The rise and fall of gay: a cultural-historical approach to gay identity development.

Research paper by Nic M NM Weststrate, Kate C KC McLean

Indexed on: 21 Nov '09Published on: 21 Nov '09Published in: Memory (Hove, England)


Research on identity development has paid relatively little attention to the development of marginalised identities such as those of gays and lesbians, whose isolation from the canonical narrative of sexuality may limit the available resources required for establishing a coherent identity. We examined these contested identities in relation to cultural-historical factors that may have played a role in shaping these identities over the past 50 years, and looked at how such factors have impacted the voicing and silencing of gay experiences. Participants (N=251) reported (1) a memory of a cultural event relevant to their sexuality, and (2) a self-defining memory about their sexuality. Those in older cohorts reported cultural memories centred on politics and other external events (e.g., Stonewall riots), and younger cohorts reported more personal memories (e.g., coming out), suggesting that homosexual identities have become less culturally defined, and instead more personally defined. Further, participants of older cohorts reported self-defining events that were predominantly from one private domain (e.g., sex). In contrast, younger participants reported a variety of self-defining events. These results suggest that cultural-historical factors play an important role in defining the developmental pathway of individuals, perhaps especially those who have marginalised identities.