InsideOut: Facilitating gay youth identity development through a performance-based youth organization

Halverson, E.R. (2005). InsideOut: Facilitating gay youth identity development through a performance-based youth organization. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 5(1), 67-90.

Abstract:

This article presents a case study of youth—who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ)—participating in About Face Youth Theatre (ABYT), an arts-based program aimed at promoting positive youth development through workshops, discussion, narrative writing, script writing, and performance. The study was designed to explore and describe participants’ personal adolescent development and the way the “narrative-performance process” contributes to identity management, including the ability to explore “possible selves.”

Key Findings:

  • Participants experienced significant social stigma in their everyday lives as LGBTQ youth, including isolation and fear of physical harm.
  • Writing their stories allowed participants to explore the various dimensions of identity, sometimes merging them toward the development of a “viable social identity.”
  • Participating in the transformation of these written stories into plays for performance allowed participants to assume the roles of other participants and thereby explore “possible selves.”

Significance of the Findings:

The findings shed light on the experiences of the LGBTQ youth participants and the role of a narrative-performance process in their identity management. As the first study of its kind, it provides a glimpse into the role of narrative-performance process in the formation of a viable social identity.

Methodology:

The researcher collected written stories submitted to an anonymous website by AFYT participants and conducted a narrative analysis of the content, exploring psychological, personal, and social dimensions of identity. In addition, the researcher conducted group interviews with 12 of the 42 participants for the purpose of examining the challenges they face as adolescents and the effects of AFYT.

Limitations of the Research:

The author identifies and describes the experiences of a single, small cohort of participants; therefore, generalizability is limited. The study also lacks measureable outcomes; results are limited to participant quotes and a brief discussion of themes.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Does participation in the narrative-performance process contribute to development of a viable social identity for other marginalized populations (e.g., minorities, low-SES adolescents)? What are the other effects of the program on LGBTQ youth? What long-term impact does the program have on participants’ identities and development?