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Narratives of lesbian transformation


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Narratives of lesbian transformation coming out stories of women who transition from heterosexual marriage to lesbian identity
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Walsh, Clare F
University of South Florida
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Tampa, Fla
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Gender normativity
Life span development
Dissertations, Academic -- Women's Studies -- Masters -- USF   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


ABSTRACT: Women who have transitioned to a lesbian identity from a previously heterosexual one lack a voice in the academic literature. Identity formation in this subset of women, those who chose a heterosexual marriage, had children, and later in life self identify as lesbian, has not been fully investigated. For this project, eight women were asked to answer this question: How have you negotiated the path from heterosexuality to lesbianism? Four main themes were found dealing with heteronormativity and accountability, relationship with children, transition, and acceptance by the lesbian community. Additionally, I introduce a new term---gender-normativity---to describe these women who only after marrying, having children and raising those children, and going through a process of self-reflection, realized they wanted to make a transition and spend the rest of their lives in an intimate relationship with a woman.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Clare F. Walsh.
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Narratives of Lesbian Transformation: Coming-Out Stories of Women who Transition from Heterosexual Marriage to Lesbian Identity by Clare F. Walsh A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Women's Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Sara Crawley, Ph.D. Marilyn Myerson, Ph.D. James King, Ed.D. Date of Approval: March 29, 2007 Keywords: lesbian, identity, heteronormativity, gender norma tivity, narratives, feminist, life span development Copyright 2007 Clare F. Walsh


Dedication To the women in this study They helped make all women more visible


Acknowledgements This thesis could not have been completed without the help of many people: My colleague, Rebecca, for many conversat ions about everything, but especially discussions that had nothing to do with this project and helped clear my head. My committee members--Sara, Marilyn, and Ji m--for offering thoughtful suggestions to make this thesis the best it could possibly be. The women who participated in this project and who talked a bout such an intimate topic, without them this project would not have been possible. To my family for their encouragement and emo tional support, but especi ally thanks to my partner, Eileen, whose constant words of encouragement, great dinners, and laundry service helped me finish this project.


i Table of Contents Abstract...... ..ii Introduction.. Literature Review. Identity. 3 Heteronormativity 5 Accountability. .7 Lesbian Studies.... 8 Personal Narratives 12 Methods. Findings and Discussion.23 Heteronormativity and Accountability...............23 Expected to marry and have children..... 23 Lesbian lifestyle not seen as an option Unhappy in marriage.. Current long-term relationship. .. Relationship with Children Transition... 32 Pain/reluctance during transition33 Research into lesbian identity Therapy in transition.... ......35 Acceptance by Lesbian Community..... .36 Participation in lesbian community ... Not fitting in .. No regrets ... Conclusion..40 References Cited... .44 Appendices. Appendix A: Interview Guide.......48 Appendix B: Participant Demographics


ii Narratives of Lesbian Transformation: Coming Out Stories of Wo men who Transition from Heterosexual Marriage to Lesbian Identity Clare F. Walsh ABSTRACT Women who have transitioned to a lesbian identity from a previously heterosexual one lack a voice in the academic literature. Identity formation in this subset of women, those who chose a heterosexual marri age, had children, and later in life self identify as lesbian, has not been fully invest igated. For this proj ect, eight women were asked to answer this question: How have you negotiated the path from heterosexuality to lesbianism? Four main themes were found dealing with he teronormativity and accountability, relationship with childre n, transition, and acceptance by the lesbian community. Additionally, I introduce a new termgender-normativityto describe these women who only after marrying, having children and raising those children, and going through a process of self-reflection, realiz ed they wanted to make a transition and spend the rest of their lives in an intimate relationship with a woman.


1 Chapter One Introduction The dilemmas of contemporary American lifeof finding a sense of belonging and membership in a community that is continua lly changing, of maintaining stability amid rapid social transformationare the dilemmas of the late modern world (Stein 4). Identity transformationidentity crisis, iden tity changeis story re visionIdentity is a life story (McAdams in Plummer, 172). Well, you know youre gay. These were just a few of the last words I heard from my ex-husband as we were divorcing. We had been together 20 years and have two children. His comments took me totally off gua rd. When I recovered from the shock of his statement, I began to wonder if he might be right. Granted, I love sports; I hate wearing make-up or dresses; I have short hair, I love hanging out with women; but does that make me lesbian? I began a soul-sear ching journey. I ponder the same question as Nancy Naples when she declares, My long history as a practicing heterosexual was enough to negate my claim to a lesbian id entity. How could someone who was so involved with men for so long really be a lesb ian? (26). And, since I had identified as a lesbian later in my life, I w ondered if other lesbians would see me as a real lesbian and accept me into the community. After all, Cl are Farquhar notes, despite the increasing precariousness of discrete identity positions in the late modern world, the concept of the authentic lesbian still persis ts (226). Kate Bornstei n asks, ever wonder if you fall outside the permitted labels, and maybe youre the only one who knows you do, and so


2 you feel a bit guilty? (14). I do feel guilty, first by self-identif ying as lesbian, a label that frequently is not socially accepted, then because I have children and had a husband which may render me less lesbian in the ey es of lesbians. I wonder if anyone shares my experience. An aspect of heteronormativity is the c oncept that individual s meet a partner of the opposite sex, marry, and have children (S eidman 58). The assumption is often made that if a woman has children, she must be heterosexual. But, is she? What do we know about women who change their sexuality mid-lif e? As I reviewed the literature of lesbian identity, there is an absent voi cethe women who transitioned from socially accepted heterosexuality to socially unaccepta ble homosexualityspecifically, the voice of women who had children as a result of their heterose xual relationship and then transitioned to a lesbian identity. This project adds to the literature of lesbian identity and collects the narratives of eight women who had children, then later in life transitioned to their lesbian identity; they share my experience. This thesis will show that heteronor mativity often sends individuals on a predictable life path and even those paths pe rhaps considered socially deviant follow this expected path more closely than might be an ticipated. The literature reviewed discusses the way individuals self-identify and are held accountable to their pe rsonal life stories. Ultimately, quotes from the participants life stories will give voice to women who have previously been left out of the discourse in lesbian studies.


3 Chapter Two Literature Review the incoherences and contradictions of homosexual identity in twentieth-century culture are responsive to and he nce evocative of the incohere nces and contradictions of compulsory heterosexuality (Sedgwick 54). A review of the literatu re for this project exposes five themes: identity, heteronormativity, accountability, lesbian st udies and personal narratives. Each is important in its own way to the development of the narratives the participants use to tell their life story. Notions of id entity expose how selves are co nstructed in relation to the individuals with whom we in teract. Discourses of heteronormativity and processes of accountability influence the way individuals are allowed to construct themselves. An investigation of lesbian studies helped determine specific areas of focus for this project. Finally, an exploration of th e notion of personal narratives showed the importance of life narratives to the telling of who we are. Identity Identity helps individuals negotiate culturall y. It is a shorthand used to tell who we are to ourselves and to others we may encounter as we move through our lives. An identity forms when the self takes itself as an object and categorizes classifies, or names itself in particular ways in relation to other social categor ies or classifications and for particular intents (Stets and Burke 224). W hy worry about identity? After all, placing oneself in a category is not very postmoder n. As Naples points out categories of


4 identities can be comforting and useful at times (39). Identity categories influence how we react with others and how others react to us. Furthermore, when one identifies with a group, one is also defined socially as an indivi dual, both to themselves and to others. As Wilton notes it alerts us to our social and cultural location on a moment-by-moment basiswhat reaction we are likely to meet fr om others and what elements of our selves need to be emphasized or concealed in partic ular circumstances (9). In other words, dispositional identities, like sexuality for exampl e, give clues as to wh at is expected from a person in terms of their behavior and it also influences how others interact with them based on that identity and the individual is held to a certain level of accountability to that identity. Cahill suggests the public person is not made in the image of a unique self; rather, an interpretive picture of a unique self is made in the image of the public person (137). Zerubavel agrees, we th ink not only as individuals a nd as human beings, but also as social beings, products of particular social environments that affect as well as constrain the way we cognitively interact with th e world (6). He further posits, We learn how to focus our attention, frame our experience, gene ralize, and reason in a socially appropriate manner (Zerubavel 13). Moreover, since humans are social animals with needs for attachment that make us dependent on others, we have interests in being acceptable to members of our social group (Ferguson 114). Knowing what is socially expected and socially acceptable creates comfort and order in everyday life. Identities, such as lesbian or heterosexual, help us feel a sens e of order in the world around us.


5 Heteronormativity Yet, not all identities are equally accepted and welcomed in US culture today. Heterosexuality is encouraged or enforced in most social settings as the normative self. American culture focuses our experience on compulsory hetero sexuality and the heterosexually constituted family is the ba sic social unit (Ric h 657). Seidman notes heteronormativity is the concept that indi viduals marry as virgins for love, where marriage inevitably leads to family, and where men and women occupy different and complementary social and sexual roles (58). Heterosexuality is held up as the standard for legitimate and expected social and se xual relations (Ingraham 2). Jackson adds, heterosexuality is an organizing principle of many aspect s of social structure and social life (179) and heterosexuals often do not know what they are; they do not need to know; they are simply normal (Jackson 174). Further, heteronormativity is not widely questioned and an individuals sexual identity must be fashioned from whatever cultural matter is available if it is to have psychological, social, and cultural utility (Wilton 25). As such, heteronormativity indicates certain gender identities for men and women. Men are to be the providers for the family and crea te financial security and women are to raise the children creating a ha ppy and peaceful home life. Rich discusses heteronormativity in a term she has coined compulsory heterosexuality, and notes it has an impact fo r women particularly because it limits their choices. She points out Women have married because it wa s necessary, in order to survive economically, in order to have chil dren who would not suffer economic deprivation or social ostracism, in orde r to remain respectable, in order to


6 do what was expected of women because coming out of abnormal childhoods they wanted to feel normal, and because heterosexual romance has been represented as th e great female adventure, duty, and fulfillment. (Rich 654) If there are no options besides heteronorma tivity in a culture, is homosexuality even seen as an option? I would say no. Sedgwick notes most crucial sites for the contestation of meaning in twentieth-century Western culture are consequentially and quite indelibly marked with the histori cal specificity of homosocial/homosexual definition (48). Once the notion of homosexuality was defined in the late nineteenthcentury, it was placed in opposition to heterose xuality (Katz 257). Furthermore, samesex desire was repressed with increasing energy, and hence increasing visibility, as the nineteenth-century culture of the individual proceeded to elaborate a version of knowledge/sexuality incr easingly structured by its pointed cognitive refusal of sexuality between wome n, between men. (Sedgwick 49) In western society, we learn an identity of heterosexuality is normal and an identity of homosexuality is abnormal. The notion of an identity being viewed as abnormal forces individuals who self-ide ntify with that abnormal identity into hiding. Indeed, Sedgwick argues the closet is a social mechanism th at not only compels people with same sex attractions into hiding but also compels heter osexuals to swear absolute allegiance only to heterosexuality, resulting in our very beli ef in a binarythe good and the spoiled.


7 And, as Plummer has noted in Telling Sexual Stories timing is critical, Indeed, the notion of gay identity only becomes a possibility once there has been a breakdown in traditional notions of the self. In the past, the possibility to choose to possess a gay identity simply did not exist (emphasis in text 93). We are in a period of history when possessing a gay identity does not necessarily mean an individual will lose their jobs, their homes, their family, their friends, or be at risk for losing their life. The discussion of a homosexual identity can fi nally come out of the closet and individuals who self identify as lesbian can more publicly narrate their own life stories. Accountability Not only does the notion of heteronorma tivity force individuals into certain gender identities, but accountability also co mpels individuals into certain ways of expressing those gender identities to others and ourselves. Women are held accountable to heteronormativity to be good wives and mo thers. They are e xpected to prioritize children and home over their own interests. For example, good wives and mothers have dinner on the table when their husbands co me home. They make sure the kids get to school and to all their extracu rricular activities. Genera lly, women keep life at home running smoothly. Men are held accountable to heteronormativity to be the providers of financial security. They may work long hours each day and when they come home, generally, men are not held accoun table to pursuing any activities that will keep the home running smoothly. They may leave the dishes, laundry, and putting the children to bed to their wife. All of these actio ns are normal and unexceptional and reinforce compulsory heteronormativity. As West and Zimmerman argue the notion of accountability also encompasses those actions undertak en so that they are specifically unremarkable and thus


8 not worthy of more than a passing remark, becau se they are seen to be in accord with culturally approved standards (West and Zimmerman 136). According to this notion it would be unr emarkable for a woman to have children, it would be expected in a heteronormativ e society. If a woman has children, the assumption is that she is not a lesbianshe ha s been socially identified as heterosexual. But, what happens when a woman who on ce was labeled culturally as heterosexual decides that this is no longer appropriate for her? What happens when she self-identifies as lesbian? After all, she has seemingly b een held accountable to heteronormativity by marrying and having children, but now she has tr ansitioned into a category of woman that is not suppose to have children. Indeed, sa me-sex relationships previously could not produce children until technology developed to make it possible and laws changed to allow for adoption by same-sex couples. Lesbian Studies Are women who now self-identify as lesbia n despite a previous relationship with a man overlooked in either or both the hetero sexual and lesbian community? Are they even the subject of study? Karla Jay has o ffered, gay women are the Other and ones perception of culture and literature is filtered by sexual behaviors and preferences (xvii). Butler argues lesbian appears to be a third gender, a categ ory that radically problematizes both sex and gender as stable pol itical categories of description (144). Rust addresses the main idea proposed in my project and charges: the closets are not empty, and not everyone who emerges from them has already been studied and very little research has been done on married women with same-sex attractions (viii). Rust further summarizes the quandary in Bisexuality and the Challenge to Lesbian Politics


9 As individuals and as a historically evolving community, [lesbians] have struggled to form an identity. We have struggled to distinguish ourselves from heterosexuals in order to asse rt our existence in a society that assumes heterosexuality, and at the same time we have struggled to define ourselves positively in terms of what we have in common as lesbians. (123) The literature on lesbianism had been la rgely lacking until the 1990s when, quite literally, an explosion occurred. A recent search of using the key words lesbianism and non-fiction revealed the full extent of this explosion. 1 Few titles are listed before 1980. During the 1980s, sixty-one titl es are listed. And during the 1990s, no fewer than four hundred and fifty-six titles are found. Topics range from historical accounts, to sexual theory, to e xperiencing life as a lesbian. The following titles are just some of the examples found in literature of the 90s. In Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers (1992), Lillian Faderman discusses th e history of lesbian life in the 20 th century. In Queer by Choice (1995), Vera Whisman discusses th e sexual theory and the politics of identity for both lesbians and gay men. Du ring the 1990s many collections of essays were published highlighting the experiences of being and living as a lesbian. Collections like Arlene Steins Sister s, Sexperts, and Queers (1993) and Ellen Lewins Inventing Lesbian Culture ( 1996) highlight the variety f ound in the lesbian community and overview how lesbians deal with their wo rld outside the community. In Sex and 1 For the purposes of this project, wa s chosen as an easily accessible and quick method to find representative titles on lesbian st udies. However, does not list all literature on any topic. For example, many titles dealing with issues related to lesbianism prior to 1990 may be out of print and were therefore not found in this search. It does suggest that there were many more opportunities to research and claim a lesbian identity from the 1990s to today.


10 Sensibility (1997), Arlene Stein interv iews women who identify as lesbian, these women self-identified at a young age. Perhaps timing has something to do with this explosion of lesbia n literature. Life stories of people with al ternative sexualities could not be expressed or even heard until recently. These stories were considered to be from socially unacceptable, deviant individuals who had to maintain their lives in secret or risk loosing their jobs or personal injury. Claassen contends the timing for st udying alternative sexualities is now. She notes In spite of a feminist movement and lesbian feminism, feminist literature and scholarship has had more interest in other groups of women than it has had in lesbians. Gay and lesbian studies are largely an academic creation of the 1990s and this is the decad e in which gay historiography has proliferated. Although stil l carrying risks, gay/lesb ian/bi/trans scholarship is far safer for the scholar than ever before. (19) But, just as women are the other when compared to men, lesbians are the other when being compared to gay men. As Rich has argued, to equate lesbian existence with male homosexuality because each is stigmatized is to deny and erase female reality once again (649). Even though this statement was written in 1980, I feel Richs point is still valid when she notes lesbian existence has been written out of history or catalogued under disease (Rich 648). Le win agrees and proposes there is a difference between studies involving lesbians and gay men. She ar gues, mens narratives typically illustrate ideas about homosexuality as an innate condition, while wome ns are often more concerned with choice and the political ramificati ons of being or becoming lesbian (6).


11 Others have noticed this lack of study of lesbians and th eir self-identity. Karol L. Jensen in Lesbian Epiphanies conducted a similar study to the one I am suggesting of older women who come out as lesbian. Jens en, who conducted a study of lesbians in a heterosexual marriage, observes Until the last 10 years, female development was ignored, treated as an after thought, or forced into para llel lines of reasoning with male development. Womens experience did not conform along these parallel lines and was therefore considered abnor mal, or not considered at all. I did find studies that address awar eness and development of sexual identitygender iden tity and orientationin fe males. There is ample literature that discusses marriage to a man as the life path for a woman. However, I found little that discussed the intersection of female identity and female gender orientation, and al most nothing that considered the impact of discovering this intersection as a married adult woman. It was clear that a theoretical perspective to explain this process was/is needed. (3) But, Jensen does not break her group into women who have had a heterosexual relationship before a lesbian sexual identit y. She does not focus on women who have had children during their heterosexual relationship as my project does. Abbott and Farmer edited a collecti on of stories of women who went From Wedded Wife to Lesbian Life (1995), but most of these women stated they married specifically to hide from their homosexuali ty and their own homophobia. Hence, they seemed to be aware of their lesbian inte rests earlier in life. In Whistling Women (2005)


12 and Lives of Lesbian Elders (2005) the authors interview women about their lesbian life history, not specifically focused on heterosexua l women with children who transition to a lesbian identity. And, Karla Jay notes th e lesbian experience has been too often marginalized and restricted (xvi). Because having children would seem to complicate lesbian identity, this project will add to the literature found based on the lesbian experience as I focus on women who have ha d a heterosexual relati onship that produced children and ask them to share their life stories. Personal Narratives Personal narratives or life stories are impor tant ways individuals tell others about themselves and their experiences. These storie s also influence the perception of the self for the teller of the story. Narratives construct reality and give clues on how to act and give clues to others on how to react. Rie ssman notes individuals construct past events and actions in personal narratives to claim id entities and construct lives (2). So, as people tell their life stories to themselves and others they create their identities. Linde observes the importance of life stories when she states Life stories express our sense of self : who we are and how we got that way. They are also one very important means by which we communicate this sense of self and negotiate it with others. Further, we use these stories to claim or negotiate group membership and to demonstrate that we are in fact worthy members of those gr oups, understanding and properly following their moral standards. Finall y, life stories touch on the widest of social constructions, since they make presuppositions about what can be


13 taken as expected, what the norms are, and what common or special belief systems can be used to establish coherence. (3) But, life stories are not constant. They ar e continually being revised and they are especially revised at moments in life that are important. Linde calls these moments landmark events. She explains these can include choice of profession, marriage, divor ce, and religious or ideological conversion if any. Both in its cont ent (the items that it includes and excludes) and its form (the structures th at are used to make coherent), it is the product of a member of a particular culture. (11) Timing of stories plays a key role in what is told to self and others. Berger notes the importance of timing in the telling of life stories. He explains A narrative isa story, and stories tell about things that have happened or are happening to people, animals, aliens from outer space, insects whatever. That is, a story contains a sequence of events which means that narratives take place within or over, to be more precise, some kind of time period. (4) Timing is important not only in an individua ls telling of a life story, but also the historical period can determine what story can be toldwhat story is socially acceptable. Plummer writes of the importance of this time historically and within the life history of the individual, when the new coming out story will become available in any particular life is unpredictable; ma ny find it occurring during their first heterosexual marriage, some may find it taking place in mid-adolescence


14 and others can move through it during their retirement. And the times change: in America during the 1970s it seemed to occur most typically somewhere between the twenties and early thirties. More recently, there are clear signs that coming out is happening earlierand in some ways more easily. (85) Personal narratives, coming-out stories in particular, have beco me ways to learn about identity formation. In coming-out stor ies, heteronormativity is being questioned especially as homophobia becomes less rampant in society and homosexuality is viewed as a more socially acceptable identity. Plummer notes Stories come into their time when a community has been fattened up, rendered ripe and willing to hear such stories. Whilst they can be heard amongst isolated individuals, they can gain no momentum if they stay in this privatized mode. Many persona l narratives hence remain in the private sphere of dim inarticulate ness, having no group to sustain and strengthen them. For stories to flou rish there must be social worlds waiting to hear. Social worlds are no t like communities of old: no locale is required, only a sense of belongin g, sharing traditions, having common memories For sure, people could co me out as gay in the 1960s and before: but then it really meant in isol ation, to oneself, a solitary lover or in the disguise, furtive twilight worlds of the secretive homosexual underworld. (121)


15 Now stories based on alternative sexuali ties can be heard, no t only within the homosexual community, but also in the he terosexual community. A lesbian story is out there and I want to expand on it. It is time to listen to the personal stories of women who have transitioned from heterosexual marriage to lesbian identity a nd add to the feminist and queer discourse surrounding identity formation. It is time to add to the mix of stories that are about identities that may have been at one time s considered stigmatized, as historically a homosexual identity has been considered. Coming out stories reveal new identities and these new identities take us beyond the limiti ng categories of the past, and start forming identities which are forged around relationships and conscious choi ces over the life one wishes to live and who one wishes to be (Plummer 160). And as Katz has noted, Only when we stop assuming an invariable essenc e of heterosexuality will we begin the research to reveal the full variety of sexual emotions and behaviors (262). This project gathers life stories from women who now self-identify with a new identitya lesbian identity, transitioning from a heterosexual identity. A new identity that socially has been considered deviant a nd a life story that includes accountability to self and others. The time has come, for not only are theses storie s ready to be told, perhaps, more importantly, they are also ready to be heard.


16 Chapter Three Methods indicating to oneself the life, this s tory telling, may be a major clue to understanding identity (Plummer, 172). This is a feminist project. The reason I call this a feminist project is because it gives voice to women who in general are a segment of the population who have been left out of or included in de meaning and disfiguring ways in what has been an almost exclusively male account to th e world (Lugones and Spelman 17). Furthermore, it gives voice to a little studied subset of women(self-identified) lesbians who have children from a heterosexual relationship. Participants create a narrative of their lesbian identity and these narratives become a strategy fo r documenting womens accounts of their lives (Oakley 48). The methodology I used also makes this a feminist project. Fonow and Cook, in Beyond Methodology, suggest four specific requirements are necessary to create a feminist project. These specific s include reflexivity, action-orientation, an affective component, and us ing the situation-at-hand. The women in this project all went thr ough many transitions on their way to selfidentifying as lesbian. Many became unhappy in their marriage and divorced. Some were so involved with their childrens lives th at when the children began to move on they noticed a void. For many, a woman filled that void. As they responded to the questions asked in the interview, they reflected on the paths their lives have taken. Fonow and Cook note


17 womens lives are examined at str uctural rupture points in their biographies such as divorce, unemp loyment, occurrence of rape and physical abuse, coming out, and many other times when social actors commonly forge new aspects of their identities. (4) This is defined as reflexivity. Feminist re search is defined by self-reflexivity for the researcher and the researched. Not only di d the women interviewe d have the opportunity to reflect on their life stories, but so di d I. I found commona lities with the women interviewed in my own life story Action-orientation is described as an act of liberation (Fonow and Cook 6). Feminist research is about the liberation of women. Our goal is to change womens livesboth through the research and with its effects on reader s. The chance to tell their stories encouraged participation from many of the women interviewed. This participation was itself a liberating act. And, this projec t is an act of liberation for women, it helps create an opportunity and a llows for stories to be told about womens lives and sexualities. Unlike positivistic science, feminist know ledge does not separate between logic and emotion. Emotional thought and knowledge is valued as part of the thought and analysis (Tong 39). An affective component is described as an acknowledgment of the affective dimension of researc h, but also recognition that emo tions serve as a source of insight or a signal of rupture in social reality (Fonow and Cook 9). When reading over the transcripts, I looked for specific words and ways of expressing that evoked emotion and these are included in Chapter Four. Part of the affective component includes protecting participants from harm and making them feel comfortable with mutual


18 disclosure (Fonow and Cook 10). This was accomplished with the use of pseudonyms in the final transcript and by revealing part s of my own life stor y during the interview process. But, why study this group of women in the first place? As I reflected on the path my own life had taken after my divorce, I realized it was time to meet like-minded women, it was time to meet lesbians. The first place I decided to go was a lesbian bar. Even before I entered the bar, I wondered if these women would take me seriously. I self-identify as a lesbian, but I had been married; I had children. I knew it would be easy to avoid talking about my marriage, but it woul d be very hard for me to avoid bringing up my children, since they are such a large part of my life. As I introduced myself around the bar, I was very surprised to find out that the majority of the women I spoke with--who were about my age--had themselves been married and had children. As Fonow and Cook point out I had a situation-in-h and. They describe this more specifically as once a researcher finds herself in a particular situ ation and recognizes the research potential in her surroundings, she may decide to make a study of it (13). After reviewing the literature and finding a gap, I realized I ha d found my study and re flecting back on the situation found in the bar, I realized it might not be so hard to find a study group and I decided to conduct interviews. As an interview methodology, I used Holstein and Gubriums The Active Interview for this project when dealing w ith the actual interviews. As the authors suggest, an active approach mightbe most appropriate in those instances when the researcher is interested in subjective interp retations (Holstein and Gubrium 73). This active method puts equal value on the information provided by the researcher and on


19 those who are actually relating their narratives. The active interview was fitting for this study since the general research question asks participants to te ll their own story in conversation with the researcher. In Interviewing Women: a Contradicti on in Terms, Oakley points out the formulation of the interviewer role has change d dramatically from be ing a data-collecting for researchers to being a da ta-collecting instrument for those whose lives are being researched (49). She observes the need to be non-hierarchical ( 41). The researcher needs to gain a certain level of cooperation and to reassure pa rticipants that they will not be mistreated or taken advantage of. She states I set out to convey to the people whose cooperation I was seeking the fact that I did not intend to exploit either them or the information they gave mentioning the possibility of publications arising out of the research I told them that their names and personal details would be changed and I would, if they wished, send them details of any such publications, and so forth. (Oakley 47) The interview becomes a non-judgmental ex change between the researcher and the participant; in essence it is a conversation. This is the strategy used in this study. Combining ideas from Holstein and Gubrium, Oakley, Fonow and Cook I tried to be the instrument so the part icipants could tell their own stories. I conducted in-depth interviews with eight women who identify as lesbian after being involved in a heterosexual relationship that produced child ren. Women were found by personal contact


20 and through snowball sampling, in which participants helped find other potential narrators. All participants in this study were white women between the ages of 37 and 69. All had been married at leas t once with the longest marri age lasting 31 years. All participants have at least one child, with 5 having two children and 2 having three children. Seven members of this study group self-identify as lesbian, with one member self-identifying as bisexual. (See Appendix B). Interviews were one-on-one and generally took place in participants homes ove r the course of an hour. Two interviews were conducted in restaurant s over a meal and one inte rview was two-on-one. Two interviews were conducted over the phone due to distance constraints. All but one interview was recorded. Some participants were more talkative and some had to be drawn out. I tried to make them feel comfor table by telling a portion of my own story. Narrators in this project were informed pseudonyms would be used and that a copy of the thesis would be provided upon request. The one general research question for pa rticipants is How have you negotiated the path from heterosexuality to lesbiani sm? Specific research questions guided the interview and were open-ended (See Appendix A). These questi ons were chosen to aid in discussion and help reveal the process and feelings the women had as they made the transition from a heterosexual identity to a homosexual identity. I then transcribed the taped interviews, as Riessman notes in Narrative Analysis there is no way to avoid transcribing and the task of identifying narrative segments and their representation cannot be delegated (58) After transcription, the story became the object of investigation (Riessman 1). I be gan the analysis of the narratives while


21 transcribing since analysis ca nnot be easily distinguished from transcription (Riessman 60). As the story was transferred from the oral to the written, pattern s began to emerge. I included a systematic method of reduction of the rough transcription (Riessman 43) in the analysis and during retranscription and an alysis interpretive categories emerge(d) (Riessman 58) and commonalities were found. These commonalities became the major themes produced by the participants life st ories and discussed in Chapter Four.


22 Chapter Four Findings and Discussion Three major themes of commonality emerged during analysis of the data. These themes are heteronormativity and account ability, relationship with children, and acceptance by the lesbian communit y. Each will be discussed in detail with quotes from participant life stories. Direct quotes from the transcript are noted with pseudonyms and line numbers from the transcripts for reference purposes. Heteronormativity and Accountability Heteronormativity defines the socially expect ed life path of meeting the man of your dreams, marrying him, having and caring for his children, and liv ing happily ever. Many of my narrators spoke of heteronormative expectati ons early in their lives. Expected to marry and have children Five participantsKatie, Mildred, Lisa, E llen, and Lacy noted this specifically. Katie stated she felt like my life kind of was planned out for me, that I was supposed to go to college, cause I was a high ach iever in high school, I was suppose to go to college, get married, have kids, I mean it is just what people did, you know. (Katie 275-277) Mildred was coming of age in the 1950s and brought up how she was expected to be married with a white picket fence and the apro n (57). Later in the interview, she noted, we did what was expected of us at that particular time in our society (717). Others noted


23 similar ideas: So I met this guy who was a wonderful guy, got married, had great kids, he was a nice guy, he was a great provider (Lacy 31-32); [marriage] wasnt bad, but I kind of felt in the end that I was pleasing, I was satisfying my parents (Lisa 108-109); Married young; I was 21 years old because that was what you were supposed to do (Ellen 3). As part of the expectation to marry young, a majority of the narrators noted marrying by the time they were 21. Erin, Katie and Lacy were 20 years old when they married a man. Ellen was 21 years old and Li a was the youngest at 18 years of age for her first marriage. The other participan tsLisa, Mildred, an d Marilynwere younger than 30 when they married; 25, 26, and 27 years of age respectively. Lesbian lifestyle not seen as an option All participants made statements indicati ng they felt they were held accountable to heteronormativity. Alterna tive sexualities were not an option, there were no lesbian role models in their lives. I want to have kids, I want to have a quote unquote normal life, so what I thought a normal life was at that time. So it wasnt hard for me at that time, it was easier then to get married at nineteen and I didnt have a problem with it. (Katie 39-42) Later in the interview she noted There werent a lot of other options and those options looked kind of shady and you know, like any women th at I knew that I thought were lesbians were kind ofI didnt really know what they did, and I just saw them kind of come and go and play sports and I didnt really know what


24 the options would be for me. Like, oh I could get a job, I could have a career, I could support myself, I could, I mean, I just didnt consider that kind of option. (Katie 281-285). Marilyn and Mildred, who were married in the early 1960s, both noted the risk of personal safety when self-identifying as le sbian if we came out in our time, the world looked at lesbians as terrible I think, homosexuality was still a mental disorder, we stood the big possibility of being thrown out of our houses, of being rejected by our parents (Marilyn 195-197). And If I had recognized myself in the early 60 s and gone into a lesbian lifestyle it would have been through all the time that there were police raids in New York (Mildred 61-62). Mildred added I was married for 21 year s, got a divorce, actually he divorced me, and I had no idea that I had any inkling towards being a lesbian (85-86). Lacy commented maybe I always had these feelin gs, but didnt really know what they were (161) and I didnt know anybody who was out. So it never, ever entered my mind (2829). And, Erin got straight to the point [lesbianism] wasn t an option, it was nothing (454). Many participants experienced feelings for women that just did not fit in with the feelings they were supposed to have in heteronormativity. Lia explained When I was married, I met a woman in my class and deve loped a fondness, a relationship, we didnt actually, it wasnt like I ch eated on my husband, but it had introduced something to me that I wasnt aware of was po ssible (13-15). Lisa remarked pretty much I knew from a very young age that I was having feelings, I knew even as a small child what I was attracted to, and thought what was wrong (76-78). Katie observed I think I always was


25 lesbianbut it was vague and I didnt really act on it because I t hought it would be just too tough of a life and Im like yeah, you know, but it is not like I put a lot of thought into it (28-31). Unhappy in marriage Some participants expressed being unhappy in marriage and perhaps Lisa stated it most succinctly I finally knew by the time I had my second child that I was going to be miserable or I was going to do somethi ng about it. And so I knew that is not how I wanted to live for the next 30 yearsmiserable. (Lisa 155-157) For many, a woman came into their life either near the end of the marriage or soon after the divorce, catalyzing the realization that she mi ght be a lesbian. It is interesting to note that none of the narrators self identified as lesbian without a catalyst either a particular woman came into their lives or divorce create d opportunities. Erin noted I really didnt know, I ju st knew at the time that I lo ved this woman (24). Lacy felt a similar way, All I knew I was really attracted to this woman and I didnt know why (87). And Marilyn reconnected with th e woman she had a relationship with before her marriage And, I remet her at the time I started going through the divorce. So that helped me, 30 years later, so thats what, you know, got me to look at myself, really evaluate myself and when I remet her and we became lovers it just felt so different that what 30 years in a heterosexual marriage was. And so that is when I identified myself, well this is why I have been unhappy in the marriage, this is why I dont want to stay, but then, she was


26 in California, I came back to New York and wanted to find other lesbians. (Marilyn 22-31) Current long-term relationship. Another interesting finding is that at the time of this project, all the women either are in or recently ended a long-term monogamous relationship. Only one narrator reported being in a relationship for about a year. The others varied in length from five to 15 years (See Appendix B). The heteronormative expectation for both men and women is to maintain a long-term monogamous rela tionship. Some narrators spoke of taking their relationship to the next level with a commitment ceremony, a civil union, or even calling their relationship a marriage. As the narrators were making thei r transition anothe r important selfidentity influenced their decision on whether to come-out or not. This identity was that of mother. Relationship with Children One self-identity discussed as critical to all of the narrators was that of mother. They all discussed the relationship to their chil dren as being very important in their lives and this influenced the timing of their coming out. Many did not want to risk losing their children since homophobia from either the fath er, the children themse lves, or the legal system was a main concern. Many were so im mersed in their childrens lives that they were stay-at-home moms. Five of the eight women stayed at home with the kids as a full-time mom. Two divorced and raised their chil dren as single mothers. One stayed in the marriage during her transition and took advantag e of the opportunity to furthe r her education so she could


27 support the children when she finally did di vorce. All these women were following the path of heteronormativity and their expected gender identity as women and immersing themselves in the lives of their children. In the families for this study where the women stayed home, they all followed this gender-normative path. Erin worked in the school system so she could have the same schedule as her children. I began working as a teacher aide, becau se I got to be a stay at home mom, which was fun and good that they had that and I had that you know in those first years. (Erin 123-124) Lia noted if she had identified earlier sh e would not have her children and being a mother is very important to her. I wouldnt have minded coming out earlie r, but on the other side of this I wouldnt have my girlsmy number one identity is mother. (Lia 303-305) Lacy observed I dont think I would have come out wh en my kids were little. Nothing would have stood in the way of me losing my children or being involved with them. (Lacy 473-475) and she further recognized had I known or met [current partner] when my children were small, I probably wouldnt of even given her the time of day, because it was not something that was important to me at th at time in my life at that time. I would not have done anything to harm my family. (Lacy 163-165)


28 Lisa showed how important her children are to her when her husband threatened to take custody of the children and she said A switch went off in my head and I went from being rather passive to being dominant. And it was more like it really felt like an instinctual mother instinct because I was going to protect my children. (Lisa 206-207) Katie recognized that while she was car ing for the children and being a full time mom, there was no time to think about her ow n sexual identity, or any other personal matters. As I hit my 30s and I was maturing more, in myself, I felt likeand my kids were getting older where I didnt have to focus so much on them and I could look at myself fina lly. And I think that I st arted to feel like these lesbian tendencies that I had ever since I had been in adolescence, I couldnt suppress them forever. It was just becoming impossible and kind of unbearable and I got involved in a couple of relationships with women and then while I was married and then the thing that rea lly tipped it though was that I got involved with a woman th at I fell in love with. And I just knew that this is the way I needed to go and this was the person and I didnt want to not take a chance on th at and miss out on being with her. So that is probably what tipped it fina lly, but there were a lot of factors going on for about 10 years. (Katie 62-71) Many women noted the need to stay with their husbands because they lacked the means to support a family financially. They did not worry about their own situation, but they worried about how a divorce would affect the children.


29 I was married for 30 years and I was unhappy in the entire marriage and it was a choice that I made to stay in the marriage because if I had left the marriage I would have been a single mother bringing up two children who were just a year apart, without fa mily support and so I chose to stay. (Marilyn 2-5) Katie recognized I was the person who was staying at home and raising the kids most of my adult life and he has a great job and all that stuff a nd I thought if he leaves, then the boys and I and especially the boys are screwed. (Katie 213-216) Many participants noticed the homophobia associated with self-identifying as lesbian and did not divorce until they were sure they would not loose custody of the children. Erin suggested she had to be in the closet not on ly to maintain custody of own kids but partner had foster kids and they would have taken those kids away (Erin 146147). Lia explained Having children I think was the center of all of it because when I started exploring sexually I was like twentyone and I had several, I had like maybe three sexual encounters with wo men at the time and I even kissed girls back when I was sixteen, but I think that children was a huge issue with me, when I had the baby, when I had Shane, my ex-husband would hold that over me, he was extrem ely born again Chri stian, homophobic, and so even though he liked my brother [who was gay] and tolerated him, um, if I would have done something like that I have a feeling I would have


30 lost Shane [daughter], he would have taken me to court. And so, I think thats what kept me in line fo r a long time there. (Lia 232-237) Katie emphasized, I was going to do nothing un til my kids left the house because I felt it was really important to fo llow that through (181-182). Many noted they were right to fear loos ing the children because their ex-husbands tried to turn the children against their mother s after their lesbian transitions. Marilyns husband went so far as to say she was always a lesbian he told [children] that I was a lesbian, that I was a le sbian throughout the marriage, that I had relationships w ith every female friend that I had through the marriage, which not of that was true. (Marilyn 141-143) For Lacy, her husband did go through an angry stage and tried to turn the kids against me. He was whining to them about what I had done to him, he was going to be alone, how could she do this to me, and she doesnt love you anymore. The one thing I knew about my children is they love me and we are very close. (Lacy 293-297) According to my narrators, none wanted to jeopardize the st ability the children had at home by coming-out. As a result, ma ny waited until the children were older to finally divorce and self-identif y as lesbian. For most, as the children left for college and started living their own lives, the narrator took the opportunity to liv e her own life as she self identified not only as mother, but as le sbian too. The struggl e during the transition from a heterosexual to a homosexual identity wa s highlighted in the life stories gathered from the participants.


31 Transition As the participants began transitioning from a heterosexual to a lesbian identity they spoke of apprehension, as they entered a completely new lif e. They did not know what to expect, many noted they did resear ch on lesbianism and many sought therapy. Marilyn elaborated and spotlighted the str uggle she had early in her life and noted the struggle for finding a word to name the relationship And, well, I was in the Peace Corps in 1963 before I got married. And when I was in the Peace Corps I was 23 years old and I had met another girl, a woman 23, and we fell in love with each other and we had a sexual relationship that was a very rough re lationship because we were really afraid of the relationship and afraid of our parents. We did not identify ourselves as lesbian and so it was a r eal push-pull situation for 2 years. (Marilyn 18-22) Erin noted the timing of her transition if I had come out at a younger time I would have probably been more questioning because I wasnt strong in my own sense of who I was. So as I matured and I was strong I didnt care what anybody said or what anybody did, I was very strong in my identity as a lesbian. (Erin 625-628) Pain/reluctance during transition Marilyn and Lisa both thought they were th e only ones questioning their sexuality. Marilyn thought I was the only one in my later fif ties, who had two grown children, who had been in a marriage for thirty years, and then at that point identified


32 myself as a lesbian and I met so ma ny other women who were in their, about the same age, and who had gone through the same thing, but I thought I must be the on ly one. (Marilyn 31-35) And Lisa maintained I thought I was the onl y stupid one that got married (175) and I was feeling like I was a coward and I was really weak and I was ashamed and I began to notice a lot of wome n who were very obviously gay and had their partners and stuff, so I ju st thought I am just a coward (Lisa 135137) Lisa also spoke of the realiz ation she might be gay, when she states I came out to my husband. I told him that I was bisexual a nd I was attracted to women, sort of that transitional bisexual (121-122) and remarked on a situation where others were surprised she had children because she must be gay. When I had my hair pretty short and it was pretty obvious, right, and I was working at the hospital at one ti me and I just happened to mention that I had to pick up my kids and th e charge nurse looked at me and said you have kids (laughter) and I decide d not to say anything and still she was you have kids and yes, yes I do, I have two of them. (Lisa 353-357) Research into lesbian identity. Marilyn, Lia, and Mildred researched lesb ianism. For Marilyn a [therapist] recommended I read a book Married Women who Love Women it was a help, because I realized that I wasnt a freak, that I wasnt weird (38-44). Lia remarked that since this was such a new identity she had to learn how to practice ita notion never imagined


33 with heterosexuality, since being hetero sexual just seems to happen, but being homosexual must be researched. She said I would go to [the lesbian bookstore ] and I would spend my whole day there reading about lesbians. So I studied it and I investigated it, researched it, like a good researcher before I even embraced it. I went to a support group of people coming out a nd heard horror stores about people loosing their children, so I went back into my little cave, but then I kept researching it. (Lia 17-21) Lia also contended Because I didnt know quite what to do, it was like, Ive got to learn everything first, well just figure it out as we go along, no, no, I need graphs, I need charts, I need diagrams. Well, I didnt want to do anything wrong, so Im always afraid with, you know, Ive got to learn it all first. (Lia 173) Mildred found humor in the situation when she said [at work] I was making telephone calls to womens bookstores to try to get some information and trying to make it sound like Im looking for a book, so that was funny. (Mildred 99-100) Therapy in transition. Some women took advantage of therapy while making the transition. Marilyn noted that she met somebody who introduced me to a therapist who was going to be starting a group of married women who were in lesbian relationships or


34 were in the process of getting out of marriages, and so I contacted her because I wanted to join the group. (Marilyn 35-38) Lisas therapist was concerned about the ch ildren. She pointed out I went to a gay therapist, who was very conservative, and sh e encouraged me to st ay married (143-144) but the group she joined s howed her she was not alone. I joined a group, a bisexual group. About half of [the group] had been married, and it was very eye-opening for me to see that, to see that there were others, I didnt know, I just tho ught I was the only stupid one that got married. (Lisa 167-170) The therapy seemed to act as a reassura nce that the narrator was doing the right thing. The reassurance came when th e individuals found others who were transitioning just as they were from a heterosexual to a homosexual identity. It provided relief that they were not the only ones that got married. Acceptance by Lesbian Community In their current lives, many of my na rrators speak of the strength of their identification with their lesbia n identities and that they are currently very active in lesbian-oriented events and groups. Participation in lesbian community Lacy, Erin, Marilyn, and Mildred speak of being active and comfortable in the lesbian community. Marilyn even stated I am most comfortable within the lesbian community (727-728). Lacy was active in th e town were she was living most recently before moving to Tampa and is now active in Tampa. She explained


35 there was a core group of people trying to bring a community together (in the town where she is from). So, we st arted getting involved in that. They wanted to open a community center. We found a build ing and got it all ready to go. (Lacy 391-393) Lacy had also been instrumental in starti ng a speaking bureau and currently sings with a lesbian chorus I do love to sing, it is a gr eat release for me, and it is a great way for people to learn about gay people (455-456). Erin and her partner, Dott y, started a womans bookstore and were instrumental in creating a group where lesbians could meet other lesbians. You couldnt meet anybody if you were lesbian except in the bar and nobody knew anybody so we used to the bookstore to create that environment. (Erin 310-312) Mildred, Marilyn, and Erin liv e in the same retirement community and helped to develop a community group of LGBT individuals. It started last year because we felt a big need for something for a gay or lesbian person who moves into town so they would be able to find other people and for us to get to know who else was here. And so, through the social club, we got approval, because we have human rights ordinance in (town they live in), and so they coul d really not give us approval based upon sexual orientation and so we have an activity (for LGBT residents) and we meet in the clubhouse once a month and we have a pot luck Friday afternoon and its listed on the bulletin board in the clubhouse along with tai chi, ma jong, and bridge(Marilyn 758-765)


36 Not fitting in. A couple of women noted their children presented a dilemma as they tried to fit into the lesbian community. Lia observed sh e and perhaps other lesb ians with children dont fit into the straight community, with soccer moms, we dont fit in the gay community because theres just you know, youve had kids, youve had this previous life as a soccer mom, so we are in this inbetween thing where we dont really have an association with a community and I think that its rea lly a hard place to be. (Lia 490-495) And Katie commented that she has never been ostracized [by the community] because of having kids, but it kind of pisses me off when somebod y says youve slept with men, and they act like they are better quote un quote lesbian because they have never slept with men. (Katie 133-147) Lia also notes her appearance Im extremely feminine and I think th at puts people off, you know, or they might think that Im just out playing or exploring and Im not serious or anything. (Lia 333-335) No regrets. Since accountability to heteronormativity is so prevalent in Western culture I expected some women to have regrets maki ng the transition to a socially stigmatized identity, but none of the women expressed any regrets for making the transition from a heterosexual to a homosexual self-identity. I will let the women speak for themselves with their quotes that express this lack of regret: I knew I loved women (Erin 478). I


37 got involved with a woman that I fell in love with. And I just knew that this is the way (Katie 68-69). And, Lacy [in a conversati on with her son when he asked if she was transitioning to lesbianism to be trendy] Do you think I would put all of you and everyone else in my life through this for a tren d? I said this is who I really am (Lacy 321-322). I really have no desire to be ar ound men, so if that makes me a lesbian then yes, I guess I am (Lacy 175-176). I am not as hamed of what I did, I am not ashamed of who I am (Lacy 385-386). Perhaps the mo st poignant quotes are expressed by Ellen when she stated I realize this is wh ere Im suppose to be (Ellen 42-43) and [lesbianism] is what I was looking for all my life (Ellen 64-65).


38 Chapter Five Conclusion Heteronormativity and gender accountability created only one legitimate life path according to the women interviewed for this project. Women and men in Western culture are expected to be heterosexual and are he ld accountable to being heteronormative. Women are expected to find t he man of their dreams, marry him, have his children, raise their children, and live happily ever af ter in a content family. Far from being deviant, the women interviewed followed this gender normative path. I would like to introduce a new termge nder-normativity. While these women finally were not heteronormative in terms of picking a male partner, they were gender normative as women for maintaining relations with their childre n, seeking long term partnerships, and ultimately fulfilling gende r expectations for women. They all married, as expected. The majority stayed home with their children, as expected. They even reflected on their lives as expected when the children bega n gaining their own independence. In addition, culturally their husbands fo llowed the masculine gender normative path to provide financial support for the family and the women in this study followed that path too and came to rely on their husbands for financial support of the family, as expected. When their children were heading to college or moving out of the house to live on their own, the women in this study examined their situations and most found they were unhappy in their marriages. They felt something was missing and they felt they had the opportunity and autonomy to do something about it because their


39 children were pursuing their own lives. For ma ny, either before the divorce or after their divorce, a woman came into their lives and the pa rticipants realized they wanted to spend their lives with a woman. They recognized a new self-identity of homosexuality. They began to identify as lesbians and most ente red into long-term monogamous relationships. Many feared losing custody of their ch ildren, and their children are very important to them. For some, their husbands tried to turn the children against their mothers. Even though, homosexuality is still not very socially acceptable, at this time in history, women now have the opportunity to tell this storya story of transition. For many the transition was not easy. Th e women in this study noted a time of confusion and apprehension as they explored this new self-identity. Many conducted research and many visited therapists to find an swers and feel more co mfortable with their new identities. Many became active in the lesbian community and acknowledged feeling comfortable there. A minority admitted there was some animosity from a few of the women in the lesbian community who self-ide ntified as lesbian at a younger age. The animosity arose because the participants in the study had children from a heterosexual relationship; they were not seen as lesbian, but bisexual or just curious and could not be depended on to commit to a lesbian self-identity. Despite this community reaction felt by some of the women, none of them expressed any regrets in maki ng the transition from a heterosexual to a lesbian identity. The majority have found a woman to live happil y ever after with. Perhaps Ellens quote that [lesbianism] is what I was looking fo r all my life (64-65) best characterizes how my narrators expressed their current understandings of their identities.


40 However, the life stories of my narrators show their experiences do not reflect current trends in either feminist theory or queer theory. The noti on that women are still held so closely to the identi ty of the good wife and moth er would make theorists in feminism cringe. The narrators were ve ry gender-normative in their lives doing everything a good wife and mother would do. But, all women need to have many ways to narrate their lives and not be limited to one or two. The participants in this project now have the opportunity to discuss their life and particularly their sexuality with more agency. Furthermore, this project does not challenge the notion of mother. After all, not all women are mothers and not all moth ers do a good job raising their children. For that matter, some men may be seen as bei ng better mothers than so me women would be. Yet, the narrators in this pr oject note how important their ch ildren are to them and that the risk of loosing them was unacceptable. For them, the identity mother remains quite primary. This may be a reflection on the hist orical times these women found themselves in; a time when to be a woman was to be a good mother. Or, perhaps it reflects how womens relationship to children in our cultur e remains primary, as ea ch of my narrators elected to understand this connect ion to children as very impor tant to their self-identity. Queer theorists would find the whole noti on of taking such identities as troubling in the first place. Perhaps even more so th an is the case with feminist theory, queer notions of deconstructing identity categorie s and troubling gender do not seemed to have trickled into the lives of my narrators. Th ey cling to their identities. The identities chosen by the narratorsmother and lesbianare just a few of the categories queer theorists are working to erase, since any ont ological category is objec tionable. Yet, for these women these categories are important to their self-identity. These qualifiers help


41 the narrators negotiate their world, reinforc ing the notion that many times theory and reality do not intersect. And, so in the everyday lives of my narrators, choosing an identity seems quite important. This project compels several future st udies. This project highlighted some interesting points as narrators told their life storie s. It brings up questions about the life stories of other individuals. How would men relate the story of their transition from a heterosexual to a homosexual identity? What about women of color, how would they respond? Alternatively, how would women wh o divorce and yet maintain a heterosexual identity respond? These projects could add to the discourse in life span development, just as this project has added to the discourse in lesbian studies. The narrators in this project highlight the way heteronormativity sends individuals on a predictable life path. They married, ha d children and were the good wife and mother they were expected to be. When the opportunity to refl ect on their own lives arose after their children moved on to create their lives, the narrators acquired a new identity. They self-identified as homos exual and transitioned from a heterosexual marriage to a lesbian identity.


42 References Cited Abbott, Deborah and Ellen Farmer. From We dded Wife to Lesbian Life: Stories of Transformation Freedom, CA: Crossing, 1995. Berger, Arthur Asa. Narratives in Po pular Culture, Media, and Everyday Life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997. Bornstein, Kate. Preface. Pomosexuals: Ch allenging Assumptions about Gender and Sexuality Eds. Carol Queen and Lawrence Schi mel. San Francisco: Cleis, 1997. 13-17. Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender New York: Routledge, 2004. Cahill, Spencer. Toward a Sociology of the Person. Sociological Theory 16 (1998): 131-148. Claassen, Cheryl. Whistling Women: A Study of the Lives of Older Lesbians. New York: Haworth, 2005. Clunis, Merilee D., Karen I. Fredriksen-G oldsen, Pat A. Freeman, and Nancy Nystrom. Lives of Lesbian Elders: Looking Back, Looking Forward. New York: Haworth, 2005. Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America. Columbia, NY: Columbia UP, 1991. Farquhar, Clare. Lesbian in a Post-Lesbi an World? Policing Identity, Sex and Image. Sexualities 3 (2000): 219-232. Ferguson, Ann. Can I Choose Who I Am ? And How Would That Empower Me? Gender, Race, Identities and the Self. Women, Knowledge, and Reality. Eds. Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall New York: Routledge, 1996. 108-126. Fonow, Mary Margaret and Judith A. Cook. Back to the Future: A Look at the Second Wave of Feminist Epistemology and Methodology. Beyond Methodology: Feminist Scholarship as Lived Research. Eds. Mary Margaret Fonow and Judith A. Cook. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1991. 1-15. Holstein, James A. and Jaber F. Gubrium. The Active Interview. Qualitative Research


43 Methods. Vol. 37. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995. Ingraham, Chrys. Thinking Straight: The Power, the Promise, and the Paradox of Heterosexuality. New York: Routledge, 2005. Jackson, Stevi. Heterosexuality, Heteronormativity and Gender Hierarchy: Some Reflections on Recent Debates. Heterosexuality in Question. London: Sage, 1999. 159-185. Jay, Karla. Forward. Bisexuality and the Cha llenge to Lesbian Politics: Sex, Loyalty, and Revolution. By Paula Rust. New York: New York UP, 1995. xv-xviii. Jensen, Karol L. Lesbian Epiphani es: Women Coming Out in Later Life New York: Harrington Park, 1999. Katz, Jonathon Ned. The Invention of Hetero sexuality. Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology. Eds. Margaret L. Andersen and Patr icia Hill Collins. Belmont, CA: Thomson, 2007. 252-26. Lewin, Ellen. Inventing Lesb ian Cultures in America Boston: Beacon, 1996. Linde, Charlotte. Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. Lugones, Maria C. and Elizabeth V. Spelman. Have We Got a Theory for You! Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialis m and the Demand for The Womans Voice. Feminist Theory: A Reader Eds. Wendy K. Kolmar and Frances Barkowski. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005. 17-27. Naples, Nancy A. A Member of the Fune ral: an Introspect ive Ethnography. Queer Families, Queer Politics. Eds. Mary Bernstein and Renate Reimann. New York, Columbia UP, 2001. 21-43. Oakley, Ann. Interviewing wo men: a contradiction in term s. Doing Feminist Research. Ed. Helen Roberts. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981. 30-58. Plummer, Ken. Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change and Social Worlds. New York: Routledge, 1995. Riessman, Catherine Kohler. Narrative Analysis. Qualitative Research Methods. Vol. 30. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1993. Rich, Adrienne. Compulsory Heterosexua lity and Lesbian Existence. Signs 5 (1980): 631-60.


44 Rust, Paula. Bisexuality and the challenge to Lesbian Politic s: Sex, Loyalty, and Revolution. New York: New York UP, 1995. ---. Forward. Lesbian Epiphanies: Women Coming Out in Later Life By Karol L. Jensen. New York: Harrington Park, 1999. vii-x. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Eds. Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993. 45-61. Seidman, Steven. From the Polluted Homosexual to the Normal Gay: Changing Patterns of Sexual Regulati on in America. Thinking Straight: The Power, the Promise, and the Paradox of Heterosexuality. Ed. Chrys Ingraham. New York: Routledge, 2005. 39-41. Stein, Arlene. Sex and Sensibility: Stories of a Lesbian Generation Berkeley: U of California P, 1997. ---. Sisters, Sexperts, Queers: Beyond the Lesbian Nation. New York: Penguin, 1993. Stets, Jan E. and Peter J. Burke. Identity Theory and Social Identity Theory. Social Psychology Quarterly (2000): 224-237. Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. 2 nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1998. West, Candace and Don Zimmerman. Doing Ge nder. Doing Gender, Doing Difference: Inequality, Power, and Institutional Change. Eds. Sarah Fenstermaker and Candace West. New York: Routledge, 2002. 3-23. Whisman, Vera. queer by choice: Lesbians Gay Men, and the Po litics of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1996. Wilton, Tamsin. Sexual (Dis)Orientation: Gender, Sex, Desire and Self-Fashioning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Zerubavel, Evitar. The Sociology of the Mind. Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1997. 1-22.


45 Appendices


46 Appendix A: Interview Guide I have one general research question: How have you negotiated the path from heterosexuality to lesbianism? Specific research questions will be open-ended and include: 1. How do you currently identify? 2. Tell me your story of coming into your lesbian identity. 3. Did having children from a heterosexua l relationship influence the way you might view your sexual orientation? 4. Do you think the age at which you came out influenced your identity or comingout process? 5. Have you ever been encourag ed to call yourself bisexual? 6. Do you feel part of a lesbian or LGBT community? 7. How have lesbians responded to the fact you have children?


47 Appendix B: Participant Demographics Ellen (lesbian) 2 : 54 years old; 29 year old daughter; one heterosexual marriage of 7 years when 21 years old; 15 years with current partner. Erin (old lesbian) 1 : 69 years old; 48, 47, and 45 year ol d sons; one heterosexual marriage of 17 years when 20 years old; 9 years with cu rrent partner, with the last 6 in a civil union. Katie (lesbian) 1 : 46 years old; 24 and 22 year old sons; one heterosexual marriage of 21 years when 20 years old; 8 years with current partner Lacy (lesbian) 1 : 55 years old; 30 year old daughter a nd 27 year old son; one heterosexual marriage of 31 years when 20 years old; marri ed (her words) to current partner for 9 years. Lia (bisexual, but lesbian emotionally and politically) 1 : 38 years old; 19 and 10 year old daughters; three heterosexual marriages, the fi rst when 18 years old, the longest lasting 3 years; recently ended a 5 y ear relationship with a woman. Lisa (lesbian/gay) 1 : 37 years old; 9 and 11 year old s ons; one heterosexu al marriage of 7 years when 25 years old; 1 year with current partner. Marilyn (lesbian) 1 : 66 years old; 37 year old so n and 36 year old daughter; one heterosexual marriage of 21 years when 27 year s old; 5 years with current partner. Mildred (lesbian) 1 : 67 years old; 40, 35, and 30 year ol d sons; one heterosexual marriage of 30 years when 26 years old; 5 years with current partner. 2 self identification

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Narratives of lesbian transformation :
b coming out stories of women who transition from heterosexual marriage to lesbian identity
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by Clare F. Walsh.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
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ABSTRACT: Women who have transitioned to a lesbian identity from a previously heterosexual one lack a voice in the academic literature. Identity formation in this subset of women, those who chose a heterosexual marriage, had children, and later in life self identify as lesbian, has not been fully investigated. For this project, eight women were asked to answer this question: How have you negotiated the path from heterosexuality to lesbianism? Four main themes were found dealing with heteronormativity and accountability, relationship with children, transition, and acceptance by the lesbian community. Additionally, I introduce a new term---gender-normativity---to describe these women who only after marrying, having children and raising those children, and going through a process of self-reflection, realized they wanted to make a transition and spend the rest of their lives in an intimate relationship with a woman.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
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Adviser: Sara Crawley, Ph.D.
Gender normativity.
Life span development.
Dissertations, Academic
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t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
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