"I Want to be Free the Lebanese Way": An Interpretive Phenomenology Examination of Lebanese American Queer Youth's Experiences of Family Secrecy
El Helou, Lea
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Limited knowledge is available around the experiences of queer Lebanese American young adults, specifically around family secrecy around their sexuality. This gap in the marriage and family therapy research has significant implications, and erases the experiences of queer Arab young adults around disclosure of their sexual identity. This study examined the experiences of 19 Lebanese American young adults navigating secrecy around their sexual identity. Research questions presented were the following: a) How do queer Lebanese American young adults experience family secrecy surrounding their sexual identity and relationship? b) How do queer Lebanese American young adults interpret the process of family secrecy and are impacted by family secrecy? c) What are queer Lebanese American young adults' experiences of shifts in boundaries and alliances as a result of family secrecy? The study utilized structural family therapy or SFT (Minuchin, 1974) as the theoretical framework to guide the conceptualization of family dynamics and how they are impacted by the family secrecy surrounding the participants' sexuality. Findings illustrated the complexity of the family secrecy process, which is fraught with complex emotions, which resulted in a decision-making process around who to include in the secret, who to keep out of the secrecy, as well as strategies employed to maintain the secrecy and protect the family members from the implications of disclosure. Participants described the process as stressful and signifying shame around their sexual identities, and feeling as though their two identities, Lebanese and queer, were conflicting and could not coexist together. Findings also demonstrated the family unit's resilience and collectivism through participants relying on their family members, particularly mothers and siblings, to navigate this complex landscape. The findings have research and clinical implications, emphasizing the need to extend the discourse around sexual identity and disclosure to include Lebanese and Middle Eastern families within the field of family science.
General Audience Abstract
Limited knowledge is available around the experiences of queer Lebanese American young adults, specifically around family secrecy surrounding their sexuality. Past studies have focused on the experience of queer White individuals disclosing to their families, but very little has been known about the experience of Middle Eastern and Arab queer youth. The purpose of this study was to experience the emotions and meaning made around the secrecy, as well as the secrecy's impact on the family relationships and structure. The research questions presented were a) How do queer Lebanese American young adults experience family secrecy surrounding their sexual identity and relationship? b) How do queer Lebanese American young adults interpret the process of family secrecy and are impacted by family secrecy? c) What are queer Lebanese American young adults' experiences of shifts in boundaries and alliances as a result of family secrecy? Based on an analysis of 19 interviews, structural family therapy was used as a theory to frame the findings and help understand the impact of secrecy on the family relationships and structure, as well as the meaning and emotion experienced as a result of the secrecy. Overall, analysis revealed several key findings. The experience of disclosure and secrecy around sexuality is highly relational, in order to remain connected to their families. The experience of secrecy is not "all good" or "all bad". Strategies around secrecy were adopted by both queer Arab young adults and their families, and mothers or mother figures in particular played a crucial role in dictating the way secrecy was navigated, who was included in the secrecy process, as well as co-creating strategies with queer young adults on how to deal with extended family. This study has important clinical and research implications, in continuing to expand the conversation around disclosure and queerness, as well as amplifying the voices of Lebanese American young adults and their families.
- Doctoral Dissertations