Date of Award

12-1-2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Fischer, Ann

Abstract

This is an exploratory study and qualitative investigation of the social construction and enforcement of gender through social interactions with a specific focus on how gender policing is experienced within the LGBTQ community in Riverdale (pseudonym), the specific location of this study. Gender policing refers to the implicit and explicit feedback that one is accomplishing gender inappropriately according to contextual norms, expectations, and ideals, with the implied meaning that not conforming will result in real or assumed negative consequences. Two focus groups comprised of five people each who self-identified along the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer spectrum(s) in at least one context in their lives were used as the primary method for data collection. Inclusion criteria were based on those who identified with the LGBTQ community in Riverdale or who had had experiences in Riverdale in spaces that were predominantly LGBTQ. Focus group questions attempted to elicit participants' experiences within the LGBTQ community in Riverdale as they negotiated a sense of self in relation to others in the LGBTQ community. The content of the focus group discussions were analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as described by Smith and Osborn (2003). This study illuminates how gender as a system of power is experienced and assigned meaning within interpersonal relationships in service of developing a social identity through inclusion within an LGBTQ community. Results from the data analysis yielded five broad themes: (a) gender oppression, (b) discouragement with community, (c) attempts to cope, (d) queer, and (e) change. These themes reflect narratives of oppression in the dominant culture and the impact of oppression on identity work in the LGBTQ community in a rural college town. Results are presented within the context of gender and gender policing on structural levels, interpersonal levels, and the level of internalized self-policing. Instances of gender policing on an interactional level were often associated with the assumed threat of social rejection and isolation and the experience of disappointment, pain, and disconnection. Results from this study support the literature on (a) the accomplishment of gender, (b) the maintenance of power differentials through the regulation of perceived differences between sex and gender categories, (c) the development of identity as group process, and (d) perceived problems within the LGBTQ community such as the maintenance of oppression and barriers to social change through the process of inclusion and exclusion.

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