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'Coming Out, Again': boundaries, identities and spaces of belonging

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The practice of 'coming out again'—relinquishing a non-heterosexual identity and having to subsequently come out again as something else—can have an enormous impact on feelings of belonging in particular social spaces, such as in the gay and lesbian community. These feelings are manifested through the perceived boundaries around sexual identity categories and the specific rules and expectations about how sexual identities should be performed in particular communities. Drawing on interviews with seven Australian women who once identified as lesbian but who had subsequently relinquished this sexual identity, this article examines the boundaries around lesbian identity and the role of the authentic lesbian discourse on women relinquishing their lesbian identities. I describe the consequences that these discourses had for participants on their sense of belonging within both lesbian identities and lesbian communities, and argue that these boundaries are responsible for some women seeing identity change as their only option when they cannot fit into the authentic lesbian discourse. Furthermore, the particular boundaries around lesbian identity contain the space available for the performance of sexual identity, rather than allowing for a genuine fluidity of sexuality and the inclusion of diverse ways of performing sexual identities within non-heterosexual communities.

Keywords: Sexual identity; belonging; identity change; lesbian community; social space

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Monash University, Australia

Publication date: September 1, 2008

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