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by: Nathan Wreggit

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Nathan Wreggit

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Date Created: 10/08/16
Sexuality & Culture (2015) 19:737–758 DOI 10.1007/s12119-015-9287-0 ORIGINAL PAPER Homophobic Labeling in the Process of Identity Construction 1 1 Antonio Iudici · Massimo Verdecchia Published online: 24 May 2015 © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015 Abstract Even if from a cultural level we have implemented substantial progress in terms of discrimination, in many countries gay people are still considered ab- normal or deviant. This view still triggers stigmatization and labeling that affects how people, not just homosexuals, represent themselves and how they interact. This research examines the labeling processes suffered, and the role that they have played in homosexual identity construction, in particular with regard to homopho- bia. Based on semi-structured interviews, applied to homosexuals coming from the same Italian region, we have found that labeling on the part of friends and ac- quaintances has affected people’s lives, especially during adolescence. We also highlighted theories used by the interviewees on how to handle labeling, and where one can get ideas for improving interventions against discrimination to be imple- mented in educational contexts, especially with regard to the need to counter the internalization of homophobia. Keywords Labeling · Stigma · Homosexuality identity · Interiorized homophobia · Managing of stigma Introduction The term “homosexuality,” contrary to what can be hypothesized, doesn’t come from the Latin noun “homo” (man), but from the Greek adjective “ὁμóϚ” (the same), and so it refers to sexual relations between men or women, as people of the & Antonio Iudici Massimo Verdecchia 1 Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Education and Applied Psychology, University of Padova, Via Venezia 8, Padua, Italy 123 738 A. Iudici, M. Verdecchia same sex (Herdt 1993). We are wrongly led to believe that the term homosexuality has always existed; instead, it was introduced in 1869 by the writer Karoly Maaria Kertbeny (Herzer 1986). The term was then used in different ways, sometimes with classifying intents, other times with discriminatory purposes (Davidson 2012). These uses have had a considerable impact on people’ lives, by activating movements, opinions and discussions that have involved civil society, politics, institutions, and science. In the context of social research, for example, many studies have dealt with homosexuality, reifying the word itself, and producing the idea that people can actually be distinguished on the basis of sexual orientation (Petrillo et al. 2003; Montano 2000), or considering homosexuality a disease (Socarides 1970; Green 1972; Hatterer 1970). Studies on homosexuality have involved several areas, such as the neurological (LeVay 1991), the sanitary (Sengoopta 1998; Dynes and Donaldson 1992a, b; Terry 1999), the one of denied rights (Cain 1991, 1993; Halley 1988; Offord and Cantrell 2013), the political (Kuyper et al. 2013; Asal et al. 2013; Williams and Giuffre 2011), the one of coming-out (LaSala 2013; Shepherd and Wallis 1989) or the area of sexual identity (McIntosh 1968; Troiden 1989). It is from this last theme that the present work takes inspiration, particularly studies on the processes of attribution (Haider-Markel and Joslyn 2008; Lewis 2009; Wood and Bartkowski 2004). Attributing sexuality to genetic, cultural or existential conditions can have major implications on people’s lives, both heterosexual and homosexual. From these studies comes the possibility that these processes can lead the homosexual person to be the object of injurious actions; this often manifests itself through processes of linguistic labeling, which change according to the place in which they are used and the historical period (Pini 2011). Our further interest to investigate, from the voice of people with homosexual orientation, the effects of labeling on gay people arises from these works. Homosexuality Between Biological and Existential Instances: Study of Literature Studies on homosexuality have affected significant scholars of different vocational trainings. In recent times, the contribution of psychoanalysis has influenced the thinking of many scholars. Freud (1905, 1910) hypothesized that the causes of homosexuality were related to the failure of overcoming the Oedipal complex, and especially to the hatred felt towards the parent of the opposite sex, the jealousy and hostility towards brothers and the presence of a too oppressive mother and a distant father. Theories of this type often have a widespread common vision of homosexuality as a disease or a stigma to be ashamed of (Goffman 2003). While psychoanalysis has attempted to seek an external cause, biological essentialism focuses on a “corpus” of tests based on genes, hormones and brain anatomy (Bem 1996). Studies of monozygotic homosexuals twins (Bailey et al. 1999) led to the formation of the familiarity hypothesis, which states that homosexuality can depend on a gene found on the X chromosome, called Xq28 (Hamer 1993). This Xq28 gene determines the birth and death of neurons present in the INAH-3 region of the anterior hypothalamus, and in homosexuals subjects, this region appears to be of equal size to 123 Homophobic Labeling in the Process of Identity… 739 that found in women, while in heterosexuals, it was two or three times lower (LeVay 1991). Other authors (Ciani et al. 2008) have suggested a mathematical model, according to which homosexuality is a behavior resulting from selective pressure that favored the spread of a genetic factor, a factor present in women, which has a role both in fertility and in being attracted to males. Biological theories have some limitations: the first is to see homosexuality as a matter of fact of nature, completely bypassing the roles of the individual and the environment; the second is to refer purely to male homosexuality, trying to explain it. If previous theories seek a cause at the base of homosexuality, other theories speak of homosexuality as a process, at the end of which the homosexual identity would be formed. Some authors have tried to explain this process with the help of some models. While Cass (1979) and Coleman (1981) discuss a linear path (that of Cass consisting of six stages, and that of Coleman consisting of five stages), Troiden (1979) systematizes a spiral pattern composed of four stages. Also for these models, however, the path defined by a beginning and an end seems to contain a form of determinism, with both a lack of consideration of possible changes inside the path, and a lack of importance attributed to the active role of the individual in building his/her sexual orientation. A discard can instead be found in those scholars who introduce the construct of homosexual identity, which refers to the idea that the representation that a person has of him/herself doesn’t obey biological determinism, but is built thanks to the relationships and roles assigned within a society. As Salvini states, when we talk about identity in a general sense, it can be defined as “…as an articulated system of representations of self, and mediated by a role…,” which “… is not wholly owned by the person to whom it is attributed, but it resides in the normative-symbolic structure and in the rules that govern the interaction” (Salvini 2004, p. 159). In this sense, the identity “… is constantly negotiated between the acting individual and the meaning context which is organized around his/her acts and his/her intentions, and cannot be separated from the presence of the other” (Salvini 2004, p. 160). Homosexual identity, such as the personal one, develops through an existential journey (McIntosh 1968; Quiles 2006). Saying that, we must, therefore, point out that the concept of homosexuality will always be historicized and put in relation to different periods. Homosexuality Between Normality and Deviance: Historical References Since ancient times, both in Greece and in the late Roman Empire, we find homosexual behaviors, which were not considered either as a disease or as deviations (Herdt 1993). It is sufficient to say that in male initiations, the sexual act was seen as a pedagogical tool between the student and the teacher, an act that produced the submission between lover and beloved. Among women, however, there was an equal relationship that did not include any allegiance (Bethe 1907). Similar behaviors can also be found in the early eighteenth century, a period in which men and women could love boys and girls. Then the monotheistic religions, born with the rise of patriarchy, suggested that only the sexuality of the heterosexual 123 740 A. Iudici, M. Verdecchia couple, aimed at procreation, was “natural.” In parallel, sexuality, particularly that of homosexuals, was no longer associated with pleasure (Baldaro Verde and Todella 2005, 2010), but with guilt and shame (Baldaro Verde 2001). In the end, the institutionalization of these values produced a rupture between what is normal and what is not, creating a dualistic discrimination between heterosexual and homosexual (Herdt 1993). Studies on social judgment also allowed discrimination to be defined as unequal treatment, applied against an individual or a group of individuals, by virtue of their membership to a particular category (Sherif and Hovland 1961; Tajfel and Turner 1986). In the case of homosexuality, discrimina- tion is referred to as homophobia. The term ‘homophobia’ saw its birth in 1972, when George Weinberg coined a word with which he wanted to encase “the fear expressed by heterosexuals of being in the presence of homosexuals, and the loathing that homosexual persons have for themselves.” Over the years, however, the term has not only turned out to be inadequate, but so too has its definition. Currently, homophobia is defined as a set of negative feelings and emotions that heterosexuals have, unwittingly or not, with regard to homosexuals. Individuals often continue to believe that homosexuals are sick and diverted, or being unaware, they give labels, the purpose of which is to exclude, alienate, or stigmatize anything that does not conform to social expectations (Dynes and Donaldson 1992a, b). Internalized Homophobia Despite the inadequacy of the definition of homophobia by Weinberg, we owe to him the important distinction between social homophobia and internalized homophobia, constructs that were born in the following years. Social homophobia is meant to refer to both individual and institutional social prejudice manifested through disgust and hostility towards gays and lesbians. When we speak about internalized homophobia, we refer to the internalization by homosexuals of prejudices and anti-homosexual attitudes, or negative attitudes towards homoerotic behaviors and feelings, and relationships between people of the same sex. Some researchers have shown that homosexuals tend to have homophobic attitudes, which bring discomforts such as shame and guilt. It was also evidenced that the onset of internalized homophobia can produce the internalization of distorted thoughts and images about sexuality among homosexuals, the tolerance of discriminatory actions, the assumption and belief of their own inadequacy, and the indignity of receiving and giving love. Further studies have tried to analyze the possible pathogenic effects that internalized homophobia can produce in the evolutionary process. Among the possible effects, suicide, depression, substance and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and the practice of unsafe sex were identified. Finally, according to a study by Rowen and Malcolm (2002), internalized homophobia plays a role in the process of homosexual identity formation, with high 123 Homophobic Labeling in the Process of Identity… 741 levels of internalized homophobia corresponding to difficulties in terms of acceptance and self-awareness. The Weight of Labeling in the Construction of One’s Own Identity The weight that social responsibilities has towards the construction of identity was developed by the interactionist perspective. Distinguishing itself from the deterministic approaches, the attention of many scholars (Jeffery 1965; Glaser 1978) focused on the individual, on relationships and on the contexts in which people are included. In such terms, to understand the behavior of the individual, we need to understand the behavior of the group of which he/she is a part and with which he/she shares a symbolic system (Mead 1934). Behavior is seen as the result of the meanings that people attribute to things, which arise within relationships and have no static basis (Blumer 1969). The interactionism emphasizes both the attribution of meanings that arise from this process and the interactive process. In the moment in which the individual fails to comply with certain social rules, there may be a reaction from the community and the individual can be regarded as an “outsider”, i.e., someone who deviates from the rules of the group (Becher 1963). According to some authors (Lemert 1967; Goffman 2010), an individual who does not comply with the rules and the related social control, may induce processes of stigmatization, which is defined as “a process that leads to publicly label people as morally inferior, using negative labels, brands, […] or information publicly widespread” (Lemert 1972, p. 91 tr. it.; Goode 2004). The stigmatization produces a slow but inexorable identification in the label attributed, the effect of which is to recognize the stereotype assigned (Heatherton et al. 2000). The labeling also produces multiple effects, such as a downgrading of status (Moses 2010), the transition from a person with his/her own biography to a generalizable “type” (Iudici and Faccio 2013; Iudici et al. 2014; Koken 2012), the acquisition of a way of thinking suited to the stigmatized role attributed by others (Becher 1963), a redefinition of his/her life’s goals and values (Goffman 1969), the affiliation to a group of persons to whom the stigma is attributed (Campbell and Deacon 2006), the risk of social isolation (Muncie 2010; Han et al. 2014), and the experiencing of various forms of support from a number of citizens with respect to the attributed stigma (Link and Phelan 2001). The Research Research Questions and Objectives The research is generally aimed to better understand the relationship between homosexual persons and labeling processes. Considering that gay people are still often stigmatized in many parts of the world, our interest is to understand from the 123 742 A. Iudici, M. Verdecchia perspective of some of these subjects, the weight that they attach to the labeling process that they often suffer, and how to manage with it. Some questions that have animated the interest of this research are as follows. How has labeling developed the construction of homosexual identity, and how has labeling affected a homosexual’s choices? How has this labeling been handled? How has the context to which an individual belongs facilitated or not facilitated the construction of identity? Specifically, these research questions were translated into the following objectives: – Noting how the process by which a homosexual identity is generated is activated and developed; – Establishing personal theories about the presence of any labeling and homosexuals’ ideas on how the labels have affected the acquisition/assignment of a sexual role and the building of the homosexual identity; – Establishing the theory that the participants have in relation to how the affiliate contexts may affect the formation of the homosexual identity. Sample of Research Considering that the theme of the research therefore relates to the construction of homosexual identity, people who were recruited for this research are homosexuals, both male and female, who have been traced through the snowball technique (Marshall 1998), i.e., the sample passes, self-generated, by word of mouth from one interviewed person to another. In the recruitment of the sample, it was easier to involve male subjects, who were more available and interested than females. To take part in this study, participants, after having read and signed an informed consent, filled out a card with personal data in which, among other information, asked them their sexual orientation, which is a crucial characteristic for the research. The choice of the group also occurred by the region of origin: we decided to conduct the study in the region Marche in central Italy. The people who in the personal card stated that they had a different sexual orientation from homosexuality and those who claimed they had not experienced the developmental age in the Marche region, were excluded. Once the final sample was defined, the group was heterogeneous and composed of 34 subjects, including 19 men and 15 women. People who were interviewed had an average age of 36 years, their socio-economic level was average and they came from various provinces of the Marche region. Some of them were born and lived until young adulthood in the Marche, and then they moved to other regions for various reasons; others were not born in the Marche, but have lived in this region since childhood. The place where the interviews took place was decided by the subjects, who chose places congenial to them. All interviews were recorded and transcribed in their entirety, and translated into verbalizations. 123 Homophobic Labeling in the Process of Identity… 743 Tools of Research: The Semi-Structured Interview For data collection, we focused on free narratives of the participants, or on their personal life stories. In doing so, special attention was paid to language, which according to the interactionist perspective, is considered as a tool through which meanings are constructed, exchanged and negotiated within relationships. On this basis, we decided to use semi-structured interviews as a tool for research, the purpose of which is to detect the point of view of the participants (Groeben 1990). The semi-structured interviews are conducted with the aid of a track that acts as a reminder of the topics that will be explored during the interview (Corbetta 1999). The criterion of Dependability, valid in qualitative research (Lincoln and Guba 1985), is thus respected. Although there is a fixed track common to all, the conduction of the interview may change on the basis of the answers given by the interviewee and based on the individual situation. The interviewer, in fact, cannot deal with issues not covered by the track, but he/she can develop some issues that arise spontaneously in the course of the interview, if he/she considers that such matters are relevant for the understanding of what emerges during the interview (Fielding and Thomas 2008). The semi-structured interview can be organized through a list of topics or a sequence of questions. Within this research, we decided to use a series of questions, which are defined upstream on the basis of the objectives mentioned earlier. We investigated eight dimensions, through a total of ten questions. In Table 1, we report the targets with their relative dimensions and requests. Analysis of Data The performed analysis is qualitative and it aims to analyze the content that emerged. The aim is to produce scientific knowledge, by interacting categories of analysis of the researcher with the meanings constructed by the subjects in their speech (Muhr 1997). According to the definition of Bernard Berelson (1952), analysis of the content is a technique that allows the systematic and qualitative description of the manifest content of communication. Through the use of procedures of analytical decompo- sition and classification, the content is treated to understand the process of signification below the communication offered by the respondent (Krippendorff 1983; Rositi 1988; Silverman 2002). In these terms, the content analysis appears useful when the object of study is a large amount of messages. Today, when we speak about analysis of the content, we refer to both the classical approach, related to the interpretative analysis of the text based on specific categories, and to the purely textual analysis of metric-type lexicon (Tuzzi 2003). Within this study, the content analysis was developed through the use of the software ATLAS.ti, which has allowed a more careful and easier analysis of the amount of data that emerged. ATLAS.ti was used through strategies that move in the direction of top-down, or the coding system was deduced from the key concepts of already existing theories. For this reason, there were chosen categories of analysis 123 744 A. Iudici, M. Verdecchia Table 1 Protocol investigation (dimensions to investigate and requests) Purpose Dimensions to investigate Questions First Outbreak of homosexuality How would you define homosexuality? purpose Can you describe to me how you became aware of your homosexuality? Crucial life events in determining Can you describe which of your life events had homosexuality an influence on determining your sexual identity? Consolidation homosexuality Describe how consolidation of your homosexuality happened. Second ‘Labeling’ definition How can you describe the labeling of a purpose homosexual person? Effects and implications of labeling in the you describe experiences in your life in acquisition of personal homosexual which your homosexuality has been labeled? identity If so, how much this kind of experience influenced your homosexuality? Dealing with/managing of labeling How did you manage this labeling action? Third Description of spill-over in the context andou think there have been some contexts purpose in the building up of personal sexual that have influenced you in your identity homosexuality? Pathways/modalities/how to manage spill If so, how did you deal with such kind of over contexts? pre-existing at the theoretical level, which allowed us to track the citations in the texts that have to be analyzed. Description of the Encoding Process The first phase of the process of analysis consists of the creation of a hermeneutics unit, called “analysis of the testimonies,” whose purpose has been that of including texts, data and codes. All the interviews, once recorded, were transcribed and then transported inside the hermeneutics as primary documents. We worked with 34 primary documents, 19 of which referred to males and 15 of which referred to females. The next step consisted of a careful reading of all the material, in order to arrive at the final coding. The coding process began with the selection of those parts of the text that are considered relevant to the research that you are performing; these parts of the text are defined “quotations.” In our study, a total of 824 quotations were detected. Once the fragments of text considered salient were tracked, we passed to the stage of open coding, where the aim is to bring the information contained in the documents to general concepts, which have the task of summarizing the contents of a piece of text. In this sense, the text is broken up into fractions of events, which are first labeled with a word and then analyzed individually. At first they were tracked down to 50 codes, but after further analysis, the presence of redundant categories was observed, so by using an action of “miscellaneous,” we reduced to a total of 37 codes. The code numbers with their frequencies are reported in Table 2. 123 Homophobic Labeling in the Process of Identity… 745 Table 2 Codes and primary documents table Codes Frequencies 1. Acceptance in adolescence 44 2. Acceptance in adulthood 13 3. Adolescence labels 15 4. Adulthood labels 15 5. Behavioral restriction 18 6. Believe to be the only 7 7. Childhood labels 13 8. Choice 4 9. Coming out 17 10. Emotional involvement 14 11. Episode 59 12. Fear 10 13. “Indifference” 18 14. Isolation from the group 5 15. Labels from adults 7 16. Labels from peers 22 17. Labels in homosexual world 29 18. Labels on gays 39 19. Labels on lesbians 14 20. Labels out of the homosexual world 45 21. Meet homosexual people 35 22. Mental/physical attraction 13 23. Nature 40 24. Normal condition 53 25. No external trigger 18 26. Not to be normal 9 27. Not to be the only one 15 28. Opposite gender behavior 46 29. Physical attraction 11 30. Positive emotions 28 31. Recognition in adolescence 29 32. Recognition in adulthood 6 33. Relationship 18 34. Signals 23 35. Suffering 36 36. Other 30 37. Tolerance towards lesbians 8 Totals 824 Once the number of codes was defined, they were grouped to form families that would reflect the theoretical definition. The families are configured as containers of objects, defined codes, whose purpose is to simplify a large number of objects by classifying them into subcategories. In this regard, four families of data were created: 123 746 A. Iudici, M. Verdecchia Personal theories about homosexuality, Construction of homosexual identity, Processes of labeling, Contexts. Once the coding phase ended, for each family of codes a network viewwas created, which is a graphic representation that allowed us to organize the system of codes according to customizable structures and relations, and that has the ability to communicate a lot of information in a simple and effective way. Within each network view, codes belonging to its family were reported, and subsequently connections between them were established. For each code, one or more illustrative quotes of the same have been reported. Results The presentation of results has been divided on the basis of “families” of data. Where possible, some excerpts of the interview will also be presented, in order to make the comments more immediate and understandable. Furthermore, at the end of each exposure, the network view of each group will also be presented. Results of the Group “Personal Theories About Homosexuality” (Fig. 1) From what emerged during the interviews, it can be said that for the participants homosexuality is a condition of human sexuality, and therefore a normal condition; In my opinion it’s a choice you take, and it pave the way to I can say I had some experiences … I tried problem with my father as once to kiss a girl and I the same as everybody liked it, so that I has, I mean homosexual [19:2]d to be homosexual. and heterosexual toI. don’t really think this Choice [4:2] may have acted as a trigger on my sexual orientation. [14:6] More or less .. because Generating seems not is not recognized by No External appropriateas a term,I <> other people but for me Trigger [20:1] believe there are not external is normal, I lead a A person who like someone elements can influenyour normal life [1:1] of the same gender, It sexuality or sexual == == involves in some way the orientation, on the other hand At the moment it’s my choice of physical aspect there can may be experiences standard, my normality, I of the other .. as well I’m thinking about some oldert. don’t feel different from as heterosexual do. [1:4] people I met .. they someway other people. [5:2] helped me in recognizing my [] Physical Attraction [10:2] sexual orientation. [9:14] Normal condition Nature [40:3] => [52:7] == [] => [] == Emotional Involvement Mental/Physical [14:3] Not to be alone Attraction [13:2] == [15:1] Being homosexual is falling In my case it’s not just a in love. [6:1] meeting people … ‘I’m not matter of physical attraction, alone’ I used to say to it’s a matter of mental First thing I would say is: me [2:26] attraction too. When I get two people who love each We must open bottles of usually a sublime component in involvement. [14:1] sparkling wine ... I do this attraction, it’s not just not have to cry alone in ‘sexual arousal’. [3:1] my room any more [14:20] Fig. 1 Group “personal theories on homosexuality” 123 Homophobic Labeling in the Process of Identity… 747 in fact, it is observed that there are at least 52 citations within the texts analyzed. The statement of one of the subjects is exemplifying: “… it is one of the many conditions of human historical sexuality, it has always existed in nature, and now it is perhaps more free and begins to be accepted as normal sexuality. Then, from the historical point of view, homosexuality has always existed, there have always been homosexuals; therefore, it is one of many expressions of sexuality.” In this sense, the homosexual is seen as a normal person who leads a normal life, just as a heterosexual; the only difference between them is the attraction to the “sexual object.” In fact, in addition to declaring that homosexuality is “normality”, the participants say that it is characterized by attraction to a person of the same sex. In this regard, there are various positions taken by the subjects: some of them state that homosexuality is defined on the basis of a physical attraction toward persons of the same sex, while another declares that there must be both physical and mental attraction. A third part concerns the belief that there must be an emotional involvement: “homosexuality is falling in love” with someone of the same sex. A more careful analysis, however, shows that these three poles are related; one does not exclude the other. For respondents, in fact, there is no physical attraction without emotional involvement, and vice versa, there is no emotional involvement without the physical component. Considering homosexuality as a “normal condition” is strongly linked to the fact that for the subjects, it is a phenomenon determined by the nature: “… that it is generated when you are born….” When subjects were asked the question: “Describe which were the biographical events relevant to the generation of your homosexuality,” one of the subjects finds the term generation rather improper. Some people don’t believe in the presence of possible external events as the cause of his/her homosexuality, contradicting the common belief that you become homosexuals because of an absent father and an oppressive mother. One respondent says: “I can tell you that, as does everyone, I had problems with my father, and with everyone I mean both homosexual and heterosexual, but I don’t think that this has affected my sexuality, I see no cause.” If the majority of the sample believes that they were born homosexuals and don’t become so, then for a very small section, homosexual orientation is instead a choice. These people, all women, say they were not “born” homosexual, but by a series of circumstances they have chosen homosexuality as their sexual orientation. The respondents talk about choice and not causes. One interviewed in this regard says: “… for me, it’s a choice that you make and then it paves the ways. Once out of curiosity I kissed a girl; I liked it and I decided to become homosexual.” Finally, from the interviews, it comes out that the belief that homosexuality is a normal condition, is confirmed in the moment in which the individual turns out not to be the only one. One respondent stated: “… we are so many and so it is a normal thing.” Discussion The survey that was carried out shows that the theory most practiced by the respondents is the one to consider homosexuality as a natural fact and not a choice, 123 748 A. Iudici, M. Verdecchia and therefore homosexuals are “born” and do not become so. The discursive structure of this theory is deterministic. Within this type of belief, not only is the individual responsibility removed, but the environment is also exempted from the formation of homosexual identity. In this way, we diverge from those systemic and relational theories and also from those that assume an external cause, such as those of Freud (1920, 1922). Respondents seem to adhere to biological-deterministic positions. Given that subjects assume that homosexuality is determined by nature, the second important aspect concerns the comparison of homosexuality and hetero- sexuality, considering them conditions of human sexuality and therefore normal. From here, homosexuality can be discovered thanks to experience with another gay person, allowing one to discover that they are not alone. The other is a “mirror” that not only helps to recognize and share diversity, and allows transformation of the “different” into “normal”, but eases the consolidation of one’s own sexual orientation. Results of the Group “Construction of Homosexual Identity” (Fig. 2) From the stories told, there are two specific moments in which one’s own homosexuality was the discovered: one is adolescence and the other adulthood, although respondents state that already in childhood there were signals present. In graphic terms, for our convenience, we created a macro-area called “Recognition,” in which there were placed the codes related to the two age groups. The interviews made it possible to detect that at the stage of recognition, there are always connected episodes, whose main characteristics are connoted by positive emotions, such as … i all started with my trip to Canada ... this helped me to In my case it happened By attending ... I said understand, to understand each other Recognition [35:1] quite late though to myself we are many, and also to accept… [14:5] probably this was evident and so it is normal … … I was very young, around176, in earlier periods before [2:26] years old, there was a particular Recognition in 27 years … [15:2]… We must open bottles of moment when there was a country boy adolescence 29 that I really liked ... I felt very Recognition in sparkling wine ... I do good with him ... it was the first … I believe that I have adulthood 6 not have to cry alone in experience with him and the first fully recognized I was my room any more [14:20] time I said ‘What the hell I like homosexual ... I was 13 men’[7:8] Not to be the only … although before I was twenty years one [15:2] old, there were some hints ... there … It established... to was a girl I liked so much and for => the age of 38 years old her birthday I remember that I gave … The true acceptance, the …[5:9] => her a bunch of flowers and I time in which I told … then the total and Coming Out [17:2] dedicated her the Raf’s song. [11:5] myself that I was definitive acceptance homosexual was at 17 years which opened a whole … I managed the coming Episode [59:4] old …[4:15] new world to me I was out with my wife and my … then the consolidation … 32 years old [9:11] => son and at that moment I in the teens ... [6:5] started to relax, to => sleep better at night => Acceptance in Acceptance in and to no longer feel adolescence 44 adulthood 13 guilty. [5:10] == == Signals [23:1] Acceptance [57:6] … At six I => Positive Emotions already had my [27:1] first sexual => … I said to myself ok! experiences but I => => The Other [30:6] this is really me was not aware == because this is a personyet. [2:16] … with my father's death who is giving me == fromethosebwho wereienation emotions I want to live, Believe to be the == == familiar legacies …[9:13] this is me.[4:14] only [7:3] Fear [10:3] … with him it was the Curiously I've had help and first experience and My fright was shoulders from heterosexual with him this was the … I have known him very primarily to believe friends, to which I have first time I said: what late ... 21/22 years that others will not Labeling Actions talked aboutme and they before that I thought I [43:2] helped me especially in the hell I like men, he was the only one within accept something what was the acceptance … was older so he was also 100 km… [6:18] that I had accepted … these labels have [16: 13] physically older than me and it was normal to certainly made it [7:5] me [4:31] more difficult to accept myself ... they made me feel wrong … [22:16] Fig. 2 Group “construction of homosexual identity” 123 Homophobic Labeling in the Process of Identity… 749 physical attraction, sexual fantasies and falling in love with people of the same sex. A person says: “… yes, I was very young, around 16 and 17 years, in which there was a particular moment, there was a boy of the village that I really liked… I felt really good… with him; it was the first experience and with him it was the first time that I said to myself cabbage, I like man.” While on one side subjects recognize themselves as homosexual since adolescence, on the other it must be said that for most of the respondents there were already signals in childhood. A guy says, “… I think more or less that I always knew from a young age, there was the idea to be attracted by boys.” It was decided to distinguish between “signals” and “recognition,” because even if the subjects declare that they had signals during the childhood: “… between the game of football and the game of ‘spin the fashion,’ I chose the second game; at that time they didn’t link their behavior to the concept of homosexuality, indeed they did not have “.. consciousness… yet.” Even the signals are often linked to episodes, such as preferring games purely typical of the other gender, or being intrigued by people of the same sex. The presence of pleasant episodes was also important in the acceptance phase; in fact, it is essential for the role of certain events in the consolidation of their sexual orientation. As for recognition, even for acceptance we created a macro-area, within which the various moments in which it took place were diversified. From the interviews, it is observed that most of the participants accepted their homosexuality during adolescence, while a small portion did so in adulthood. From recognition to self-acceptance, a variable period of time can be spent; there are those who are immediately able to accept him/herself after the recognition phase, “from the recognition a month,” while another instead stated that “the acceptance came much later….” From the stories it emerged that in the path towards acceptance, a series of factors may intervene, which in one way or another can facilitate or hinder that path. The realization of “not being alone,” the coming out of the closet thanks to the “coming out” and the relying on “the other” (be he or she homosexual or heterosexual), are considered to be highly positive factors that have enabled and facilitated the process of consolidation. In contrast, the “fear” of not being accepted (connected to “the belief of being the only” homosexual in this world) and the “presence of labels” are considered by most respondents to be factors that have slowed down and hindered the acceptance phase. Discussion The path that leads to the acceptance of one’s own homosexuality is considered to be different from person to person, but what joins individuals is that to achieve this goal, the individual faces a series of stages before that achievement. All respondents say that their childhood is characterized by small signals, such as games or attitudes different from what is expected from the gender to which they belong, which suggest a propensity for homosexual orientation, but at this age they declare that they have no awareness yet. Only during adolescence or adulthood, thanks to some clues such as curiosity toward or falling in love with people of the same sex, the 123 750 A. Iudici, M. Verdecchia individual recognizes him/herself as homosexual. This is the stage in which the person feels confused, frightened, and above all, different. The awareness is minimal; however, everything remains in the shadows. Only in the moment of total acceptance does the individual begin to experience the emotions and situations with ease and authenticity. In the moment in which the consolidation happens, there occurs a redefinition of the idea of self and identity. According to the respondents, the time between awareness and “freedom” of expression is very variable, it can take a few months or many years. The conquest of a “normality” is achieved more easily thanks to a relationship with another person who lives in the homosexual’s own situation and who helps them to understand the personal and interpersonal dynamics that they live in in that moment. He/she is not necessarily a partner, but could also be a family member or a friend who listens, supports, and especially is in agreement. Being accepted by others contributes to the acceptance of oneself. Results of the Group: “Processes of Labeling” (Fig. 3) According to the respondents, there are many labels addressing what they call the “gay world.” Here, too, we created a macro-area coded as “Presence of labels”; this choice has been made because during the interviews all subjects were required to state that there are labels, but that it is right to make a distinction. Firstly, labels come from the outside, precisely from that defined as “the heterosexual world,” and they are usually “… pederasts, pedophiles…”, “…bad queer…” “faggot, faggot, broke ass, and they are used in a derogatory sense, a kind of sentence…”, “…a Presence of Labels [128:2] … The first label I bumped Labels on gay 39 into was ‘ faggot’ when I was … of course I always have attendingsecondary school .. Labels in homosexual … Hysterical gay, lacking chosen ‘gira la moda’ instead five or for boys told that to world 29 woman … [1:23] of football playing [4:10] me … [4:24] … sometimes people use some … I was nine and they were … And then in the years denigrating words instead of … Of coursI always have in became aware of the ‘gay’ … gay means happy … but thirteen they joke around … fact that homosexual preferred female toys instead but they were always kids people are the most which other terms such as ‘broken- of male ones … nowadays I joking with me … adults never put labels on other ass’’ are so much denigrating still like dolls …[5:6] did. [13:19] homosexual people … and … some kind of blame. [2:19] this is annoying. [3:13] … Since I was a little child Labels from the Peers I used to play with guns and all kinds of boy-plays [12:8] [22:2] Labels out of the Labels on lesbians 15 homosexual world 45 Opposite Gender => … truck drivers looking for … There are some people, a Behavior[45:3] dick … [8:17] group of people I mean … for those ones homosexuality is == == … Lick, dirty lesbian, lick embarrassing and so they put …[12:13] denigrating labelson [] gays…[8:10] => … In appearance I always show other people how strong when I was attending I was to accept labels ….you elementary schools my tend not only to remind classmates used to take the …[4:23] I give up on talking with Labeling Actions [43:8] mick out of me because I … I did not mind … [5:20] people .. I used to spend Adolescence labels was effeminat… [3:3] my afternoons alone. [6:15] … girl came to 15 … si giocando con le it doesn’t matter to me … I me and said to … when I was an pistole mi dicevano che ero don’t mind of all thins me ‘HE’S A adolescent they used to un maschiaccio [12:14] => since I was a child …[13:18] FAGGOT’ … [2:23] Not to be normal talk me gay … [3:16] => [5:1] Adulthood labels Childhood labels 13 “Indifference” 15 => [18:2] => => => == => => == Isolation on Suffering [36:5] from the group Behavioral Restriction … Since that time I had [5:2] [18:2] == to bear the weight of Acceptance [57:2] == labels made me suffer I used to roll with the I used to limit my expressions, my [3:28] punches and to lock my attitudes and approaches and to take … This kind of labels that I spent my afternoonso control over this aspects .. and it was so made so difficult for I rememberIcried and alone [6:15] stressful … [3:23] me the process of hadoanactivereactionver … I always tried to limit my female acceptance of myself … I havealwayshad a … I felt so wrong … passive approachto approaches and not to parade my behaviors [22:16] these situations [9:19] and poses … [7:18] I tried to get myself standardized … I used to dress me like other female peoples and I let my hair grow …[11:14] Fig. 3 Group “processes of labeling” 123 Homophobic Labeling in the Process of Identity… 751 perversion, a thing that one can choose, a malpractice…”, “…licking…lesbian of shit…”. According to the participants, the labels towards male homosexuality are more numerous and heavier than those attributed to female homosexuality, which is more tolerated. Secondly, if it is true that the labels are assigned from the outside, it is also true that “…there are labels between homosexuals themselves and… homosexuals who do not like other homosexuals.” A man said, “… then over the years, I also realized that sometimes the worst, the person who most labels a gay… are the other gays and they’re a really annoying thing….” In this sense, gay people label gays, lesbian people label lesbians and also among them, they tend to label each other. Within the gay world, there are labels such as: “…the hysterical faggot, the passive queer…the missed woman…,” while among lesbians, the most reliable labels are: “…the truck driver, the easy woman….” Detecting the existence of labels towards a gay person has allowed the next step, to investigate whether the homosexuality of the same respondents has ever been subject to labeling. The study suggests that respondents were the objects of labels, and that these were mainly buckled during adolescence and childhood, and less during the adulthood. The homosexual male was labeled because maybe he was “… very effeminate…,” or “…playing more with girlfriends…,” or because he preferred “…the kind of games more female than male….” Towards homosexual females, labels were instead attributed because they primarily played “…tomboy games….” The labels came mainly from the peer group, were verbal, and they had a negative meaning aimed at offense and derision, as indicated by some quotes: “… the first label that was slammed in my face was calling me a faggot…between the first and second year of middle school by four or five guys…” or “… I was nine, they 13; they always made jokes; however, children never adults….” A way in which these labels were handled was to be indifferent, but it was mainly an apparent condition, since deep down, labels have the effect of making the person feel bad. In particular, they made the respondents feel “not normal/different,” and in order to prevent this from happening, the subject tended to “isolation” or “to restricted his/her behavior,” trying to “…not show off and to maintain a certain behavior….” Labels have also led to other repercussions, both at the stage of acceptance, destabilizing the entire period, and in forming internalized homophobia. The latter, as the respondents said, was a cause of low self-esteem, guilt and shame, and of isolation and relational difficulties. Discussion From the results obtained, it was observed that self-acceptance can be slowed by several factors, including labeling. Different insulting labels are attributed to homosexual individuals, aimed at offense and stigmatization, and they may induce feelings of diversity and abnormalities. The actions of labeling come mostly from the group of peers, especially by males, and they are purely directed towards the homosexual male. It would seem that female homosexuality is more tolerated. This is probably with respect to the stereotype that man must be strong, confident, tough and independent; he can’t be a “missed woman” whose behaviors and attitudes seem 123 752 A. Iudici, M. Verdecchia to disappoint the social expectations of masculinity. What goes against the social value system is stigmatized and labeled. In the case of homosexuality, the actions of labeling, which are normally offensive and discriminatory, are called homophobia. Labels seem to affect many of the respondents’ lives, because they triggered a series of problems that the individual was not always able to manage appropriately. In fact, they can cause pain and isolation, imprisoning individuals in socially acceptable stereotypes, and limiting their behaviors. Labels can also create two phenomena, in the form of social and internalized homophobia, which bring with them a series of hardships. In fact, an aspect that emerges from such discriminatory actions, is that they mostly occur during the adolescent phase, an extremely delicate period in which the individual risks internalizing these actions and then self-labeling him/herself as different and wrong; in this sense, the person develops a homophobic attitude. The formation of negative attitudes towards what they define as being their own nature, brings situations of enormous discomfort and difficulty. On the one hand, there are emotions and attractions toward people of the same sex; while on the other, not only are they perceived as being different, but this perception brings with it shame, guilt, inadequacy, and especially isolation. The processes of labeling are, however, not seen as the cause of homosexual identity, but as an effect of the latter. In this sense, it is only when individuals find themselves living what they call the “nature” that they can be mocked, labeled and isolated. If, on the one hand, people do not attribute a cause-effect relationship between labels and the formation of homosexual identity, on the other, they give labels an important role in the process of such formation. These actions would have an effect, acting as an obstacle to the acceptance phase, a step considered crucial to the achievement of self-awareness as a person in terms of being “not different.” Results of the Group: “Contexts” (Fig. 4) In the last point of our analysis, we investigated how the context of belonging has affected the formation of homosexual identity. According to almost all of the respondents (over 35 citations), the attendance of persons or homosexual groups was crucial in the process of acceptance and consolidation. I


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