Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Composing Self on Narrative Landscapes of Sexual Difference: A Story of Wisdom and Resilience la Composition Du Moi Sur Arrière-Plans Narratifs De Dif Férence Sexuelle : Récit De Sagesse et De Resilience

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Composing Self on Narrative Landscapes of Sexual Difference: A Story of Wisdom and Resilience la Composition Du Moi Sur Arrière-Plans Narratifs De Dif Férence Sexuelle : Récit De Sagesse et De Resilience

Article excerpt

I sat there. I just sat there, with cuts on my wrists and tears streaming down my face. I could look up and make eye contact with him, and I didn't have any tissues. I could taste my own snot in my mouth. I didn't know what to do and my family doctor didn't know what to say So far, nobody understands me. I'm not suicidal, but I just want to attack myself, you know? I want to get at that part of me that I can't make go away. I don't want this, I don't want the trouble it is bringing me, and I don't want my friends and family to have to go through it either.

So spoke Ethan, a client of Andrew, the first author, some 14 years ago.1 Ethan (a pseudonym) was recounting a painful "coming out." As he spoke about his experience of telling two friends, he told a vivid story of tense anticipation followed by a confronting realization of non-acceptance. Ethan's story resonates in many ways with countless young same-sex-attracted men, who find that their emerging sexual orientation places them at odds with their friends, their loved ones, and their communities. Ethan's voice echoes forward to address us here and now, and the literature and anecdotes from practice tell us that these are also today's struggles for young gay men in Canada.

In this article, we draw upon the story of another young same-sex-attracted man (Joseph, also a pseudonym) that was told as part of a larger research project, which sought to inquire about the resilience experiences of young same-sex-attracted university students. While our larger study addressed the experiences of both men and women, this article focuses on the experiences of men. We took enrolment in either an undergraduate or graduate program as being a measure of success in having negotiated some of the personal and social challenges associated with emerging sexual difference. Using narrative inquiry, we explored the experiences of a group of young men and women in order to learn about how they had negotiated the transition from adolescence to adulthood as they also came to understand themselves as people of sexual difference. When we refer to the participants in our study we use the term same-sex attracted. We do this because we recruited participants using this term for two reasons: first, because the experience of even transient same-sex attraction can confer risk for negative mental health outcomes (Skegg, Nada-Raja, Dickson, Paul, & Williams, 2003); second, we did not wish to exclude young people who wanted to participate but who did not identify with a static identity category such as "gay" or "lesbian." Despite our preference for the term same-sex attracted, our review of the literature and subsequent discussion refers to the identity categories of gay and lesbian because other authors as well as the participants in our study used them.

As a result of our narrative approach, a different perspective on resilience is presented in this article. Instead of conceptualizing resilience as a trait, a characteristic, or an ability to access available resources or supports, we offer a narrative view of resilience as experience in context. That is to say, resilience is intrinsically woven into the experience and story of the person as it is lived and told in places that have topographical and social features. Understanding resilience in this way not only offers important insights into the marginal and mainstream experiences of people of sexual difference, it also suggests shifts in the ways that therapists and counsellors practice with same-sex-attracted clients.

The literature reports a number of increased problems for young gay men as they negotiate the internal and external experiences of sexual difference. Many of these young people experience negative life events, from being exposed to other people's negative attitudes about their sexual orientation, to actual physical assault (Herdt & van de Meer, 2003; Herek, 1984; Kuehnle & Sullivan, 2001; Walls, Kane, & Wisneski, 2010). …

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