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by Michael Sadowski
Temple University Press, 2013
Review by Elin Weiss on Aug 13th 2013

In a Queer Voice

In A Queer Voice: Journeys of Resilience from Adolescence to Adulthood by Michael Sadowski focuses on the lives of LGBTQ individuals and their struggles, coping skills and resilience throughout high school to adulthood. Sadowski studied how relationships in school, with peers, and with family members were associated with risks and resilience in LGBTQ youth.

The book is made up of interviews with participants in their adolescent years and follows up with them years later as they have reached adulthood. The interviews focus on resilience, coping, growth and personal relationships. Together with these follow up interviews, Sadowski also presents shorter stories from participants that were interviewed as young high school attendants but who did not take part in the follow up interviews. After each chapter and each story, Sadowski analyzes the concept of voice and a queer voice. Sadowski’s research and concept of voice is highly influenced by the work of Carol Gilligan and colleagues.

Sadowski discusses the concept of voice in regards to a queer voice and means that outside pressures and stereotypical norms often force queer youth to “give up” their queer voice and to conform in order to preserve important relationships. It is for example common that queer youth keep LGBTQ aspects “out of relationships in order to stay in relationships”, thereby silencing their queer voice. On the other hand, when the queer youth involved in the study communicated that they felt safe they developed their queer voices by growing self-acceptance and by challenging sexuality and gender norms.

The concept of voice can be traced throughout the entire book and through each chapter as the reader engages in stories that are courageous, upsetting and encouraging. By repressing their voices, individuals risk both their physical and mental well being. For example, the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 25 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual students had attempted suicide in the previous year as compared to students in the general population where 5.6 percent had attempted suicide (p. 7). It is also common for LGBTQ youth to report and experience isolation, depression and self-harm. Having relationships and family members or friends that lacked understanding and were unsupportive was a struggle for all participants and perhaps especially so when lack of support came from parents and siblings. Having a positive role model (frequently a LGBTQ teacher was mentioned) that remained in the closet was also a source of silencing of voice that the participants mentioned influenced them to remain closeted. In order to cope and to develop their queer voice, many teens physically removed themselves (often moving to a bigger and more liberal city) or disassociated from certain aspects of their LGBTQ identity.

Much of silencing of queer voices appears to be directly linked to heterosexism (heterosexuality as the prevailing and accepted norm) and stereotypical gender and sexuality norms. For example, one of the participants, David, recalled how he was told by a guidance counselor that he would perhaps be harassed less frequently if he acted in a more masculine manner. As the research participants differed in how they identified within the LGBTQ umbrella (for example as gay, straight, bisexual, queer, trans, butch lesbian, or in transition) many struggles are covered and many different aspects of voice and of resilience is shared with the reader.

As noticed, the concept of voice does not only reflect a person’s physical voice and standing up for oneself by speaking out. Instead, many of the participants had positive experiences of finding their queer voice over the Internet and with that breaking through isolation. Several participants also mentioned positive role models (often an “out” LGBTQ teacher), supportive family members and friends as positive social connections. Participants also mentioned support from their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and highlighted community-based LGBTQ youth groups as very supportive and important. LGBTQ friendly religious organizations were also very important to religious participants.

It is difficult to criticize In a Queer Voice because it is truly well written, interesting, and above all, important. Sadowski is open and honest about the limitations of the study and mentions that it contains a small participant sample that is not representative of all LGBTQ individuals. Sadowski also mentions the fact that participants consisted of white young adults raised in the Northeast and that the study lack representation of other ethnicities.

In A Queer Voice is easy to read and interesting. It is well suited for the classroom and would be valuable in any Gender Studies, Men and Masculinities Studies or Women's Studies class. The book is especially interesting if read with other books on the topic, such as Dude You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School by C.J. Pascoe and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays by Bernadette Barton. The book follows recent research on the topic very well and extends on previous knowledge with its well thought out and informative interviews.   

 

© 2013 Elin Weiss

 

Elin Weiss has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's in Women's Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland.