Clinical Social Work Journal

, 37:357 | Cite as

If I Am Not Straight or Gay, Who Am I?

  • Anbjørg OhnstadEmail author
Original Paper


Women that are violating heterosexual norms for sexual desire will run into issues about identity. This study explores ways of dealing with sexual identities that seems to provide a workable solution for women when they navigate and negotiate their lives as lesbians in a society dominated by heterosexual norms. The data sources are therapeutic conversations and followed-up interviews with ten women. The stories told by these women fail to fit the phases and the categorizations of the traditional coming out model. In handling dilemmas, ambiguity seems to be a resource to them. Their efforts and solutions are more in accordance with queer theory, when they navigate between dichotomies of homosexual/heterosexual, feminine/masculine, normality/deviance and personal responsibility/coincidence.


Lesbian Queer Identity Therapy Ambiguity Navigating 



The author thanks the women who have participated in the study. Oslo University College has supported my work the research project, and my thesis counselors have contributed with their time for discussions and helpful comments. Thanks to Professor Hanne Haavind at Department of Psychology, University of Oslo; Professor Liv Mette Gulbrandsen, MSW program of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Oslo University College, and Professor Kirsti Malterud, Research Unit for General Practice Bergen, Unifob Health (affiliated with the University of Bergen). Professor Michael Seltzer, Faculty of Social Sciences, Oslo University College also deserves thanks for editorial help.


  1. Annfelt, T. (Ed.). (2007). Når heteroseksualiteten må forklare seg (When heterosexuality has to explain itself). Trondheim: Tapir akademisk forlag.Google Scholar
  2. Bolsø, A. (2002). Power in the erotic: Feminism and lesbian practice. Doctoral thesis. Trondheim: Norwegian University of Science and Technology.Google Scholar
  3. Bourdieu, P. (1998/2000). Den maskuline dominans (Masculine dominance) (K. S. Johansen, Trans.). Paris: Éditions de Seuil/Pax.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, L. S. (1996). Preventing heterosexism and bias in psychotherapy and counseling. In E. D. Rothblum & A. Bond Lynn (Eds.), Preventing heterosexism and homophobia (pp. 36–59). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  5. Butler, J. (1991). Imitation and gender insubordination. In D. Fuss (Ed.), Inside/out. Lesbian theories, gay theories (pp. 13–32). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Cass, V. C. (1979). Homosexuality identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4, 219–235.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Coleman, E. (1987). Integrated identity for gay men and lesbians: Psychotherapeutic approaches for emotional well-being. New York: Harrington Park.Google Scholar
  8. Davison, G. C. (2001). Conceptual and ethical issues in therapy for psychological problems of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals. Psychotherapy in Practice, 57(5), 695–704.Google Scholar
  9. Falco, K. L. (1991). Psychotherapy with lesbian clients: Theory into practice. New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  10. Fog, J. (1992). 'Om forskningsinterview og terapeutiske samtaler' (Concerning research interview and therapeutic conversations). In J. Fog & S. Kvale (Eds.), Artikler om interviews (Articles about interviews). Aarhus: Center for kvalitativ metodeudvikling, Psykologisk Insitutt, University of Aarhus.Google Scholar
  11. Foucault, M. (1990). The history of sexuality. An introduction. (R. Hurley, Trans. Vol. 1). New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  12. Green, R.-J., & Mitchell, V. (2002). Gay and lesbian couples in therapy: Homophobia, relational ambiguity, and social support. In A. Gurman & N. S. Jacobson (Eds.), Clinical therapy (3rd ed.). New York: Guildford.Google Scholar
  13. Gulbrandsen, L. M. (2006). Fra småjente til ungjente. Heteroseksualiteten som normative utviklingsretning (From little girl to young girl. Heterosexuality as a normative direction for development). Tidsskrift for kjønnsforskning, 6, 5–20.Google Scholar
  14. Haavind, H. (1992). Psykoterapi som forskningsmetode (Psychotherapy as a method of research). Nytt om kvinneforskning, 16(4), 4–16.Google Scholar
  15. Haavind, H. (1993). `Analyse av kvinners historie—bearbeiding av makt og splittelse' (An analysis of stories women tell—working trough the effects of power and split identities). In A. M. Nielsen (Ed.), Køn i forandring. Ny forskning om kjønn sosialisering og identitet (pp. 12–45). Copenhagen: Forlaget Hyldespjæt.Google Scholar
  16. Haavind, H. (2000). Kjønn og fortolkende metode: Metodiske muligheter i kvalitativ forskning (Gender and interpretative methods). Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.Google Scholar
  17. Hegna, K., Kristiansen, H. W., & Moseng, B. U. (1999). Levekår og livskvalitet blant lesbiske kvinner og homofile menn. (Living conditions and life quality among lesbian women and gay men). Oslo: Nova-Rapport 1/99.Google Scholar
  18. Hiestand, K. R., & Levitt, H. M. (2005). Butch identity development: The formation of an authentic gender. Femininsme & Psychology, 15(1), 61–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kitzinger, C. (1987). The social construction of lesbianism. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  20. Kitzinger, C. (1989). The regulation of lesbian identities: Liberal humanism as an ideology of social control. In J. Shotter & K. J. Gergen (Eds.), Text of identity (pp. 82–98). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Kitzinger, C. (1996). Speaking of oppression: Psychology, politics, and the language of power. In E. D. Rothblum & A. Bond Lynn (Eds.), Preventing heterosexisme and homophobia (pp. 3–20). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Kvale, S. (1994). Profesjonspraksis som erkjennelse. Om dilemmaer i terapeutisk forskning (Professional pratice as aknowlegement. Dilemmas in therapeutic research). In S. Reichelt (Ed.), Psykologi i forandring (pp. 31–43). Oslo: Norsk psykologforening.Google Scholar
  23. Magnusson, E. (2002). Psykologi och køn. Från kønsskildnad til genusperspektiv (Psychology and gender. From sexual differentiation to gender perspectiv). Stockholm: Bokförlaget Natur og Kultur.Google Scholar
  24. Malterud, K. (2001). Qualitative research: Standards, challenges, and guidelines. The Lancet, 358(11), 483–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ministry of Children and Equality. (2007–2008). Om lov om endring i ekteskapsloven, barneloven, adopsjonsloven, bioteknologiloven mv (felles ekteskapslov for heterofile og homofile par) (Marriage Act, Adoption Act, Act on Biotechnology and the Children Act). Adopted June 27th 2008, no. 53.Google Scholar
  26. Noack, T., Fekjær, H., & Seierstad, A. (2002). Skilsmisse blant lesbiske og homofile partnere—hvem er mest stabile (Divorces among lesbian and gay partners—which one is stable one). Samfunnsspeilet, 3, 1–9.Google Scholar
  27. Ohnstad, A. (1992). Den rosa panteren eller en i den grå masse. Forståelse for lesbiske i terapi (The pink panther or a gray face in a gray mass. How to understand lesbian clients in therapy). Tidsskrift for Norsk Psykologforening, 29(4), 313–321.Google Scholar
  28. Rich, A. (1980). Compulsory hetrosexual and lesbian existence. Signs. Journal of Women and Culture and Society, 5(4), 631–660.Google Scholar
  29. Rosenberg, T. (Ed.) (2005). Könet brinner! Texter (Gender is burning! texts) (p. 15). Stockholm: Natur och kultur.Google Scholar
  30. Rubin, G. (1984). “Thinking sex: Notes from a radical theory of the politics of sexuality”. In P. M. Nardi & B. E. Schneider (Eds.), Social perspectives in lesbian and gay studies (pp. 100–134). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Saari, C. (2001). Counteracting the effects of invisibility in working with lesbian patients. Psychotherapy in Practice, 57(5), 845–854.Google Scholar
  32. Seltzer, M., Seltzer, W., Homb, N., Midtstigen, P., & Vik, G. (2000). Tales full of sound and fury: A cultural approach to family therapeutic work and research in rural Scandinavia. Family Process, 39(3), 285–306.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Søndergaard, D. M. (1995). Tegnet på kroppen: køn: koder og konstruktioner blandt unge voksne i akademia (Sign on the body: Gender: Codes and constructions among young adults in Academia). Doctoral thesis. Oslo University.Google Scholar
  34. Søndergaard, D. M. (2000). Destabliserende diskursanalyse: vejer ind i postrukturalitisk inspireret empirisk forskning (Destablizing discourse analysis: Ways into poststructuralistic inspired emperical research). In H. Haavind (Ed.), Kjønn og fortolkende metode. Metodiske muligheter i kvalitativ forskning. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademiske.Google Scholar
  35. Søndergaard, D. M. (2002). Poststructuralist approaches to empirical analysis. Qualitative Studies in Education, 15(2), 187–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Troiden, R. R. (1989). The formation of homosexual identities. Journal of Homosexuality, 17, 43–73.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Ussher, J. M. (1997a). Framing the sexual “Other”: The regulation of lesbian and gay sexuality. In J. Ussher (Ed.), Body talk. The material and discursive regulation of sexuality. Madness and reproduction (pp. 131–159). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  38. Ussher, J. M. (Ed.). (1997b). Body talk. The material and discursive regulation of sexuality, madness and reproduction. London: Routlegde.Google Scholar
  39. Warner, M., & Berlant, L. (1998). Sex in public. Critical Inquiry, 24(2), 547–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Weinberger, G. (1973). Society and the healthy homosexual. New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
  41. Yalom, I. D. (2002). The gift of therapy. An open letter to a new generation of therapist and their patients. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Social Sciences, Social Welfare Research CentreOslo University CollegeOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations