The Experience of Gay Men Being Socialized Into Gay Communities
This research uses a phenomenological methodology to ask: how do gay men in the United States experience becoming socialized into gay communities, and what is the role of language in that experience? Rooted in educational, language socialization, and linguistic theory, I ultimately center my work around educational researchers Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991), who have constructed a theory around situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation. Conceptualizing a “gay community” as a site for informal education and situated learning, I position socialization into the community as the development of identity; and as Lave and Wenger (1991) assert, “learning involves the construction of identities” (p. 53). For my research, I therefore examine the role language plays in the experience of socialization. In employing a phenomenological perspective, I drew on the concept of Heuristic Inquiry (Douglass and Moustakas, 1985; Moustakas, 1990; Patton, 2002), where the researcher asks “what is my experience of this phenomenon and the essential experience of others who also experience this phenomenon intensely?” (Patton, 2002, p. 107). Participants were solicited from three local gay sports groups on a self-selecting, voluntary basis, using nonproportional quota sampling to get 17 participants, representing a variety of ages, race/ethnicities, education levels, and childhood social-economic statuses. Within a phenomenological methodology, qualitative methods were used for data collection, specifically semi-structured in-depth interviews, supplemented by participatory and non-participatory observations. Open coding was then utilized to analyze the data. Results showed that participants did engage in legitimate peripheral participation practices in their community socialization processes, and highlighted shared experiences, humor, and what I describe as “gender play” as their primary language practices within those communities. There also appeared to be a connection to the acceptance (if not the personal practice) of these linguistic practices, the person’s perceived “outness”, and their own self-reported connection (or lack thereof) to the “gay community”.