I mention characteristics of my public embrace of gay identity, because there have been many situations in which persons who struggle to identify as LGBQ have asked me about my experiences with coming out. Consequently I have participated in many meaning- ful and serendipitous conversations about the closet, coming out, and same-sex attraction. For instance, there was the person interviewing me for a job who told me, during the interview, that he was gay, but no one at his workplace knew; he was scared it would tarnish his case for promotion.

[PDF] Narrating the Closet: An Autoethnography of Same-Sex Attraction (Writing Lives) [Download]

There was the high school acquaintance, who, after seeing on my Facebook. As of this writing, four years later, not much has changed: the woman says she still has come out only to one other person, and the man has not seen or talked with his parents. In classrooms and my office, on the street, in restaurants and bars, and at festivals and church, I never know when I will hear struggles with the closet, coming out, and same-sex attraction.

Such spontaneous and unsolicited disclosures offer insight into the closet that more intentionally structured efforts to gather infor- mation about this construct do not. Persons with same-sex attraction encounter many personal and social pressures; consequently their identities need to be protected, especially if their experiences are being used in ways they never may want or know.

I interviewed friends and acquain- tances for two reasons. First, I wanted to make the interviews as comfort- able as possible; knowing the people with whom I spoke facilitated such comfort. Second, I wanted to talk to people who trusted me. Although trust is always important in research, the need for trust is heightened, I believe, when a person speaks about experiences with same-sex attrac- tion; because consequences for coming out still exist, and because what the person says may appear in a public, easily accessible document for example, this book , trust in the researcher is important.

A man who finds women attractive is heterosexual. A man who is attracted to men and women is bisexual. For example, a person designated at birth as male sex but who feels like and identifies as a woman gender may choose to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

Narrating the Closet | An Autoethnography of Same-Sex Attraction | Taylor & Francis Group

To my knowledge, sur- geries for gender reassignment do not exist. However, I argue that in many contexts, same- gender coupling does not indicate sexuality. For instance, throughout most of the United States, same-sex, different-gendered partners could not marry, because the law would typically classify them as a same-sex couple and same-sex marriage is still illegal in many states. Consider, for instance, an interview Howard Stern conducted with the bald, tattoo-covered, muscular, and mustached porn star Buck Angel Stern, What makes Buck gay?

If Buck is gay, how does the closet apply to his life? If sexuality rests on his masculine gender and he is physically sexually attracted to others who perform and identify as men gender , then this same-gender coupling might mark Buck as gay—and thereby make him able to come out of the closet. Interestingly, bisexuality is not discussed as a possibility. Or consider another example of how sex, gender, and sexuality interrelate. First, the plan assumed that enemy soldiers are of the same sex, most likely men.

Second, by saying the chemical will increase same-sex attraction, the plan assumed that all the enemy soldiers are heterosexual. She told me about a time she used a restroom in a bar in Racine, Wisconsin. I glanced at her quickly, because I did not want her to know that I was looking.

But I then saw her stop primping, tilt her head to the side, and look at me. I walked into a stall, and heard her leave. I felt that she wanted to ask if I was in the correct restroom. I exited the stall and went to wash my hands when the restroom door opened. I looked in the mirror and saw a guy standing behind me.

I then saw the lady walk in behind him. I quickly grabbed paper towels, dried my hands, and reached for the door, but the guy grabbed my hand, swung me around, and slammed my head into the wall.

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They found me in the stall with my head on the toilet and my hands covered in blood. An offi- cer arrived and asked if I wanted to press charges. I said no. I was scared. Same-sex attraction—and, consequently, coming out of the closet— becomes further complicated when sex can be defined in two ways: sex-at-birth and sex-after-sex-reassignment-surgery—for example, a male sex-at-birth attracted to a female sex-after-sex-reassignment- surgery may be considered heterosexual, whereas if the man was attracted to the person before surgery, he may be classified as gay.

Some people refused to speak to me. I structure this book in terms of these feelings, and represent, textually, how same-sex attraction felt at particular times. For in- stance, the next three chapters—chapters stemming from my learn- ing, embracing, and revealing of same-sex attraction—describe times when I felt confused. I was uncertain about my life and came to learn about myself through fragmented and fleeting flashes of same-sex at- traction.

In the last two chapters I document life as more secure and calm. I felt, and continue to feel, increasingly satisfied, and, instead of focusing on the confusion, uncertainty, and fragmentation, I write about the ways the closet, coming out, and same-sex attraction inform my everyday experience. My training in communication also informs this work.

I attend to ways people use lan- guage, construct and interpret messages, and engage in harmful relational practices. I fuse abstract theory with practical, lived cir- cumstance. These interactional practices make particular features of the closet, coming out, and same-sex attraction more salient than others. Thus, I situate my discussion in face-to-face interaction and within relationships. For instance, a lesbian who is married to a man and who has children has a variety of relational worries with which she must contend upon coming out. She must worry about whether legal authorities will take her kids.

She must worry about whether her kids will be harassed or dismissed from school solely for having, or being affiliated with, a mother with same-sex attraction Cooper, ; T. I situ- ate my discussion in these kinds of contexts. And even though I try to acknowledge ways that technology can influence coming out and same-sex attraction, I foreground embodied, face-to-face relations. Some of the content of this book is graphic.

One reviewer men- tioned that I should be charged with child molestation for making unsolicited advancements on a young boy. The problem with such a charge is that the boy was the same age as I was—we were both 13 Chapter 2. Another reviewer mentioned that I should remove a graphic sex scene and accounts of self-destructive behavior Chapter 3.

There was a time in my life when I had little care for myself or others. I am not proud of what I did, but I realize these experiences are part of who I was, who I am, and who I try not to be. I also attempt to show how the closet, coming out, and same-sex attraction function as relational phenomena—phenomena for which others may hold a person accountable in a variety of ways, at a var- iety of times, and in a variety of places and phenomena that im- plicate persons of all sexualities.

In so doing, I not only show how others can make meaning of and, consequently, evaluate a person in terms of the closet, but I also reframe the traditional view of coming out as a discrete and linear, strictly personal affair to one shared by all persons who know of or interact with others who possess same- sex attraction. I do not claim that my observations will resonate with everyone or that I work to test predictions, control outcomes, or make general- izations about the closet or coming out Poulos, , p.

Rather, I document my journey through, and processing of, the closet and coming out with the purpose of making experiences of same-sex at- traction more humane, tolerable, and meaningful for others. I write not just about the person I am and have been but also about the person I want to be. I conclude by offering strategies a person can use to reframe and better navigate difficult closet-related experiences Chapter 6.

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