Researching Non-Heterosexual Sexualities
Phellas, Constantinos N.
As a curious researcher, one of the most appealing contributions which fellow researchers can offer is a 'warts and all' account of their fieldwork trial and tribulations. Much can be learned from researchers' reflections upon the ethical and methodological dilemmas which they have faced and their accounts of what facilitated or hindered their progress. This edited collection offers such insights, specifically in relation to researching 'non-heterosexual sexualities'.
Phellas' introduction critiques the term 'non-heterosexual sexualities', acknowledges that whilst it may appear as 'an awkward and catch-all category' (p.2), it has been chosen with the intention of destabilising heterosexual privilege and avoiding endless additions to the LGBT(Q)(I) acronym. Whilst questions remain regarding whether the term 'non-heterosexual' potentially reinforces rather than destabilises heterosexual privilege, this is a good opening debate. Twelve chapters follow, bringing together the experience of scholars from Cyprus, Australia, the UK and the USA. A diverse range of topics is included, from religion, HIV and mental health to representations of male homosexuality within the military, parenting and sexual behaviour. In most cases, the focus of each chapter is driven by the methodological challenges and opportunities encountered.
The chapters which I most enjoyed were those which drew the reader into the author's personal reflections, almost as if 'no-holds barred' access to researchers' fieldwork journals had been granted. An excellent example is Melissa Wilcox's succinct mapping of research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) populations and religion. After a useful overview of this field and some helpful guidance about sampling and terminology, Wilcox candidly shares her fieldwork experiences and dilemmas. Particularly compelling is the dilemma regarding responding to participants who conveyed theological understandings of their sexuality which justified self-loathing and enforced loneliness. Interesting too is the debate regarding whether blanket anonymity is most appropriate for research participants or whether this stipulation imposes another 'closet' upon them.
A recurring theme concerned the impacts of researching sex and sexuality and researchers' reflections upon their insider/outsider positioning. Stavros Karayanni's chapter on researching homophobia in Cyprus discusses the stigma and suspicion which researchers of non-heterosexualities face. Anna Einarsdottir's chapter reflects upon the awkwardness of asking about sexual preferences and practices in face-to-face interviews with lesbians and gay men in civil partnerships. Additionally, Alex Toft's chapter on bisexual Christians addresses the emotional impacts of hearing distressing stories, whilst also considering the benefits of being an interested outsider rather than an insider, particularly where faith is concerned.
Whilst reflections on interviewing and the challenges of undertaking quantitative research with LGBT populations (Rivers) are useful, this book also provides inspiration for researchers wishing to use less conventional methods. Meg Barker, Christina Richards and Helen Bowes-Catton's chapter on using creative methods offers comprehensive suggestions for researchers, reflecting especially on the importance of privileging participants' explanations of their creative outputs rather than imposing researchers' interpretations. However, whilst the authors discuss using photographed images of artefacts in research reports, it would be helpful to consider more visual or sensory forms of dissemination. Chapters by Anthony Coxon and Miguel Munoz-Laboy, Richard Parker and Patrick Wilson discuss the use of sexual diaries to understand gay men's sexual activity to inform HIV prevention. Coxon's chapter signposts researchers to opportunities for secondary analysis using Mass Observation data in the UK and diaries in his project archive. Further still, he provides a useful overview of diary-based research and signals future directions in online diarying.
Overall, this book would prove useful to new and experienced researchers of sex, sexuality and intimacies. It would have benefited however from a concluding chapter to draw together the key themes and to outline future research directions and limitations. For instance, there is an unfortunate unacknowledged bias within the book towards non-heterosexual men's experiences over women's. Moreover, it is a shame that conspicuous editing and referencing errors and some less coherently structured chapters detract from an otherwise engaging and thought-provoking text.
University of Leicester