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Contexts for Thriving Among Queer Young Adults of Color

Presented to the American Educational Research Association

San Antonio, TX

Kia Darling-Hammond
Stanford University

Ive always had to choose between being whole and being intelligible, being whole and being lovedbetween
the desire to be and the desire to be with. My body is not simple; it forces people to think about uncertainty:
Is she black or is she white? Is she gay or is she straight? Where are the lines?
- Layli Phillips, 1998, 251

I tell my stories louder all the time: mean and ugly stories, funny, almost bitter stories; passionate, desperate
stories all of them have to be told in order not to tell the one the world wants, the story of us broken, the story
of us never laughing out loud, never learning to enjoy sex, never being able to love or trust love again, the
story in which all that survives is the flesh
- Dorothy Allison, 1996, 71-72

A B S T R A C T This paper presents early work toward my dissertation. The purpose of the research is
to examine contexts for thriving among young adults (age 18-30) living at the intersections of
gender, sexuality, and racial/ethnic identities that society considers to be other or non-normative
(LGBTQ+/SGL of color). A small, though robust and growing, literature centers these populations,
though with greater attention to school age youth, rather than emerging adults. Very few studies
examine states of self-actualization or other concepts of what could be termed thriving for this
population. Instead, most literature emphasizes the risks, traumas, and challenges these young
people face, and situates their lives as struggles for survival in the face of exclusion, rejection, and
violence. Through a qualitative phenomenological study using semi-structured one-on-one
interviews, I explore: (1) How and under what circumstances do queer youth and young adults of
color believe they experience thriving? (2) What new information is revealed when we center the
lived experiences and survival literacies of LGBTQ+/SGL-identified youth and young adults of
color to better understand possibilities for thriving? (3) What potential lies in using these young
peoples thriving as our grand metric for success, whether it be institutional, social, or personal?
(4) How does this reshape how we think about ways to support and nurture these and other young
people? The pilot study presented here has revealed emergent dimensions of thriving that emphasize
(1) freedom, (2) affirming relationships, and (3) opportunities to focus on the self. Supporting the
creation of opportunities to thrive are also (4) the ability to assert positive identities, as well as (5)
the experience of being situated in institutional contexts where success has been possible.

LGBTQ+/SGL stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual, polysexual,
demisexual, two-spirit, non-gender conforming / same gender loving, and other unlabeled or yet-to-be identified gender or
sexual experiences that transgress socially imposed boundaries of normative gender, gender performance, and sexuality (i.e.
cisgender, heterosexual, and either masculine male or feminine female). This dynamic array of labels is also sometimes
encapsulated by the abbreviation SGM (sexual and gender minorities). Those who identify as same gender loving may not
identify as gay, bisexual, or lesbian. The term was coined by activist Cleo Manago to be used by African diasporic and
Black people in lieu of terms like gay, bisexual, and lesbian, which he deemed Eurocentric and oppressive. In this essay, I often
use the term queer to encapsulate this indescribably diverse array of non-normative gender and sexual identities. I acknowledge
the fraught history of the term, but note that its reclamation through self-identification has served to undermine the power of
hatred and oppression that it once accompanied, beginning the disruption of deeply embedded structures that would otherwise
reproduce the same. Notable, also, is the frequency with which my interviewees choose to describe themselves as queer, citing a
similar logic as Manago in his advancement of the term same-gender loving. Many of todays youth and young adults have
eschewed labels altogether as an act of claiming power and the right to simply be. I use the term of color to describe non-white
racial minorities. The term youth is used to denote people in the stages between early adolescence and early adulthood, while
the term young adult describes people between the ages of 18 and 30. I use the terms interchangeably. For an excellent discussion
of the terms queer and of color, please see Chan, K. et al. (2001), pages 2-6.

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This paper presents early work toward my dissertation in the form of a pilot study. As such, it

is somewhat preliminary. Future iterations will reflect deeper exploration of literatures, as well as

additional data collection. My research seeks to better understand how LGBTQ+/SGL young

adults of color experience and understand thriving, as well as the conditions that promote or hinder

it in their lives. I have consulted many frameworks related to thriving, not thriving, and

experiencing multiple marginal identities to try to build a foundation from the literature, but also

sought to operate phenomenologically. I have yet to find much literature that centers queer of color

thriving, specifically during young adulthood.

An increased attention to strengths-based approaches to psychological research can be

credited to the work of Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who advanced the concept

of positive psychology in 2000. They described it as a framework to help us come to understand

and build the factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish (Seligman &

Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 5). A second theoretical perspective that underpins this study is

Abraham Maslows concept of self-actualization or ones desire to become more and more what

one idiosyncratically is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming (Maslow, 1970,

p. 22). A self-actualized person, in his model, can accept themselves and others, exercises

autonomy, and can transcend their own culture and biases, among other things (Maslow, 1970). I

highlight these three attributes because they may operate in important ways for queer youth of

color, in particular. It may require a special kind of resiliency and effort to maintain healthy self-

integrity, autonomy, and freedom from harmful cultural biases when considered a member of a

societys undesirable classes, as queer people of color are (and in compounded ways). Carol Ryffs

dimensions of psychological well-being also contain elements of self-acceptance and autonomy,

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among other things, as do several other researchers frameworks for thriving, well-being, and/or

resiliency (Bundick et al., 2010). While several research perspectives exist that hold concepts of

thriving distinct from flourishing, resilience, well-being, or wellness, there are elements across

them that appear to align to the experiences reported by queer people of color.

Urie Bronfenbrenner (1977) spoke to the need to account for not only the immediate settings

containing the developing person but also the larger social contexts, both formal and informal, in

which these settings are embedded (p. 513). His ecological perspective noted that humans shape

and are shaped by a series of interconnected systems in their environments, from family and peers

to communities, cultures, and social structures, all of which are situated within context-specific

times and geographies (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). This, taken with the perspectives described above,

suggested that a qualitative approach would best capture the ecologies and mechanisms at play in

queer youth/young adult of color thriving. Higa et al. (2014) affirm that qualitative methods can

provide a rich understanding of the contexts and experiences of sexual minority youth from their

perspectives and in their own words, allow for exploring phenomenon that are largely unknown,

[and] offer the potential for representing human agency or how individuals express their choices

and actions in the world, [which] may be particularly important when doing research with

marginalized populations who may be perceived as lacking visibility and power (p. 3).

Much of the literature and discourse I have found emphasizes the risks, traumas, and

challenges these young people face, and situates their lived experience as an act of survival in the

face of exclusion, rejection, and violence. This is understandable. The threats are significant and

worthy of urgent attention. Findings from a 2012 national survey reveal that roughly 40% of

homeless youth identify as LGBT (Durso & Gates, 2012, p.3). This statistic is widely echoed by

homeless youth-serving organizations and their research partners. They note that their data leaves

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out youth unwilling to disclose non-normative gender or sexual identities and those that do not

self-label within LGBTQ+ domains. Durso & Gates (2012) report that among the top reasons for

LGBT youth homelessness are (1) running away due to family rejection and (2) being forced out

by parents due to sexual or gender identity (p. 4). The services available to support homeless youth,

especially those who are queer, fall abysmally short of their needs (Vider & Byers, 2015).

Schools also represent sites of disproportionate threat. GLSENs 2013 National School

Climate Survey, which collected data from 7,898 students found that the vast majority (over 70%)

of respondents experienced a hostile school climate, from anti-LGBT remarks, to harassment

and assault, to discriminatory school policies and practices, even in schools that contained Gay

Straight Alliances (Kosciw et al., 2014). Participants reported that this inspired high rates of

missing school, lower grade point averages, an aversion to continued education, very high rates of

depression and lowered self-esteem (Kosciw et al., 2014). When researchers have looked at the

specific intersections of gender, sexuality, and race, ethnicity, or national origin in schools, they

have found even higher levels of experienced hostility and resulting ill-effects upon youth (Burdge

et al., 2014; Deeb-Sossa et al., 2009). Youth of color and LGBTQ+/SGL youth are

disproportionately exposed to socioeconomic inequalities and disproportionately represented

among incarcerated, institutionalized, impoverished, and homeless populations (Burdge et al.,


Much of the discourse related to positive outcomes and development for young people seeks

to guide marginalized and vulnerable populations toward fuller participation in social structures

and institutions that they often experience as fundamentally oppressive (homes, schools, school-

related programs, society at large). While looking at test scores, behavior, and participation in

these institutions gives us a good sense of how well youth have assimilated to social expectations,

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these metrics fail to consider the full scope of barriers to access that multiply-marginalized youth

face (Spencer & Swanson, 2016). Further, they fall short of imagining lives for youth beyond the

social structures we already know or even considering how to hold space for young people to

shape these futures for themselves. In too many cases, assimilation and compliance within the

already imagined boundaries of society requires a rejection of queer young people of colors sense

of self, a shift of attention away from passion, joy, and innovation toward survival, instead. They

are asked to perform normalcy in contexts within which they do not represent the accepted

norms, and are often punished for it (Chan et al. 2001; Sadowski 2013).

Even so, queer youth and young adults of color have historically built alternative, informal

spaces within which to achieve happiness and wellness. Take, for example the ballroom scene so

richly described by scholar Marlon M. Bailey (2009; 2014). This disrupts the widely-held idea that

queer youth and youth of color only suffer or are deficient. I seek to examine whether thriving

might be possible as young people move between hostile and supportive environments, or whether

a state of thriving might be achieved within or despite the seemingly atmospheric threats that queer

youth of color are subjected to. How does it happen? And how can we make it happen more?


Researchers have found, and people report, several intersecting threats, stresses, and areas of

trauma for young adults, queer people, and people of color. Darrel Higa et al. (2014) cite a wide

array of research showing greater vulnerability among LGBTQ people to numerous health, mental

health, and social issues from eating disorders to homelessness and suicide, the occurrences of

which are likely increased due to the discrimination, marginalization, and isolation that are often

associated with being LGBTQ (p. 2). Similarly, Annaliese Singh et al. (2014) found six major

threats to resilience in a study of trans youth, including: (a) experiences of adultism, (b) health

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care access challenges, (c) emotional and social isolation, (d) employment discrimination, (e)

limited access to financial resources, and (f) gender policing (p. 208). In particular Singh

identified issues of family rejection and lack of support as among the most damaging to resilience

(Singh et al., 2014). A recent report on LGBT homeless and at risk youth from the Williams

Institute found that among the top five reasons why LGBT youth are homeless is running away

due to family rejection (46%) and being forced out by parents due to sexual or gender identity

(43%) (Durso & Gates, 2012, p. 4). At this time, the resources available to meet the needs of these

young people fall dramatically short of their needs (Vider & Byers, 2015).

Research on stigma informs how we understand the impact of social oppression on groups

like queer youth of color. Erving Goffman (1963) stated that stigma reduces an individual from

a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one (p.3). Carol Miller and Cheryl Kaiser (2001)

build upon this to acknowledge that this causes stress that can have social (i.e. isolation),

psychological (i.e. anger, despair, anxiety), and physiological effects including low immunity, and

cardiovascular and neuroendocrine issues. They further elaborate that such stress is unique because

it can be pervasive and compounded by multiple stigmatized identities, as well as the structural

challenges (i.e. poverty, reduced access to education) created by discrimination and prejudice

(Miller & Kaiser, 2001; See also Major & OBrien, 2005).2 They note that these stressors arise

precisely because stigmatized people have a devalued social identity (Miller & Kaiser, 2001, p.

75). Brenda Major and Laurie OBrien (2005) remind us that without reference to power, the

See also Minority Stress Theory: In developing the concept of minority stress, researchers underlying assumptions have
been that minority stress is (a) uniquethat is, minority stress is additive to general stressors that are experienced by all people,
and therefore, stigmatized people are required an adaptation effort above that required of similar others who are not stigmatized;
(b) chronicthat is, minority stress is related to relatively stable underlying social and cultural structures; and (c) socially
basedthat is, it stems from social processes, institutions, and structures beyond the individual rather than individual events or
conditions that characterize general stressors or biological, genetic, or other nonsocial characteristics of the person or the group
(Meyer, 2003, p. 5)

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stigma concept becomes overly broad. In short, stigma exists when labeling, negative stereotyping,

exclusion, discrimination, and low status co-occur in a power situation that allows these processes

to unfold (p. 395). This attention to power is quite important when thinking about the lived

experiences of multiply marginalized people.

Two theoretical perspectives that attend to dynamics of power and originate from within queer

communities, informed by feminist, queer, and critical race theories3, are the idea of insidious

trauma and that of Quare theory. Insidious trauma (Cvetkovich, 2003) describes how trauma

pervades the everyday lives of marginalized people in sustained, rather than punctuated (i.e.

robbery), experiences like systemic oppressions related to gender presentation, race, ability, and

so on. The normalized and persistent atmospheric traumas compound catastrophic traumas, as well

so that the two cannot be easily separated. Once the causes of trauma become more diffuse, so

too do the cures, opening up the need to change social structures more broadly rather than just fix

individual people (Cvetkovich, 2003, p. 33).

E. Patrick Johnson (2001) offers

Quare Theory as a critical improvement

upon Queer Theories that fail to

address race and class effectively. He

proposes quare studies as a

See also Queer of Color Critique: Mirroring the relationship between intellectual work and lived experience in Indigenous
studies (L. T. Smith, 1999), Black feminism (B. Smith, 1983), and other academic discourses born from the struggles of
historically oppressed peoples, a queer of color critique challenges dominant scholarly and cultural narratives on power, identity,
and belonging by bringing queer of color ontologies and epistemologies from margins to center, and by making them the source
and site of anti-oppressive knowledge production. Informed by queer studies resistance against sociohistorical constructions of
queer deviancy (Jagose, 1996; Warner, 1993) and by the attention to multiple and intersecting forms of identity and oppression
from women of color feminism (Moraga & Anzalda, 1983), a queer of color critique deploys an analytic lens with two key
affordances: it names and contextualizes the marginalization of queer of color difference; and it differentiates strategies of
resistance to account for the shifting exigencies of the lives of queers of color (Brockenbrough, 2013, p.427-428).

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vernacular rearticulation and deployment of queer theory to accommodate racialized sexual

knowledge (Johnson, 2001, p. 1). This offers a framework for thinking about the lived

experiences of queer youth of color, in particular, as their knowledges are queer, racialized, and

sexual, as well as embedded in material realities that influence and are influenced by these

identities. Johnson writes,

I want to maintain the inclusivity and playful spirit of queer that animates much
of queer theory, but I also want to jettison its homogenizing tendencies. As a
disciplinary expansion, then, I wish to quare queer such that ways of knowing
are viewed both as discursively mediated and as historically situated and materially
conditioned. This reconceptualization fore- grounds the ways in which lesbians,
bisexuals, gays, and transgendered people of color come to sexual and racial
knowledge. Moreover, quare studies acknowledges the different standpoints
found among lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered people of color
differences that are also conditioned by class and gender (Johnson, 2001, p. 3).

These differences or standpoints can be seen in the experiences and perspectives of this studys

participants, as each has a unique narrative of coming to know themselves and of thriving that is

situated in race, culture, ethnicity, class, and gender. Further, Johnsons (2001) acknowledgement

of the importance of raced community ties and identity performances figure prominently in some

of the interviews. Taken together, the threats to queer people of color highlighted above inform

Johnsons (2001) theoretical stance, which nuances how we think about possibilities for thriving

among communities that experience pervasive trauma and might, therefore, be relegated to a status

of always abject, but should not be. As Johnson (2001), himself notes, his grandmothers example

and lived experience were important to his own journey: While her homophobia must be

critiqued, he writes, her feminist and race struggles over the course of her life have enabled me

and others in my family to enact strategies of resistance against a number of oppressions, including

homophobia (p. 6).

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Interestingly, while some researchers have predicted low self-esteem among members of

stigmatized groups, several studies have found, instead, that membership in a stigmatized group

may carry protective factors, as well. Crocker and Major (1989) posit that this may be explained

by an attribution of negative experiences to prejudice against ones group (rather than something

internal), a tendency to measure ones life outcomes against those within the stigmatized in-group,

rather than those outside of it, and a selective devaluing of those areas of life where their group

performs poorly, coupled with a valuing of those domains in which their group excels. Belgrave

& Allison (2009) cite several studies that find an association between high racial and ethnic

identity and more positive psychological well-being (i.e. self-acceptance, positive relationships

with others), attributions to prejudice that lessened the impact of perceived racial discrimination,

and racial identity attitudes that had a protective effect on racial stress appraisal and events

regarding depression. Being part of a group that shares ones history, perspectives, and values

they note, is important in developing a positive sense of self-worth (Belgrave & Allison, 2009,

p. 95). Further, they cite Crawford, Allison, Zamboni, and Soto (2002) who suggest that having

both strong racial identity and a positive sexual identity is correlated with the best psychological

well-being higher self-esteem, strong social support networks, higher levels of overall life

satisfaction, and less psychological distress (Belgrave & Allison, 2009, p.86).

The element of supportive community figures prominently in literature on resilience and

thriving, and in the stories of this studys participants. Higa et al. (2014) found that queer youth

resilience was augmented by finding supportive peer and community networks, as well as such

acts as reclaiming derogatory terms, being self-accepting, and eschewing identity labels imposed

by larger society. Similarly, Singh (2014) found among the themes of resilience for trans youth an

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ability to self-define as well as finding and accessing supportive community. Miller & Kaiser

(2001) note that social support is a critical component of coping, for example, stigmatized people

who have social support from other stigmatized people are less likely to use denial to cope with

discrimination and more likely to make attributions to prejudice (p. 87). In keeping with this, a

study by Deborrah Frable et al. (1998) found that students with concealable stigmas (i.e. being

gay, bulimic, or low income) required the presence of similar others to lift otherwise low self-

esteem and affect. Meyer (2003) echoes the importance of affiliation to positive self-esteem, as

well, citing several studies in psychological literature.

But what is thriving? Bundick et al. (2010) define it as a dynamic and purposeful process

of individual context interactions over time, through which the person and his/her

environment are mutually enhanced (891). William Damon (2008), cited in Bundick et al. (2010)

notes that thriving does require a structure of social support consistent with [the] effort [of

forward movement toward a fulfilling purpose] (p. 901). Ickovics and Park (1998), on the other

hand, assert that thriving results from the effective mobilization of individual and social resources

in response to risk or threat, leading to positive mental or physical outcomes and/or positive social

outcomes...[it is] an adaptive response to challenge [which] represents something more than a

return to equilibrium (cited in Bundick et al., 2010, p. 902). This concept of thriving in the midst

of trauma or stress-related growth appears to fit more cleanly into a queer of color context.

Several other researchers offer interesting possibilities for elements of thriving. Carver and

Scheier (2003), cited in Bundick et al. (2010), note that examinations of wisdom as it relates to

perseverance and goals show that sometimes giving up is the most adaptive decision a person

can make. An interesting analog to this in the queer of color experience might be the wisdom to

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know when to disengage from or disidentify4 with a toxic context. This kind of stress-ameliorating

response is examined further in Miller and Kaiser (2001), as well. Bundick et al. (2010) cite Cantor

(2003) who suggested that constructive cognition, or the ability to be strategically imaginative,

could help a person achieve their goals. An analog to this in queer of color experience could be

the radical practice of imagining new possibilities and impossibilities despite normative pressures

to accept the status quo. This is also reflected in Adelbert Jenkins model of self as an agent of

change where African Americans are active in shaping their futures despite oppressive conditions

of life (Belgrave & Allison, 2009). Thus, we can link back to Abraham Maslows concept of self-


There is no single accepted model for thriving, nor is there an explicit model related to queer

youth of color. Nonetheless, elements related to flourishing, resilience, well-being, and thriving,

as conceived by numerous scholars, might inform how we understand the experiences of this

studys participants. Several of these ideas are discussed below.

Several theoretical perspectives and personal beliefs informed the design of this study. Of

critical importance was the empowerment of study participants and the amplification of their

stories. I wished to learn from participants what their personal truths were, rather than imposing a

framework upon them; to understand phenomena like contextual thriving. As a result, the interview

guide asked open-ended questions and was used as a guide, rather than a prescriptive tool.

Jos Muoz proposes a theory of disidentification whereby queers of color work within and against dominant ideology to
effect change:
Disidentification is a strategy that works on and against dominant ideology. Instead of buckling under the pressures of
dominant ideology (identification, assimilation) or attempting to break free of its inescapable sphere (counteridentification,
utopianism), this working on and against is a strategy that tries to transform a cultural logic from within, always laboring
to enact permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local and everyday struggles of
resistance (Johnson, 2001, p. 12).

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Anneliese Singhs (2013, 2014), research on transgender youth identity and resilience provided

models for this study. Her approaches reflect elements of Paolo Frieres liberation theology

(specifically goals of anti-oppression and conscientization), feminist theories (understanding that

social and personal identities are intersecting and sociopolitical, that the personal is political, and

recognizing the power differential in the researcher-participant relationship), and intersectionality

theories (understanding the complex intersections of racism, homophobia, and capitalist trauma in

the lives of queer youth). Like Singh, I took the time to name my biases, assumptions, and

positionality prior to undertaking the work of the study in order to highlight otherwise potentially

hidden ways in which she might influence process and analysis.

I identify as a queer Black woman, I have a light-skinned complexion and 3c curls, I am

U.S. born, able-bodied, University-educated working on my second advanced degree, middle

class, and approaching middle-age. As a third-year doctoral candidate, I have little research

experience in this topic, but as an educator of many years and a community auntie, I have

significant exposure to (and affection for) my study population.

Upon reflection, I have noted that my own experiences with sexuality during adolescence and

young adulthood (in the 80s and 90s) were fraught. I was neither out nor identifiably queer, so

I passed for straight essentially in hiding and I suffered through several painful relationships

and a deepening depression as a result. I am invigorated by the ease with which my participants

articulate their gender and sexual identities, as well as the fluidity that a few of them apply to these

labels. At their age, I didnt hold space for such possibilities for myself. Having worked with youth,

now, for nearly two decades, however, I have been able to see the openness with which they tackle

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self-definition. The inspiration that I derive from this does predispose me to a more optimistic and

positive frame of mind.

I came into this work assuming that it would be easier for my participants to articulate how

they see and define themselves than it had been for me. I also assumed that some of what I dealt

with feeling a need for invisibility or not even knowing myself might show up in their

experiences, as well. I have drafted a sort of positionality/identity statement, which I share with

each prospective study participant that articulates my identities and my intentions with the

research. At the start of each interview, I also offer participants the opportunity to ask me questions

about myself or my work, which I answer honestly. At the end of each interview, I ask for feedback

on how to improve the interview and experience. This would have mattered to me at that age. It

certainly matters to me now.

I assume that all queer young adults have the potential to experience thriving, but do not go

so far as to expect them to have thriving narratives. I do, however, assume that they have

experienced moments of not-thriving characterized by intersecting challenges related to age,

class, education, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, and other status and identity domains. I

therefore I asked participants for information on both thriving and not-thriving. I also include

questions about specific supports for and barriers to thriving with probes to surface identity and

non-identity specific experiences.

Finally, in order to manage the possibility that what I imagine thriving to be might be very

different from what my participants do, I ask about it in several different ways: as their own

definition of thriving, as not-thriving, as utopia, and in relationship to an imagined future self.

After each interview, and as I have undertaken analysis, I have made note of my discomforts,

questions, and assumptions along the way.

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I use snowball sampling (Noy, 2008) with word-of-mouth referral by participants in the study.

This is to encourage participant comfort and trust-building. It also has the potential to yield

interactional data within a networked community (Noy, 2008). The first participant (a convenience

recruit) reached out to peers to ask whether they were interested in the study. If interest was

expressed and permission to contact given, I then reached out with information about the study

(typically a Facebook message requesting contact credentials, then a briefing email with a consent

form). The same process was repeated with subsequent participants. I have now completed fifteen

first-round interviews and four second-round interviews, with nine additional prospective

participants first-round interviews scheduled. Data analysis is on-going. The participant selection

criteria are that participants must: (a) self-identify as LGBTQ+/SGL of color, (b) be between the

ages of 18-30, and (c) reside in the United States of America.

This paper analyzes the responses in seven completed first-round interviews. Participant mean

age was 25 years. Six participants were Black, self-describing with such terms as Black, African

American, a person of African descent, and a mix of Black / Salvadorian / Irish / Native American

/ Creole, among others. Two are Jamaican. A seventh participant self-described as Brazilian with

the race descriptor of color. Six participants were enrolled in (n=2), or had completed (n=4),

college. One has left school prior to completing a Bachelors degree, but intends to return. One is

pursuing a PhD at an elite university. Each participant either selected or was given a pseudonym

for this study.

When asked to describe their gender and sexual identities, participants shared that they were

gender fluid (n=1), female (n=1), and male/masculine identified (n=5) for gender, and sexually

fluid (n=1), queer (n=3), and gay (n=3) for sexuality. One participant is gay and same-gender

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loving. Another participant is bisexual and queer. Participants self-described as largely

economically strained (n=6), with one stated he was comfortably middle class. All of the

participants speak English fluently. Most (n=5) are multi-lingual. Geographically, all seven of the

participants are part of a California bay area-based extended friend network, though two recently

relocated to the east coast.

Table 1: Participant Demographic Information

# Pseudonym Age Race/Ethnicity Gender Sexual Economic Education Languages
(pronouns) Identity Identity Status
1 Bruescht 26 Black / Jamaican; Male Gay Comfortably BA (unspecified) English,
(he/him) African American; middle class Jamaican
Product of the Patois,
diaspora Korean
2 Marcus 24 Black / Jamaican Fluid Fluid p-o-o-r BA English Literature, English
(they/them) minor in Women and
Gender Studies
3 Dante 23 Black / African Masculine Queer Lower BA, pursuing PhD in English,
(he/him) American / Person of identified middle class Africana/Diaspora Spanish,
African descent man Studies Portuguese
4 Everett 24 Black / Mixed: Black, Male Gay Lower Earning BA Biology, English
(he/him) Salvadorian, Irish, middle class minor in psychology,
Native American, pursuing nursing after
Creole graduation
5 Forrest 25 Black / Half-Black, Cis-gender Gay / a little on BA in progress English,
(he/him) Half-Puerto Rican / male SGL the tight Mandarin
Biracial end
6 Norma 24 Of color / Brazilian Female Queer poor as Earning BA Portuguese,
(she/her) f**k Anthropology, English
pursuing music
therapy after
7 Winthrop 26 An African in Male Bisexual on the BA in Dance, minor in English,
America / Mixed / Queer lower end Japanese Japanese


Interviews were semi-structured, using an interview guide that included questions about how

participants came to know who they are, their experiences of thriving, experiences of surviving,

imagining a personal utopia and imagining a day in the life of their future self. Because asking

questions about thriving and surviving could trigger debilitating memories of trauma, I took

several measures to address this risk, including embedding crisis hotline numbers into the consent

document and reviewing these prior to commencing interviews, asking participants to select

interview locations in which they felt safe, and warning participants that since some of the

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questions could be triggering they might wish to ask a trusted person to be nearby or on call. This

brings to mind the words of Dori Laub who wrote: The act of telling might itself become severely

traumatizing, if the price of speaking is re-living; not relief, but further traumatization (67).

Stories of trauma did surface in the interviews, but by the end of the process, participants reported

feeling good, inspired, and relieved. There are several possible reasons for this. I foregrounded

interviews by asking each participant to describe their identities and to share aspects of their self

that were important to understanding who they are. They were asked to tell the story of how they

came to know themselves, which elicited narratives of strength and support. There is some research

that suggests that priming people who might be experiencing identity threat with an invitation to

describe their values can mitigate the threat (Steele, 1988).

I also suspect that it helped that I identified myself as queer of color and shared some of my

own story when inviting participants into the study. Participants were invited to ask me any

questions they had about her history, research, and motives before they shared anything about

themselves. Though not in the context of psychoanalysis, this self-identification and vulnerability

seemed to operate the way Dori Laubs password does. He describes the phenomenon thus: I

had toacknowledge both to myself and to my patient, who I really was, so that it would be

possible for him or her to really speak (64). In some ways, this was also to acknowledge the

possibility of narratives that have often been deemed impossible.

Interviews were conducted online using Google Hangouts (recorded using APowersoft

software) or BlueJeans and transcribed using the online tool Transcribe or a transcription service.

Participants were encouraged to select a location in which they felt safe and could speak openly

about confidential topics. Interview durations ranged from 52 minutes to nearly two hours. A

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stipend of $25 was given to interviewees upon completion of the interview. Though participants

were invited to review and comment upon transcripts and analysis, none did.

My data collection and analysis began with the aforementioned reflection upon my biases,

assumptions, and positionality. I then began designing the interview guide and outreach materials.

The first two participants were interviewed and their interviews transcribed. An initial open coding

(Charmaz & Belgrave, 2002) process was undertaken, resulting in a preliminary codebook and

small adjustments to the interview guide for improved clarity and flow. The third participant was

then interviewed, their interview transcribed, and the codebook refined, with this process repeated

for subsequent interviewees. Ongoing analysis appeared to reveal some overlapping elements of

thriving, which are presented below.

When participants were asked to: (1) describe a time when they thrived, (2) imagine a personal

utopia, and (3) imagine their future selves (TUF events), five dimensions of thriving emerged

(Table 2). At the same time, each participants stories were remarkably, though not surprisingly,

different. I anticipate that more dimensions will surface as the study continues.

Table 2: Emerging thriving domains


Freedom "! Absence of worry "I wasn't living somebody else's life or worried about other peoplenot dating
"! Space or anyone, not dealing with drama" (M)
"! Agency "I felt like I was in a space where I could redefine myself and I could explore new
territories without fear of failure." (D)

Affirmation "! Supportive "My high school teacher...really helped me. She was my only Black teacher growing
relationships up." (E)
"! Significant Adult
"! Affinity relationships "I think what helps me also having people, having a great support system,
"! Intimate having friends that I can rely on, having - specifically queer people of color friends."
partnership (N)

Self-Focus "! Centering personal "[T]here was also a lot of free time for myself, for me to take care of myself I could
interests regenerate when I had hard moments." (D)
"! Ability to focus on
goals, joy, self-care "Another thing that helped me thrive was music...I need to have very consistent
music sessions where I play and I sing and I just have fun." (N)

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Self-Definition / "! Assertion of self "I think that was definitely the catalyst for me just being like, 'What the f*k is up with
Identity / Self- "! Counter-narrative adults in this world right now?' Also, just realizing I wasn't doing anything wrong
assertion "! Refusal confidence that it was okay." (M)

"I backed away from theater, I was originally going to be a theater major, ... I was
like, 'I actually don't know how to be a black queer person in theater. What am I
going to be playing? The sassy gay friend in every show?' (D)

"Success" "! Institutional success "[She] helped me out a lot with applying to colleges, ...teaching me how to do a
(academic, research to keep my backpack clean... how to keep records of things...
professional) how to talk to people... how to be understanding... and when to walk away." (E)


Though different across interviews, a theme of the TUF events containing freedoms did

emerge. In Marcus case, it included freedom from worrying about their mothers safety (she

moved out of an abusive home), the freedom to start doing things for [themself], and more.

Marcus stated:

I wasnt living somebodys life, or worried about other people. I was just focused on
myself. Then the person next to me was a best friend of mine who was focused on
herself. Together, we would just pfft. From 21 to 22, when I was not dating anyone,
not dealing with drama.
Marcus had also accepted a major life change (ceasing to play softball) and no longer felt longing

for their old pastime. Further, they were physically okay and happy. Marcus utopia was a

giant space where they have the freedom to be not aware of [themself] and other peoples

view of [them]. And in Marcus imagined future they had no boss, but instead worked for themself.

Dante found freedom in feeling that he could explore new territories without fear of

failure during a junior year abroad in Brazil. He also stated:

Yeah. I think, to be honest, there was also a lot of free time for myself, for me to take
care of myself. I was also close to the ocean, so I could go to the beach a lot of the time.
That made it so that I could also have the space for myself to reflect and I could
regenerate when I had hard moments.
It is notable, here, that Dantes moment of thriving is not exempt from hard moments, aligning

perhaps to the more nuanced theories advanced by Johnson (2001) and Ickovics and Park (1998,

in Bundick et al., 2010). Freedom in Dantes utopia includes an absence of shame or the need to

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fully articulate ones identity rather than simply follow ones heart. Also, Dante would have the

time to pursue non-academic passions like theater and music in his utopia.

For Norma thriving contained the freedom to choose her course of study in college,

emphasizing her own cultural identity and language (Brazilian, Portuguese). In her utopia there

was freedom from police brutality and economic hardship. In both her utopia and imagined

future Norma had the freedom to play music, sing, and spend ample time with her friends and


Similar to Dante, Everetts thriving context was marked by no longer fearing failure. In his

case, it was the sense of success and accomplishment after feeling overwhelmed that felt like

thriving. He also felt as though his personal efforts were bearing fruit. Agency and empowerment

were key. He said:

Even though I didnt have access to a lot of resources to better my understanding of

subjects and to better my grades, I did a lot of that stuff on my own. I utilized whatever
resources I did have on my own. I made time to study and to see teachers and self-
advocate. I think thats really what it taught me is that I have to be more mature and
take responsibility for things that were in my control. Thats when I started thriving.
Like Norma, Everetts utopia and future were free of economic stress (everything would be free

books, groceries, clothes, medicine in utopia). Financial stability and freedom from economic

insecurity figures prominently in Brueschts thriving narrative, while Winthrop describes being

able to thrive in San Francisco even though he was not financially secure. What Winthrop had

become free of, instead, was the fear that he would never find love or be desired.

All of the participants utopias contained an emphasis on freedom from oppression, coupled

with an abundance of queer people of color and family. Two held elements of high fantasy with

dragons or talking animals, suggesting the joy of having freedom to imagine the impossible.

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In keeping with the copious literature suggesting the importance of access to affinity groups

and supportive community, every participant in the study described affirming relationships.

Within Everetts TUF events were a caring principal who supported getting on track

academically, his first and only Black K12 teacher who taught him how to do school and

navigate toward college, a P.E. teacher, a resource center teacher, and a community full of

nothing but people of color from all different sexual backgrounds in his utopia.

Norma shared:

I think what helps me also thrive in that situation is having people, having a great
support system, having friends that I can rely on, havingspecifically having queer
people of color friends. Cuz thats definitely a difference for me. Just having that
support group. I think in order for me to thrive as a person I need to be doing
something that I love and be surrounded by people that I love and have a community
that I can call my own support.
Additionally, Normas partner played a prominent role in her thriving context. Interestingly,

despite the prevalence of homophobia in her conservative family, Normas utopia and imagined

future strongly featured them, in addition to her partner and friends. Again, this aligns to

Johnsons (2001) acknowledgement of the complexity of being part of a raced community as

well as queer.

During Dantes moment of thriving, his best friend was traveling with him, which was an

important positive element. His best friend is a queer LatinX man with whom he is still close.

Like Norma, Dantes family also featured in his TUF events, though in his case as completely

supportive. Dantes partner is a key element of his imagined future. Similarly, Marcus example

of thriving contained their best friend, as well as peeps [people] that were same had the same

kind of viewpoint as [them], or same mentality as [them]. In utopia, Marcus family is thriving

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and they all live together with Marcus friends in the same space where they get the things that

they need and maybe desire.

For Bruescht, community is the first criterion for thriving. He describes the way that his

friendship with Everett has figured into his current happiness:

Yeah. Its, its, our friendship is relatively new, but hes definitely been, excuse me,
hes definitely been one of the greatest things that Ive experienced here, in California,
and hes actually connecting me to other people as well, who are equally as awesome.
When Im around Everett, its kind of like there isnt a care. Hes completely
unapologetic about who he is, as an individual. And for so long Ive been apologetic
about myself, so it was great to see somebody who is absolutely, 100% authentic. And
thats just it. And, in addition to Everett, there are people like Forrest, um, and xxxxx
who are equally unapologetic, and theyre gay, black men as well. So Im happy.
Yeah, like we just get each other, just to the T. If Im throwing shade with a look, they
catch it. Um, they understand my feelings, and I feel validated when Im around them.
In community, Bruescht finds acceptance, affirmation, and models for showing up in the world

unapologetically, which makes him happy.

Forrest also found that affirmation played prominently into his thriving narrative, though it

came from being told that he was a skillful and valuable leader during an 18-day wilderness

expedition he led during college. It was in this experience, that he found two of his core passions

being outdoors and facilitating positive experiences for others.

Bundick et al. (2010) situate self-focused behavior firmly within adolescence and early

adulthood, so there may be a developmental angle, here. Marcus TUF events clearly align to

this, and they found it difficult to articulate future goals. Still, for each participant the ability to

center their needs and desires was important within the TUF events. For Norma it was pursuing

cultural study in the thriving moment and being able to play music and sing in utopia, and in

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general (doing something that [she loves]). Dante thrived when he was near the ocean with the

time to reflect and regenerate, and found Brazil to be a space where [he] could redefine

[himself]. He shared that his thriving moments have generally been, location-wise, near the

ocean its always been something thats allowed for regeneration and relaxation. As noted

earlier, in Dantes utopia he could focus on interests like theater and music, as well as travel and

activism. In his imagined future, he was a successful academic with time for work, leisure, and

his partner.

Everetts TUF events, like Everett himself, were highly goal-focused. He became

academically self-sufficient within his moment of thriving and he outlined a detailed persona in


Yes, I would be a black witch. I would specialize in healing potions and spells; love
spells, healing spells. Things to encourage community growth and intertwining.
My hobbies would probably be riding a broomstick. That would probably be my hobby,
and [inaudible]. Then I would also train Pokmon on the side.
as well as in his imagined future:

Oh my God, Id be able to afford actual hobbies. I hope to be more community-oriented

or community involved, I should say. Participating in the community. I dont know. A
real community member.
I work 12 hours at the hospital putting smiles on childrens faces as a pediatric nurse or
a position in pediatrics. I really dont know which way I want to go yet. It all depends
on if IIm definitely gonna be a nurse, but I dont know if I want to continue my
education and become a PA, cause chemistry and that other one, physics.
Yeah. Id be working 12 hours at a hospital putting smiles on faces. Then I would go to
my house, not my apartment. [Chuckles] Probably owning multiple properties at that
point, just cause I know owning land is where the money is.
Maybe a significant other. I dont know if Ill be traveling so much to wherecause I
want to become a travel nurse. I dont know if I would be gone too often to hold a
I know that its very important to go see the world, so maybe thats just something that
will have to wait. Which would be hard and easy at the same time, causeI wont say
distracted from lovebut I will have so many opportunities for me to experience the

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world, that that would satisfy my appetite. I would be able to do that until I wanted to
settle down pretty much. Im in almost full control of my life.


E. Patrick Johnson (2001) asserts that people have a need to exercise control over the

production of their images so that they feel empowered. For the disenfranchised, the recognition,

construction and maintenance of self-image and cultural identity function to sustain, even when

social systems fail to do so (p. 11). Self-defining and staking a claim in ones future are

revolutionary acts for queer youth of color. There are significant, sometimes mortal risks to

simply being queer and being a person of color, and particularly both while young. Everetts

redefinition of himself as a successful student with a rich personal future was an act of self-

assertion, as well as an advancement of a counter-narrative. Dantes redefinition of himself in

Brazil helped him to recover from the prior years academic and social trauma, which situated

him to achieve future successes. Interestingly, Bruescht, Norma and Marcus had to actively

assert their queerness as okay in hostile contexts. Marcus situation is described in some detail

later in the paper. All three grew up in conservative immigrant households with strong

mainstream expectations around gender and sexuality. Norma shared that coming to know who

she was:

well, took me a while. When I was a kid, I grew up pretty much like in the church.
My mom waswhen we first came to United States I was three years old. My mom
didnt know anybody here except for myher brothers. I grew up in the church a lot, in
the Brazilian church. There once, twice, sometimes three times every week. Until I was
probably maybeI think I was like eight, maybe seven or eight. It was very
conservative. Brazilians are very, very conservative. Theyre not open-minded at all,
most of the Brazilians I know.
I knew since I was a kid that I was gay, but I never knew what it was. I remember we
would do prayer in a circle with all the kids. There was this older teenage girl, and I
remember like we were holding hands and I always would try to interlock my [laughter]
fingers with her. [Laughter] Cuz I knew what it was, but I didnt think it was bad. Then
I remember when I was older, that its a bad thing, so I suppressed it, probably until I

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was like in college, like junior college. I started hangin out withIve always hang
all my friends have always been of color.
I guess now, like theyve all been queer. It feels kinda like akinda like a getting to
know who you are. Now they consider themselves queer, but before, they were straight.
Yeah, so I was always surrounded by queer people of color. I guess its how I came to
know mywho I was. I started having friends who were open and didnt really care
about being gay. I started hanging out with them more and more because its who I felt
comfortable with, but I didnt know that at the time.

Johnson (2001) writes of the importance of examining how quares use performance as a

strategy of survival in their day-to-day experiences (p. 13). Bruescht, Marcus, and Norma felt

pressure to pass for straight at home and in their larger communities, though the risks for each

were different. At the same time, and for all participants, assertion of queer identity as a positive

component of the self has been central to imagining a future in which they thrive.


Almost every thriving narrative within the study (thus far) takes place in an academic

context. One in high school, most of the others in college. In addition, Marcus was being courted

for a promotion and a raise at work at the time of our interview. Achievement of institutional

successes seems to have played a role in providing opportunities to thrive and imagine strong

futures. In particular, Dantes ability to travel abroad is an indicator of having access to a well-

resourced undergraduate education. Marcus and Dante found the space to live openly queer lives,

with communities of queer of color friends in college, and have promising professional prospects

due, in part, to attainment of post-secondary education. The same is true for Everett. Keeping

this in mind, though, I am not advancing the idea that achieving success within dominant social

institutions is the sole, or even ideal, path to thriving. Forrest, Bruescht, and Dante all have not-

thriving narratives that center colleges as hostile spaces, as well.

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In addition to the thriving domains that were revealed, several self-protective, affirming, and

threatening themes also emerged from the larger interview. Most reflect the thriving dimensions,

but others include staying safe through acute vigilance, suppression, and quietude; anchoring into

cultural identities (Jamaican, Pan-Africanist); and such threats as hostile home or community

environments, trauma, not knowing how to cope under duress, imposing or untrustworthy adults,

institutional barriers, and incapacitating stress. All of this is in keeping with literature presented

earlier in the paper. A notable example of the impact of trauma was recounted by Marcus.

Marcus said, I cant really be defined very easily Like, Im a lot of things into one. I just

am. They cited the places they had lived as a major contributor to who they had become.

Marcus moved to California from Jamaica with their mother at age ten. At the time of the

interview, Marcus was 24 years of age and working in San Francisco as technology support staff

in a medical office.

When reflecting on moments of hardship several topics took center stage. Marcus described

being stalked and outed by their stepfather while in high school, which was intermingled with

reporting the challenges of being gay and Jamaican. Also, Marcus talked about seeing their

mothers and other female immigrants rapidly deteriorating health as they entered middle age in

the United States. Marcus described a series of their own personality traits that appear to be

reactions to everyday traumas. Marcus stated for example, Im way too aware of my own self

within the world Its just there. Just as a black woman whos queer. Its just I have this

awareness. Just making sure that Im in the right spaces, for safety, for comfort. Its intense.

Then sometimes I feel like I cant maybe I feel like I have to just be kind of quiet. In the

interview excerpt below, Marcus elaborates on a moment of trauma.

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Jamaicans hate gay people. They hate gay people! Thats hard. Thats probably one of the
biggest things. Oh, I should probably tell you what happened before.

Oh, I was kicked out of my house for two weeks when I was 16 or something. So about the age
of 13, my mom got married, for papers. [Chuckles] To this other Jamaican guy. Then around
the age of 17, I started dating my first girlfriend. He found out and flipped out. Stalked us.

It was traumatizing. Kicked me out of the house...

He found out I was dating my first girlfriend, and he just was like eavesdropping on our
conversations when I locked the door. He would go through the phone records eventually. If Id
call her on a different number, hed call the number. It was at her job. He showed up to our

Drove past us when he was supposed to be at work. Hed call my friends and try to find out
where I was. This went on for a couple months. It was crazy! Like, there were just some things
that hewe had personal emails we would send to each other. Just little lovey doveyjust
personal emails.

Thats kind of how I got outed. Outed to all my friends. Outed to my mother, by him. Which
was intense. Then my mother and I havent really talked about it since, which is crazy. We
dont talk about it.

She would notlike, that definitely wouldnt have been the way I wanted her to find out. It
wouldve been way different. For her to think that Im engaging in these really intense sexual
things with this woman and blah blah. Shes already traumatized that its a woman

I think its definitely made me very wary, unfortunately, continually wary of men.

The only positive I can take from it is that were no longer there, in that space. Thats really the
onlymy mother is no longer in that space, because she was crazy stifled. Just to think that
she was dealing with that, sleeping next to that man and whatever else, is just crazy.

Thats the real positive. Just learning how to get out of those abusive relationships. Emotionally
and physically abusive relationships and spaces.

The negative is just me being super wary of other human beings, but most especially dudes
around me sometimes. Yeah. What their agendas are. Very hard for me to trust heterosexual
males especially.

It alsothen that experience definitely kicked my ass out of childhood. [Chuckles]

It was like someone kicked me in the gut. It just kicked me out real fast. Just like, You know
what? Pow! It was a lot at the time. Mm-hmm. My friend still cries when she recalls it. I dont
get that emotional. I don't know, maybe I just blocked it out or something. I remember a lot of
it, but I dontit was like, Ah. When I tell people, the experience was intense, and I will
admit it was really terrifying.

Literally terrifying. Terrifying like I thought home boy was gonna kill me at one point. I really

I couldnt just be. I wasnt even really living.

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Marcus retelling of this terrifying experience, and its larger cultural context, is peppered with

wry chuckles. This is reminiscent of what Ann Cvetkovich (2003) describes as the queerness of

emotional life, exemplified by her description of Lisa Krons father, a holocaust survivor,

getting on with the business of survival even as he visited Auschwitz with his daughter (p. 22).

Marcus narrative also reflects why E. Patrick Johnsons (2001) rearticulation and deployment

of queer theory to accommodate racialized sexual knowledge is so important (p. 1). Johnson

notes that this Quare studies, as a theory in the flesh, emphasize[s] the diversity within and

among gays, bisexuals, lesbians, and transgendered people of color while simultaneously

accounting for how racism and classism affect how we experience and theorize the world (p. 3).

And we see much of this in Marcus narrative: The threat of homophobic rejection embedded in

Jamaican culture, their mothers need to marry for papers in order to stay in the United States,

which also entailed living in an abusive relationship and rendered her children unsafe, being

homeless and a teenager, and the residual vigilance and silence that remain in Marcus life in the

experiences wake. Further, we see the truth of Cathy Cohens assertion that some social

identities and communal ties can, in fact, be important to ones survival, which Johnson takes

up by noting the importance of his grandmothers example and lived experience to his own

journey (Johnson, 2001, p. 6). Marcus mother assumes that all of their partners are male and still

tries to set their gay male friend up with women, but she also represents a model of perseverance.


When asked to reflect upon their own experiences of thriving, as well as to imagine a

personal utopia and their future selves, participants reveal key thematic congruence. First, they

described a variety of contexts characterized by freedom from worries as well as opportunities to

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exert agency or enjoy physical and psychological space. This is reminiscent, to a degree, of

Maslows (1970) self-actualized person who exercises autonomy and seeks a transcendent, fully

realized state.

A second dimension of thriving focused on supportive relationships and affirmation. A

robust literature exists to support the importance of community ties, particularly for those under

oppressive conditions (Belgrave & Allison, 2009; Crocker & Major, 1989; Frable et al., 1998;

Higa et al., 2014; Johnson, 2001; Meyer, 2003; Miller & Kaiser, 2001; and Singh, 2014).

Interestingly, and in keeping with Johnsons (2001) acknowledgement of the complexity of

relationships within raced communities, two of the participants maintained close ties with

homophobic family. Their sexuality is not discussed with family and microaggressions are

tolerated in ways that do not destroy the fabric of connection.

Also reminiscent of Maslow (1970), the third domain of thriving centers participants

personal interests, goals, passions, and health. While there is developmental literature that

suggests that being self-focused is an expected state in young adults (see Bundick et al., 2010 for

a detailed summary), Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) might locate the emphases on goals,

passions, and well-being in domains like hope, wisdom, creativity, and future mindedness.

Meanwhile the dimensions focused upon self-definition/identity and institutional success

operated somewhat differently in participants narratives, as if they were pre-conditions for

access to conditions in which thriving can occur. The importance of queer self-definition and

self-identification can also be found in the work of Chan et al. (2001), Cvetkovich (2003),

Johnson (2001), and Singh (2013, 2014), among others. Meanwhile, the value of achieving

success in school and work in a capitalist society is taken as an almost atmospheric truth.

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Nonetheless, there is call to examine possibilities for thriving outside of social institutions, which

can operate as oppressive agents, particularly for marginalized communities.

One of the intentions of this research is to contribute to the lives of participants in a positive

way. Participants uniformly reported finding the interview process helpful, making statements

like I feel definitely clear in my mental space, and it was almost like a therapy session. It

was nice. Charmaz & Belgrave (2002) account for this, too, stating that research participants

may find the experience of being interviewed to be cathartic, and thus the interviews may

become significant events for them (p. 691).


Among the many limitations of this study is the small participant pool. Further, because

the cohort is comprised of a networked peer group, perspectives may be too bounded and

microcosmic for generalizability. Participants were also recruited into the study because they

self-identity as LGBTQ+/SGL, which excludes the perspectives of people who do not adopt such

labels, but whose gender or sexual identities are still non-normative. Finally, although

participants have been offered the opportunity to provide feedback on transcripts, notes, and

earlier analyses, none have done so, though they have all expressed interest in participating in a

later focus group. This will take place once all of the data is in-hand and has been analyzed.


Though only an early phase of inquiry, this study begins to inform the larger question of how

we can make thriving opportunities available for queer youth and young adults of color. Analysis

suggests that there are psychological dimensions to consider, beyond stress and in addition to the

structural phenomena often researched. Feeling confident, not worried, okay with oneself, and

entitled to joyful experiences are all part of the picture. An interdisciplinary approach can be

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powerful, attending to individual developmental needs, ecological phenomena, situatedness,

subjectivity, and, also larger institutional and social considerations. There is also a great deal to

be learned from therapeutic communities.

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Appendix A.


ally Someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own.

asexual Someone who generally does not experience sexual attraction. Asexual people can
experience sexual arousal, romantic attraction and desire intimacy, but do not feel the need to act
out those feelings in a sexual, physical way. Asexuality should not be confused with celibacy which
is a distinct choice to not have sex. (For more information check out The Asexual Visibility & Education

Bi-gendered Someone who has a significant gender identity that encompasses both genders, male
and female Some may feel that one side or the other is stronger, but both sides are there.

bisexual an adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional
attractions are to people of the same sex or the opposite sex.

cisgender referring to an individual who has a match between the gender they were assigned at
birth and the roles and behaviors considered by society to be appropriate to their particular sex.

cisgenderism Assuming every person to be cisgender therefore marginalizing those who identify
as trans* in some form. It is also believing cisgender people to be superior, and holding people to
traditional expectations based on gender, or punishing or excluding those who dont conform to
traditional gender expectations.

closeted a closeted person and the expression in the closet describes an LGBTQ person who
hides their sexual orientation or gender identity from some or all people.

coming out the process of disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity to some or all

cross-dresser A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the
other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender. Avoid using the older
term transvestite which is now considered a derogatory term.

drag king used to refer to women who dress as men for the purpose of entertaining others at bars,
clubs, or other events.

drag queen used to refer to men who dress as women (often celebrity women) for the purpose of
entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. It is also used as slang, sometimes in a derogatory
manner, to refer to all transgender women.

dyke (slang) referring to a lesbian or lesbianism regardless of the persons actual sexual identity.
Originally, it was a derogatory label for a masculine or butch woman, and this usage still exists.

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However, it has also been re-appropriated as a positive term implying assertiveness and toughness,
or simply as a neutral synonym for lesbian, regardless of individual gender expression.

fag (slang) is a shortened version of the word faggot and is a pejorative term and common
homophobic slur used primarily in North America against homosexual males. The word has many
meanings worldwide, like bundle of sticks, cigarette or as a culinary term for seasoning added to
a meal. The etymology of the word faggot meaning homosexual is unclear, though the earliest known
written reference was in 1914 as a contemptuous word for woman. Some gays have reclaimed the
word, but many still reject it. GLSENs Think Before You Speak campaign is an example of the efforts
made by the gay community to stop its popular usage.

gay an adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional
attractions are to people of the same sex or gender. Avoid identifying gay people as homosexuals
an outdated term considered derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people.

gender A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and
femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and are different between cultures.

gender expression How a person represents or expresses ones gender identity to others, often
through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.

Gender Dysphoria In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) which replaced the outdated entry
Gender Identity Disorder with Gender Dysphoria, and changed the criteria for diagnosis. The
necessity of a psychiatric diagnosis remains controversial, as both psychiatric and medical
authorities recommend individualized medical treatment through hormones and/or surgeries to treat
gender dysphoria. Some transgender advocates believe the inclusion of Gender Dysphoria in the
DSM is necessary in order to advocate for health insurance that covers the medically necessary
treatment recommended for transgender people.

gender fluid A person whose gender identification and presentation shifts, whether within or
outside of societal, gender-based expectations.

gender identity An individuals internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since
gender identity is internal, ones gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

gender-neutral / gender-inclusive Inclusive language to describe relationships (spouse and

partner instead of husband/boyfriend and wife/girlfriend), spaces (gender-neutral/inclusive
restrooms are for use by all genders), pronouns (they and ze are gender neutral/inclusive
pronouns) among other things.

gender non-conforming A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal
expectations related to gender.

gender variant A synonym for gender diverse and gender non-conforming; gender diverse
and gender non-conforming are preferred to gender variant because variance implies a standard
normativity of gender.

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genderism The system of belief that there are only two genders (men and women) and that gender
is inherently tied to ones sex assigned at birth. It holds cisgender people as superior to transgender
people, and punishes or excludes those who dont conform to societys expectations of gender.

genderqueer A term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely

hate crime is a crime (usually an act of violence) where the victim is targeted because of their
perceived membership in a certain social group, race, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual
orientation, gender, or gender identity.

heterosexuality Sexual, emotional, and/or romantic attraction to a sex other than your own.
Commonly thought of as attraction to the opposite sex but since there are not only two sexes (see
Intersex and Transsexual), this definition is inaccurate.

heterosexism is a term that applies to a system of negative attitudes, bias, and discrimination in
favor of heterosexual sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that everyone is
heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the norm and therefore superior.
Heterosexism as discrimination ranks gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people as
second-class citizens with regard to various legal and civil rights, economic opportunities, and social
equality in the majority of the worlds jurisdictions and societies.

heterosexual privilege Benefits derived automatically by being (or being perceived as)
heterosexual that are denied to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, queers and all other non-heterosexual
sexual orientations.

homophobia is a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards LGBQ people. Definitions refer
variably to antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, and irrational fear. Homophobia is observable in
critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of a perceived non-
heterosexual orientation.

internalized homophobia when LGBQ individuals are subjected to societys negative perceptions,
intolerance and stigmas towards LGBQ people, and as a result, turn those ideas inward believing
they are true.

internalized oppression The process by which an oppressed person comes to believe, accept, or
live out the inaccurate stereotypes and misinformation about their group.

Intersex A term used for people who are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or
chromosome pattern that does not seem to fit typical definitions of male or female. Intersex
conditions are also known as differences of sex development (DSD).

invisible minority A group whose minority status is not always immediately visible, such as some
disabled people and LGBTIQ people. This lack of visibility may make organizing for rights difficult.

lesbian A woman whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other women.
Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay (adj.) or as gay women.

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lifestyle Inaccurate term used by anti-gay extremists to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender lives. As there is no one straight lifestyle, there is no one lesbian, gay, bisexual or
transgender lifestyle.

marginalized Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.

PFLAG Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays, is a non-profit ally group whose mission is to
promote the health and well-being of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender persons while
providing support and information to their families and friends.

pangender A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions.

pansexual A sexual orientation that refers to people who are attracted to individuals regardless of
their gender or gender expression. Pansexuality widely rejects the gender binary.

polyamory the practice of having multiple open, honest love relationships.

Queer A term used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, often also transgender people. Some use
queer as an alternative to gay in an effort to be more inclusive, since the term does not convey a
sense of gender. Depending on the user, the term has either a derogatory or an affirming connotation,
as many have sought to reclaim the term that was once widely used in a negative way.

sex A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender
organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Common terms are male, female
and intersex.

Sex Reassignment Surgery: Surgical procedures that change ones body to better reflect a persons
gender identity. This may include different procedures, including those sometimes also referred to as
top surgery (breast augmentation or removal) or bottom surgery (altering genitals). Contrary to
popular belief, there is not one surgery; in fact there are many different surgeries. These surgeries are
medically necessary for some people, however not all people want, need, or can have surgery as part
of their transition. Sex change surgery is considered a derogatory term by many.

Sexual Orientation: A term describing a persons attraction to members of the same sex and/or a
different sex, usually defined as lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, or asexual.

Transgender An umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different
from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. An umbrella term for transsexuals,
cross-dressers (transvestites), transgenderists, gender queers, and people who identify as neither
female nor male and/or as neither a man or as a woman. Transgender is not a sexual orientation;
transgender people may have any sexual orientation. Transgender is a broad term and is good for
non-transgender people to use. Trans is shorthand for transgender. (Note: Transgender is
correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus transgender people is appropriate but
transgenders is often viewed as disrespectful.)

Transgender Man A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a man, aka FTM.

Transgender Woman A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a woman, aka

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Transition The time when a person begins to living as the gender with which they identify rather
than the gender they were assigned at birth, which often includes changing ones first name and
dressing and grooming differently. Transitioning may or may not also include medical and legal
aspects, including taking hormones, having surgery, or changing identity documents (e.g. drivers
license, Social Security record) to reflect ones gender identity. Medical and legal steps are often
difficult for people to afford.

Transsexual An older term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at
birth who seeks to transition from male to female or female to male. Many do not prefer this term
because it is thought to sound overly clinical.

Transvestite An outdated term for a cross-dresser that is considered derogatory.

Two-Spirit A contemporary term that refers to the historical and current First Nations people whose
individuals spirits were a blend of male and female spirits. This term has been reclaimed by some in
Native American LGBT communities in order to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the
Western labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

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