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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Amazing grace(s): a qualitative study of lesbian helping professionals Diane, Susan


This feminist qualitative study was undertaken to explore the lived experience of lesbian helping professionals. The methodology consisted of life history interviews and a focus group with women who self-identified as lesbian and had education and work experience in nursing, teaching, social work and counseling. Networking sampling resulted in six white lesbian participants between the ages of 37 and 47. As part of claiming their lesbian identity these women asked to have their real names revealed. Stories of gender socialization indicate traditional family structures. Resistance to gender roles and qualities of independence/leadership are seen in girlhood along with remembering of early same-sex attraction. Limited career options for women are noted in teenage years as is a concern for social justice and a valuing of caring for others. Journeys towards lesbian awareness span the coming out ages of 18 to 38. Two women had been married and bore children within their heterosexual unions. Gender embodied experiences included pregnancy before marriage, abortion decision-making, acquaintance rape, and the isolation o f motherhood. Four women revealed feminism and therapy as the contexts for the recognition of their lesbian desires in adulthood. The intrapsychic processes surrounding lesbian-ness were labeled internal compartmentalization and the social separation and secrecy about lesbian idenity was termed external compartmentalization. Experiences of discrimination, harassment and other negative reactions were documented as well as stories of support. Ethics and boundaries were issues which concerned these lesbians, who in closeted times could not discuss their dilemmas openly. Some benefits of lesbian-ness in professional careers include using their identity to educate others about diversity, disrupting the stereotypes, and confronting discrimination. Implications for helping professional education include increased lesbians and allies among faculty committed to creating anti-heterosexist curricula. Lesbians are oppressed by sexism and heterosexism, so education is needed about the complexity of identity and the interlocking impact of multiple oppressions in capitalist patriarchal social structures. The Appendices contain an interactive educational tool called A Sociometry of Oppressions.

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