"A different kind of girl" : young women's experiences of growing up and "coming out" in Northern Ireland

  • Gail Neill

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This study explores the experiences of young women, growing up and coming out as other than heterosexual in contemporary Northern Ireland as a means of examining ways in which sexualities are 'organised through economic, religious, political, familial and social conditions' (Plummer, 2003: 515). Informed by an interactionist approach it considers the ‘everyday’ ways in which young women construct non-conventional sexualities within a hostile social context, and how their interactions with significant others, particularly through processes of coming out, shape constructions of difference. It further explores their experiences with key social institutions and their influence on the construction of personal identity and sense of self in society. In seeking to hear the experiences of those regularly overlooked within LGBT research, a feminist methodology was implemented.

    Focus groups and less structured interviews were conducted with 24 young women. In order to centralise the voices and experiences of young women throughout the life of the project a young women's working group was established.

    The research suggests a number of ways in which young women understand their sexual selves, the categorization used to explain this to others and the range of ways in which these identities are managed and negotiated in everyday life. It demonstrates that age and gender are crucial in the construction of sexual identities. Based on developmental age-related assumptions about sexuality, young women’s same-sex attractions are often discredited and demeaned during this period. Further, so closely tied are expectations regarding gender and sexuality that non-heterosexual young women can experience profound feelings of ‘difference’ and ‘failure’ growing up as a 'different kind of girl’. Overall the research demonstrates the prevalence of normative gendered heterosexuality in contemporary Northern Ireland. Such norms conferring status on particular presentations of selfhood were reflected, reproduced and privileged across many institutions with which young women interact. The pervasiveness of this, and the authority of these institutions at a time when young people are so heavily involved in and monitored by them, it is demonstrated, makes experiences of growing up and 'coming out’ complex.
    Date of AwardJul 2016
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorLisa Smyth (Supervisor) & Dirk Schubotz (Supervisor)

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