Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Resilience within the Family Networks of Lesbians and Gay Men: Intentionality and Redefinition

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Resilience within the Family Networks of Lesbians and Gay Men: Intentionality and Redefinition

Article excerpt

This article reviews the literature on gay and lesbian family networks as a way to identify the resilience processes that enable members to create and strengthen their family networks. Two processes, intentionality and redefinition, were identified. Intentionality refers to behavioral strategies that legitimize and support relationships. Redefinition refers to meaning making strategies that create linguistic and symbolic structures to affirm one's network. Brief comparisons are made to the literature on resilience in ethnic minority families, and careful study of the similarities and differences between gay and lesbian family networks, and other marginalized families, is urged.

Key Words: gays and lesbians, meaning-making, resiliency, family process.

Family resilience research focuses on the relational processes that facilitate family survival, and even growth, under adverse conditions (McCubbin, Thompson, Thompson, & Futrell, 1999). Though family resilience includes attention to how family processes shape individual outcomes, the unit of analysis is more focused on family relationships than individuals (McCubbin, Futrell, Thompson, & Thompson, 1995). The resilience approach attends to both behavioral strategies and the ongoing construction of meaning within families (Thompson, 1999). Further, this approach locates families as actively engaged within their cultures and communities, and examines the ways in which active engagement facilitates social support (e.g., McCubbin, Thompson, Thompson, & Futrell, 1995).

The family networks of gay and lesbian people are negotiated under varying degrees of adversity. Gay and lesbian individuals may fear and experience profound rejection, even violence, from loved ones when their sexuality is disclosed (e.g., D'Augelli, Hershberger, & Pikington, 1998); the same may be true for heterosexual people who disclose that they have a gay or lesbian loved one (e.g., Herdt & Koff, 2000). Commitment between same sex partners is not recognized by law, with the exception of Vermont's civil union statute, and may be ignored or dismissed by loved ones (e.g., Oswald, 2000a). In addition to the social consequences of nonrecognition, the lack of legal support for same-sex partner relationships means that these relationships are not afforded the many benefits that are automatically conferred upon heterosexual marriage (Partner's Task Force for Gay and Lesbian Couples, 2000). Relationships between nonbiological gay and lesbian parents and their children may be legally and socially ignored, and the parental rights of gay and lesbian biological parents can be challenged in the courts (Patterson, 1992). Relationships with friends that are considered to be family by gay and lesbian network members may also be minimized with negative effects (Carrington, 1999). In addition to these conditions the family networks of gay and lesbian people may be further complicated by racism (e.g., Mays, Chatters, Cochran, & Mackness, 1998), economic inequality (e.g., Cantu', 2001), illness (e.g., Thompson, 1999), and other adversities.

Despite these difficulties, gay and lesbian family networks exist, endure, and even thrive. However, the family resilience approach has not typically been used in the gay and lesbian family literature (Allen, 1999; Herdt & Koff, 2000; and Thompson, 1999, are exceptions). The purpose of this article is to identify the relationship processes that promote the survival and growth of gay and lesbian family networks. Towards this end, the existing qualitative and quantitative research is reviewed.

Interpretive methods are especially useful for the study of resilience because of their ability to capture complex processes and the construction of meaning (McCubbin et al., 1999; Walsh, 1996). Therefore, in addition to including survey and observational assessment studies, special attention is paid to research utilizing participant observation, in depth interviews, or analyses of text generated by family network members. …

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