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Making Black and Gay Okay: Unspoiling Identity Among Young Black Gay Men in Los Angeles


This study examines the development of stigma management techniques and identity socialization by using the case of young Black gay men. Drawing on the work of Du Bois and Goffman, I articulate how through intersectional stigma, the multiply marginalized are burdened with what I term the multiplicative consciousness, or the necessity to see one’s self through the eyes of multiple oppressors. This multiplicative consciousness opens the pathways for new ways to respond to stigma; specifically, I identify a new stigma response strategy that I term unspoiling. Using participant observation, in-depth interview, focus groups, peer ethnography, and content analysis, I assess the socialization roles of three social institutions in the development of multiplicative consciousness and deployment of the unspoiling stigma response technique: media, non-profit organizations, and chosen families.

In the section on media representation, I examine the role of the first Black LGBT cable television show Noah’s Arc to highlight how representations have lasting impacts on the behaviors of its audience. Additionally, I look to the web-based series, FreeFall, to illustrate the potential for diverse narratives and new forms of audience participation in media representation. In the non-profit organization section, I add to Hunter’s 2010 typology of identity negotiations, discuss the impact of religious based-stigma on the identity formations of these young men, and explicate how group interactions within the organizational space lead to the development of new stigma response strategies. The final section on chosen families details the messaging and role of intentionally constructed gay parenting relationships on the life trajectories and aspirations of the young men; furthermore, I illustrate the potential for these relationships to act as support networks for gay life in Los Angeles and beyond.

My research shows how through these three socialization institutions, some young Black gay men come to reject existing strategies for stigma management (i.e. covering and passing) and instead develop ways to adjust their personal view of a stigmatized identity through unspoiling. Ultimately, this work illuminates the pathways that young Black men may follow in Los Angeles to create meaningful identities, to construct communities, and to unspoil their identities as Black gay men.

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