“We’d Be Free”: Narratives of Life Without Homophobia, Racism, or Sexism

  • Ilan H. Meyer
  • Suzanne C. Ouellette
  • Rahwa Haile
  • Tracy A. McFarlane


Stigma and social inequality deprive disadvantaged social groups of a sense of social well-being. Stress researchers have focused on prejudice-related events and conditions but have not described more intangible stressors experienced by sexual minorities. We use narrative methods to examine how sexual minorities experience stigma and social inequality as we focus on the more intangible stressors that are both pervasive and difficult to measure. Three themes emerged in the narratives of our ethnically diverse sample of 57 adult sexual minority women and men: (a) stigma deprived them of access to critical possibilities and opportunities; (b) stigma deprives them of safety and acceptance; and (c) despite this, the experience of stigma is also related to the adoption of a positive and collective orientation towards their stigmatized identities. Recognizing these stressors and related resilience can direct policy makers toward interventions that go even beyond eliminating prejudice by including goals to strengthen minority communities.


Sexual minorities Stigma Prejudice Stress Social well-being 



This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health grant R01-MH066058 to Dr. Ilan H. Meyer.


  1. Allison, K. W., Swim, J. K., & Stangor, C. (1998). Stress and oppressed social category membership. Prejudice: The target’s perspective (pp. 145–170). San Diego: Academic.Google Scholar
  2. Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Reading: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  3. Antonovsky, A. (1987). Unraveling the mystery of health: How people manage stress and stay well. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  4. Bowleg, L., Craig, M. L., & Burkholder, G. (2004). Rising and surviving: a conceptual model of active coping among Black lesbians. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 10(3), 229–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bruner, J. (2004). Life as narrative. Social Research, 71(3), 691–710.Google Scholar
  8. Burke, K. (1945). The grammar of motives. New York: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  9. Clark, R., Anderson, N. B., Clark, V. R., & Williams, D. R. (1999). Racism as a stressor for African Americans: a biopsychosocial model. American Psychologist, 54(10), 805–816.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cohler, B. (2007). Writing desire: Sixty years of gay autobiography. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  11. Collins, P. H. (1998). What’s going on? Black feminist thought and the politics of postmodernism. In: Fighting words: Black women and the search for justice (pp. 124–154). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  12. Crenshaw, K. W., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (1996). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. In: Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement (pp. 357–383). New York: New Press.Google Scholar
  13. D’Emilio, J. (1983). Sexual politics, sexual communities: The making of a homosexual minority in the United States (pp. 1940–1970). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Dohrenwend, B. P. (1998). Theoretical integration. Adversity, Stress, and Psychopathology (pp. 539–555). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Durkheim, E. (1951). Suicide: A study in sociology. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  16. Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.Google Scholar
  17. Gregg, G. (1998). Culture, personality, and the multiplicity of identity: Evidence from North African life narratives. Ethos, 26, 120–152.Google Scholar
  18. Hammack, P. L. (2008). Narrative and the cultural psychology of identity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12(3), 222–247.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Herdt, G., & Boxer, A. (1996). Children of horizons. Boston: Beacon.Google Scholar
  20. Kertzner, R. M., Meyer, I. H., Frost, D. M., & Stirratt, M. J. (2009). Social and psychological well-being in lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals: the effects of race, gender, age, and sexual identity. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79(4), 500–510.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Keyes, C. L. M. (1998). Social well-being. Social Psychology Quarterly, 61(2), 121–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  23. Merton, R. (1968). Social theory and social structure. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  24. Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129(5), 674–697.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Meyer, I., & Ouellette, S. C. (2008). Unity and purpose at the intersections of racial/ethnic and sexual identities. In P. L. Hammack & B. J. Cohler (Eds.), The story of sexual identity: Narrative, social change, and the development of sexual orientation (pp. 79–106). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Meyer, I. H., Schwartz, S., & Frost, D. M. (2008). Social patterning of stress and coping: does disadvantaged social statuses confer more stress and fewer coping resources? Social Science & Medicine, 67(3), 368–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Narvaez, R. F., Meyer, I. H., Kertzner, R. M., Ouellette, S. C., & Gordon, A. R. (2009). A qualitative approach to the intersection of sexual, ethnic, and gender identities. Identity, 9(1), 63–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Neugarten, B. L., Moore, J. W., & Lowe, J. C. (1965). Age norms, age constraints, and adult socialization. American Journal of Sociology, 70(6), 710–717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pachankis, J. E. (2007). The psychological implications of concealing a stigma: A cognitive-affective-behavioral model. Psychological Bulletin, 133(2), 328–45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pachankis, J. E., Goldfried, M. R., & Ramrattan, M. E. (2008). Extension of the rejection sensitivity construct to the interpersonal functioning of gay men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(2), 306–17.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pearlin, L. I., Horwitz, A. F., & Scheid, T. L. (1999). Stress and mental health: A conceptual overview. A handbook for the study of mental health: Social contexts, theories, and systems (pp. 161–175). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Savin-Williams, R. C. (2005). The new gay teenager. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Selye, H. (1982). Stress and holistic medicine. In D. S. Sutterley & G. F. Donnelly (Eds.), Coping with stress: A nursing perspective (pp. 69–72). Rockville: Aspen Systems.Google Scholar
  34. Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air. How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. The American Psychologist, 52(6), 613.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Unger, R. K. (2000). Outsiders inside: positive marginality and social change. Journal of Social Issues, 56(1), 163–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wheaton, B., Horwitz, A. F., & Scheid, T. L. (1999). The nature of stressors. A handbook for the study of mental health: Social contexts, theories, and systems (pp. 176–197). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Williams, D. R., Neighbors, H. W., & Jackson, J. S. (2008). Racial/ethnic discrimination and health: findings from community studies. American Journal of Public Health, 98(Supplement 1), S29–S37.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ilan H. Meyer
    • 1
  • Suzanne C. Ouellette
    • 2
  • Rahwa Haile
    • 3
    • 4
  • Tracy A. McFarlane
    • 5
  1. 1.The Williams Institute, UCLA School of LawLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Doctoral Program in Psychology: Social/Personality, Developmental, and Environmental, Graduate SchoolThe City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDSNew HavenUSA
  4. 4.State University of New York, College of Old WestburyOld WestburyUSA
  5. 5.Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public HealthColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations