Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Breaking Down the "Walls of a Façade": The Influence of Compartmentalization on Gay College Males' Meaning-Making

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Breaking Down the "Walls of a Façade": The Influence of Compartmentalization on Gay College Males' Meaning-Making

Article excerpt

This study examined how the act of compartmentalization influenced gay male college students' meaning-making of their multiple identities. This study, involving 17 males attending colleges in Southern California, explored how these students compartmentalized their identities within different cultures, including race, religion, and socioeconomic class, as well as in different student cultures, such as fraternities and student organizations. The findings of this constructivist grounded theory study illuminate how compartmentalization of one's identity is seen at the individual, group, and systemic levels within society to help and hinder these gay males' holistic sense of self. Additionally, implications for professional practice and research are offered to assist gay males in college toward integrative approaches to one's identity.

Keywords: gay males; compartmentalization; meaning-making; multiple identity development

"I don't really feel like I had my own identity because the identity I had was so crafted in a way to make these walls stay up-these walls of a façade-so that no one really knew who I was, but I could come across as who I wanted to be in high school. So that7s how I came across: a nice, funny guy who was always in a relationship with a girl or hooking up with a girl. That was what I just made sure to do even though that wasn't who I was."-Peter, discussing the compartmentalization of his gay identity in high school.

"I've definitely had to compartmentalize my life and separate. There's a huge separation. I think it's a bigger separation than most straight people have to separate. And their separation-their reasons for separation-are probably different. But for me, it7s most just protecting myself. So it has been difficult, and sometimes I think it's taken a toll on me, but I just ignore it. And I just say that I'm going to get through it."-Mason, discussing the compartmentalization of his sexual identity while being involved in the Navy ROTC.

Peter and Mason (pseudonyms are used for all participants) were two gay-identified males attending college in San Juan Miguel (a pseudonym), a metropolitan city in Southern California. At first glance, that was where their similarities ended. Peter, a White male from a wealthy, Catholic family originally from the Pacific Northwest, was a member of a campus fraternity, a leader in student government, and is an extremely popular figure on his campus. He had an athletic build and handsome features. Mason, a Filipino-American male, came from a middle-class military family. He was short and slender, but wore his formal Naval ROTC dress uniform during his interviews. He spoke softly, and when speaking about his ROTC experience or his thoughts on masculinity, his speech seemed hesitant. But his speech and mannerisms shifted dramatically once he began talking about his coursework, his interest in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues, or his involvement as a resident advisor on campus.

While Peter and Mason may have been distinctively different from one another, both expressed that they had compartmentalized aspects of their social identity- particularly their gay identity-in different circumstances or instances within their lives, as they discussed above. Mason's gay identity as a member of the Navy ROTC had served as an obstacle for him. Peter's realization in high school that he was gay was deeply compartmentalized and hidden from friends and family-and even from himself-until it drove him to attempt suicide. Moreover, Mason and Peter's experiences were not unique. The implications of compartmentalization on one's meaning-making of gay college males' sense of self varied. However, the research discussed in this particular article shows that compartmentalization has a very real influence on gay males' lives, especially during their college experience, in ways that both help and hinder their overall sense of self. Throughout this article, I synthesize relevant literature with the narratives of the study participants to discuss the phenomenon of compartmentalization and its impact on gay males' me aning-making. …

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