Discourses of Bisexuality among Older Women
Jen, Sarah Rebecca
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Purpose: Older bisexual women report differences in experiences over the life course as well as significant health disparities compared to heterosexual, lesbian, and gay counterparts. In-depth qualitative analyses are needed to provide a better understanding of how older women construct their bisexual identities in later life as well as how their identity negotiation process is informed by lager social structures. This study applies a Foucauldian discursive approach to conceptual framing and analysis, supplemented by critical feminist and life course perspectives, in order to analyze how older bisexual women construct bisexual identities within their particular discursive and historical context. Method: Study participants (N=12) were recruited to complete in-person interviews including creation of a life history timeline and reflective questions focused on their bisexual identity. Foucauldian Discourse Analysis was applied to analyze the specific linguistic tools and broader discourses that participants drew on when constructing their bisexual identities as well as the historical influences that impact their use of language. Findings: Two divergent groups of women, the Early Emergers and Mature Migrators, emerged based on the ways in which they constructed bisexuality and by the timing of their reported attractions to other women. The Early Emergers construct bisexuality as a stable, biological concept while the Mature Migrators challenge this narrative by emphasizing the fluidity of sexuality through discourses of migration spurred by “light bulb” moments. Although participants described feelings of ambivalence toward bisexuality as a label, they also constructed bisexuality as creating freedom and possibility in the full context of their lives. Discussion and Implications: This study points to the unique contributions of discourse analyses in revealing patterns in constructions of bisexuality among older women as well as the need for scholars to critically and intentionally contribute to discourses of bisexuality. Practitioners who seek to better support this population should allow clients to describe their sexual identity and the meaning behind that identity within the full context of their lives in order to validate and recognize the unique life patterns among older bisexual women. Future research would benefit from more accurate and nuanced ways of operationalizing sexual identities and life patterns.