“Whoever I Find Myself To Be”: Past, Present, and Future Selves of Bisexual Emerging Adult Men and Trans Masculine Individuals
Querna, Katie Anne
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The Institute of Medicine (2011) has recognized LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) adults as an understudied and underserved population at-risk of poor physical and mental health outcomes, such as high rates of psychological distress and cardiovascular disease risk. Meta-analyses have shown higher rates of depression, substance use, suicidality, intimate partner violence, and STI’s/HIV risk in young gay and bisexual men, who have historically been aggregated in health research. When bisexual men are studied apart from other cisgender men, bisexual men experience worse health outcomes than their exclusively heterosexual or gay counterparts; however, the mechanisms whereby that disparity is conveyed have not been examined. Research on trans masculine individuals is also scant. That which does exist suggests higher rates of violence victimization, alcohol use, and suicidality than among cisgender peers. Furthermore, associated stress effects of these disparities can perpetuate across the life course and intergenerationally, particularly given the biological and social vulnerability to stress that characterizes emerging adulthood. Bisexuality is the most prevalent sexual minority identity in the United States, and recent estimates suggest that emerging adults have the highest prevalence of bisexually identified people. Given the aforementioned research highlighting the unique issues associated with bisexuality, its association with various health decrements, and its increasing prevalence in the population, it is imperative to public health and social welfare that we increase our understanding of bisexuality as an identity, to ultimately increase health and well-being for bisexual, masculine people. This research intends to address this gap by integrating elements of critical race, queer, and symbolic interactionist theories within a feminist, poststructuralist epistemological and theoretical framework, employing theoretical pluralism and a future-forming orientation towards inquiry. Using critical feminist, narrative, and arts-based and somatic methodologies, I conducted multiple interviews with 15 non-monosexual emerging adult men and trans masculine individuals. The participants discussed their personal experiences as interactions with two primary themes from the study: “Cishetero/cishomonormativity: reproduction, resistance, and dissonance” (including gendered socialization through relationships across the social ecology) and “Finding Myself: who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming.” These co-constructions represent interpretations of the meaning that participants made from their life experiences and the ways they conceptualize “who they are becoming” as they move into adulthood. The dissertation findings complicate critical research, which has often taken an uncomplicated social constructionist approach to identity categories, such as sexuality and gender. This approach can diminish the importance of biology or fail to acknowledge the changing nature of masculinity norms or treat identity (identities) as discrete. This study acknowledges and highlights the dissonance and complexity that exists for those young adult men who continually critique normative constructions of gender and sexuality, while simultaneously longing for the sense of certainty and connection that “fitting in” could (possibly) offer. Also, the study findings challenge the assumption that liminality is singularly isolating by highlighting participants’ experiences of pushing against and expanding norms into the transformative possibilities of living in “the in-between,” particularly when held in supportive relationships. This research offers both a methodologically innovative model for social scientists, as well as a critical first step toward better understanding how bisexuality and experiences related to this sexuality identity may influence emerging adult men and trans masculine individuals throughout the life course. The larger study goal is to inform future research, practice, and pedagogy to promote health and well-being of this understudied population.