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Mediating Communal Homophobia with Narrative Chana Etengoff, Ph.D. Colette Daiute, Ph.D. Barnard College, Columbia University CUNY Graduate Center ISCAR.

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Presentation on theme: "Mediating Communal Homophobia with Narrative Chana Etengoff, Ph.D. Colette Daiute, Ph.D. Barnard College, Columbia University CUNY Graduate Center ISCAR."— Presentation transcript:

1 Mediating Communal Homophobia with Narrative Chana Etengoff, Ph.D. Colette Daiute, Ph.D. Barnard College, Columbia University CUNY Graduate Center ISCAR 2014 Sydney, Australia

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4 The Present Study  Symbolic and realistic writing activities can assist minority groups in imagining diverse audiences, purposes and contexts  Facilitating the mediation of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intersystem dimensions of conflict (Daiute, 2010)  Within this lens, letter writing and storytelling become interventionist tools  Today, we will explore the letter writing and storytelling narratives of gay men and their family allies from Christian and Jewish backgrounds as a case study of how narrative tasks facilitate individual and cultural development within discriminatory contexts

5 Participants  Sixty-nine percent (16/23) of the gay participants and 60% of the family ally participants (9/15) recruited for the larger interview study elected to additionally complete the letter writing task and are included the present study (N=25).  The percentage of participants that self-identified as being currently religiously observant was similar between Jewish (55%) and Christian (50%) participants.  The average age at time of participation was also similar for Jewish and Christian gay men (8 Christian M Age= 25, SD=3, 8 Jewish M Age= 24, SD=3) as well as their family allies (6 Christian M Age= 52, SD=11, 3 Jewish M Age= 47, SD=20).  All participants identified as US residents at time of study

6 Method  Participants were prompted to navigate communal homophobia by: Writing letters to religious figures regarding how their religious community should be addressing sexual orientation and its disclosure Completing a vignette focusing on a religious leader’s decision to exclude a gay man from a communal activity. Modeled after Daiute’s work with Serbian and Croatian youth

7 Vignettes  Projective tasks  Allow the narrator to engage conflicts while distanced from cultural script constraints  Enable researchers to determine if solution skills are present even if not enacted

8 Sample Vignette Response Catholic Mother Religious Figure Disclosure: Sylvia lays awake at night and relives their life with her son from childbirth to this day, wondering how the family missed the signs and signals. Sylvia is left searching, questioning, wondering if this is real or a dream. Sylvia made an appointment to speak with their family’s Pastor tomorrow and she keeps on reviewing the script of what they will say. But, what will the Pastor say? What did the Pastor say? Since this is Texas.. location is everything. He will be damning. Was the pastor’s comment helpful, harmful, or neither? Harmful. What did Sylvia and Harry think and how did they feel after the Pastor’s comments? If the was compassionate, then great relief. If he was damning, then they will feel great anguish, and look further for a pastor that follows God’s greatest commandment to love. Did they respond? I would imagine. She broke down in tears and maybe Harry had the same response. They might have asked why God would make gay individuals and then damn their needs. How did it all turn out? They will either look for a different church community, or seek to find a way to reconcile what they hear with what they truly believe. I would hope they choose their son over a church.

9 Sample Vignette Response Gay Mormon ….Joseph received a call from his friend regarding a change in his wedding plans. It seemed as though his friend’s Bishop had said that Joseph could no longer read a biblical passage for the wedding ceremony and Joseph had been demoted to giving a dinner toast instead. Joseph asked for the Bishop’s phone number and spoke to him about his thoughts and feelings on the matter. The conversation quickly turned to a discussion of biblical texts such as: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” What did the Bishop say about the biblical texts? The bishop used particular passages from the Bible that spoke to a specific time, place, people & practice and used it as a prooftext to discredit and disrespect Joseph’s identity What did Joseph think and how did Joseph feel after the Bishop shared his perspective? Joseph was unsurprised by the remarks and matched the Bishop verse for verse with ripostes to each parry that the Bishop opened with, from Leviticus to Sodom, Paul to Jude. Did Joseph respond? See above for response as well as feeling (sorry about that) How did it all turn out? At an impasse and, with the Bishop having the control over the wedding ceremony, Joseph was demoted down to the dinner toast.

10 Sample Letter from Gay Jewish Participant Dear rabbi ____, I am writing you concerning the issue of homosexuality in the Jewish community and how us as religious Jews should approach and deal with the issue. In general, gay Jews exist among us and need to be treated as any other “straight” Jew of the community. Being gay itself isn’t an issue, only acting upon makes it a problem. We as a community need to understand that these Jews are people as well with issues that need to be addressed both Halachikally and socially. I can say personally that no gay Jew is aimed at contradicting Torah and Halacha in order to achieve happiness in a gay lifestyle. As a gay Jew myself, I know that it is hard to be accepted simply for who I am from the people around me. Let me make it clear, gay is not a choice or a decision, clearly it is a test from Hashem, and all of us gay Jews are looking for clarity and peace in our live from so much uncertainty. So please, if you could, help us in the way that we need by accepting us and helping us change ourselves for the better, not by changing who we ARE, but by guiding us in a way where we can come to peace, both religiously and socially. As a community, it is your job, due to the fact that you influence your congregation as whole, being that you’re a Rabbi, to inform Jews everywhere that gay Jews exist, that we are like any other Jews, and we deal with issues just the same. Make it clear that we are not freaks at a freak show on display for people to stare and worry about. We are able beings who are simply looking for acceptance in a society that needs to be a little more accepting the unconventional. My overall inference is for gay Jews to be accepted in the Jewish community as another person would and for the understanding from everyone that we are dealing with issues, we are not trying to contradict Judaism or go against what Jews live and learn. We are Jewish to and we want the same as any other Jew would want.

11 Narrative Analysis  Guided by the perspective that narratives are socio-relational behaviors that illustrate the interactions of individuals in society Process Steps: Full reading of narrative Identification of conflicts Identification of mediational strategies (e.g., humanization) Identification of cultural tools Identification of individual, communal, and relational interactions Compilation and Quantification

12 Humanization Humanization is the practice of empathically recognizing the human scope of others’ thoughts, feelings and experiences leading to an “opportunity for personal agency and self- actualization” (Bell & Khoury, 2011, p.168). It is “the process through which a person stands in relation to another person in a way that affirms her or his humanity and human potential” (Hidalgo, 2012, p.1). While humanization is related to empathy and perspective taking, it differs in that the process of humanization is viewed as a social justice action that is motivated by a relationally complex awareness of and concern for those limited by sociopolitical structures (Etengoff, 2013).

13 Humanizing Strategy Examples Sample Letter from Gay Jewish Participant  “Gay Jews exist among us and need to be treated as any other “straight” Jew of the community.”  “…these Jews are people as well”  “…accepting us” Gay Jews exist, that we are like any other Jews, and we deal with issues just the same. Make it clear that we are not freaks at a freak show on display for people to stare and worry about. We are able beings who are simply looking for acceptance in a society that needs to be a little more accepting the unconventional. My overall inference is for gay Jews to be accepted in the Jewish community as another person would and for the understanding from everyone that we are dealing with issues, we are not trying to contradict Judaism or go against what Jews live and learn. We are Jewish to and we want the same as any other Jew would want.

14 Vignette Results: The Need for Relational Complexity  Participants’ religious leader projections were diverse: helpful, harmful, mixed  Primary reasons for harmful responses was the religious leader’s inability to address the relational complexity of gay men’s experiences within religious communities Example (Jewish Gay Participant): Sara decided to make an appointment to speak with the family’s Rabbi tomorrow and she keeps on reviewing the script of what she will say. But, what will the Rabbi say? The Rabbi makes it clear to Sara that homosexuality is an issue with Judaism and that there are ways to deal with such a situation. He suggests that he have a talk with Yaakov to hear about the issues he has been having, and may try to “set him straight”. The Rabbi seem generally concerned, not about Yaakov and how he is coping/dealing/thinking of the issue and how it affects his life, but how it pertains, specifically to his Yiddishkite. His main intention and advice to Sara is “dealing” with the issue, instead of addressing homosexuality as way people live, and that homosexually is acceptable and we need to accept gays, and Yaakov for who they are. Was the Rabbi’s comment helpful, harmful, or neither? The Rabbi’s comment was both helpful and harmful. It addressed the religious aspect and the conflict religion has with the issue. The Rabbi is generally concerned with the religious aspect of Yaakov’s life now that his “issue” is public. It is harmful on the other hand from the fact that he doesn’t suggest a full understanding of what Yaakov is dealing with (both socially and psychologically).

15 Letter Results Conflicts:  Sixteen of the 25 participants addressed their letters to a specific religious figure, illustrating the sociorelational applicability of the narrative task.  Ninety-three conflicts and difficulties were discussed by 24 of the 25 participants (M= 4, SD=2), with 96% of participants explicitly discussing problems.  Broad Range of Issues: limited choices in affiliation (80%) environmental control within their religious institution (80%) emotional development (60%) bodily integrity as related to being free from threat and discrimination on the communal (56%), social friendship (52%), and sexual and romantic fulfillment level (52%)

16 Letter Results Solutions & Cultural Tools  Seventy-five solutions (M= 3, SD=2) were discussed by 96% of participants.  Participants discussed a wide range of solutions including leaving religious institutions (2/25), changing secular law (3/25), changing religious institutions (3/25) and changing scriptural interpretations (17/25).  However, the greatest number of participants (20/25) wrote about their desire to find relief from their present circumstances by having others humanize them.  49% of the problems explored by letter writing participants were not discussed in their personal interviews, suggesting that letter writing tasks may uniquely facilitate the construction of narratives outside of capability limiting scripts.

17 Letter Results: Interacting Sociocultural Contexts  Religious family allies’ beliefs regarding the unchanging prohibition against homosexuality did not prevent family allies from using secular cultural tools such as governmental legislation to advocate a myriad of social policy changes within their religious communities.  While a number of gay participants protested the prohibition in addition to its enactment, many continued to situate human rights requests within religious contexts

18 Discussion Limitations & Future Directions  As with all tools, individuals’ intentions and sociocultural contexts contribute to their uses and resultant sociorelational impact (Etengoff & Daiute, Under Review).  While some participants in the current study petitioned for specific changes in religious laws (e.g., loving same-sex relationships should not be viewed as a sin), other participants accepted the limitations of ancient religious rulings and alternatively advocated for the expansion of traditional religious values such as compassion and brotherhood (e.g., positive social interactions).  This individual variation emerged as sociocultural narrative methodology is not limited to a discussion of coherence alone and allows for the complexity of developing intrapersonal perspectives to emerge (Etengoff, 2013).

19 Discussion Limitations & Future Directions  While narrative analyses suggest that letter writing tools may be helpful to gay men and their religious allies during the coming- out process, they were not frequently used by allies outside of this participatory experience and the letters remain unanswered  Future Research: Larger sample size, longitudinal design, additional cultural groups


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