Sexual and spiritual identity transformation among ex-gays and ex-ex-gays: narrating a new self



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This dissertation is a qualitative sociolinguistic study of the ways in which certain groups of evangelical Christians dealing with same-sex attraction use narrative to negotiate perceived conflicts between their sexual and religious identities. Specifically, I collected the personal “life story” narratives of two groups: ex-gays, or self-identified evangelical Christians who claim to have transformed or are attempting to transform their sexual identity in order to bring it in line with their understanding of evangelical Christian theology, and ex-ex-gays, or individuals who claim to have attempted some form of sexual identity transformation and concluded in the end that it was not possible, not necessary, or both. This study also includes analyses of the discourse of an ex-lesbian support group, as well as focus group discussions from both men and women involved in an ex-gay ministry where I conducted three months of ethnographic fieldwork. Using Burke’s (1966) notion of terministic screens and applying Linde’s (1993) work on the creation of coherence in life stories, I analyze the role that both overarching metanarrative beliefs and personal narrative constructions play in individuals’ attempts to resolve spiritual and sexual identity conflicts and create a coherent sense of self. Narrative is employed by speakers as a means to make sense of their lives and achieve a coherent sense of self. By focusing on stories of the management of identity conflict, I investigate a significant form-function interaction, i.e. the linguistic structures that result when challenges to one of the primary personal and social functions of narrative are intrinsic to the life experience and hence the language event. These narratives are theoretically important because they provide a salient opportunity to test the limits of performativity (Butler, 1990) and the potential of narrative to transform membership in what have come to be viewed as relatively fixed identity categories. Individuals use narrative not only as a means of expressing identity, but also as a primary tool for creating and transforming it; thus, analyzing these narratives’ genres, structures, and features provides insight into the critical roles language and narrative itself play in sexual and spiritual identity transformations.