Safe spaces and identity formation: Accounts from a summer school for same-sex-attracted young people
University of Greenwich
University of Greenwich
Researching the lives of same-sex-attracted teenagers in Britain presents significant challenges and there are few contemporary studies (Monsen & Bayley, 2007). The psychological literature on same-sex sexuality has typically focused on negative experience and disadvantage, although it is increasingly contended that the resilience and creativity of non-heterosexual teenagers warrant more attention (Savin-Williams, 2001). Constructions of safe space characterise sexual-minority youth work, serving as a counterpoint to the heterocentrist spaces of school and family occupied by teenagers in their daily lives. Sexual-minority youth projects are affirmative settings created to transform these young people’s identities, to enable them to do well in the situation in which they find themselves. The notion of safe space has been critiqued as a potentially dividing practice in some instances, however (Rasmussen, 2006). With a broad aim of furthering an understanding of the (sexual) identities being formed by present day same-sex-attracted teenagers in the UK, an investigation was conducted at a recently-initiated sexual-minority youth summer school. The initial research questions of the reported phase of the study were: How do the teenagers drawn to this specialised safe space characterise what they come for? How do the adults (youth workers and tutors) view the matter of identity formation of the young people attending, and their own roles as adults in facilitating them? The study takes a broadly social constructionist and critical psychology position, being a useful and appropriate framework for contesting the traditional psychological paradigm of sexual orientation. A generic form of thematic analysis was adopted for its theoretical flexibility (Braun & Clarke, 2006). In-depth individual unstructured interviews were conducted with 18 teenage participants (10 female and 8 male, aged 15–19), together with 6 adult facilitators (4 female, 2 male) in two consecutive summer schools. Volunteers for interview were selected by the summer school organisers on the basis of achieving a distribution of ages up to 19 (young people in their early 20s also attended) and a balance of genders; staff interviewed were selected on the basis of availability. Interviews (mean duration one hour) were tape-recorded at the summer school. Verbatim transcripts were imported into QSR NVivo software for qualitative data analysis. Storylines of adversity and storylines of resilience in the accounts of the young people and the adult professionals are considered in the light of critical perspectives on the psychology of sexual orientation. Implications for the framing of sexual minority youth research and for sexual minority youth work are considered.
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Monsen, J. & Bayley, S. (2007). Educational psychology practice with LGB youth in schools: Individual and institutional interventions. In V. Clarke & L. Peel (Eds.), Out in psychology: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer perspectives (pp. 409–425). London: Wiley.
Rasmussen, M.L. (2006). Becoming subjects: Sexualities and secondary schooling. New York: Routledge.
Savin-Williams, R.C. (2001). A critique of research on sexual-minority youths. Journal of Adolescence, 24, 5–13.