Generationally Speaking Across Qualitative and Quantitative Data

Historian Marc Stein contends that a sequential narrative of lgbtq history can reflect “the critical study of change over time, with special emphasis on human agents of change” (2005, 623). The narrative of such change has the power to inspire and begin to enact that change. I designed my research to embrace multiple generations of participants and let them share their experiences across and within generational focus groups. Throughout my qualitative interviews with and research into lesbian-queer everyday lives, the issue of generations came up repeatedly independent of my interest in the issue as it clearly framed these women’s life experiences.

I’m keen to explain the generational breaks you are about to see in my future data visualizations. They are far from haphazard. They are based not only on trends and shifts in these archival data, but also from patterns I found among women who took part in my focus groups. In our group conversations among myself and self-identified lesbians and queer women, discussed their lives through through the lens of generations that congealed  through three interdependent lenses: how these women reproduced themselves in identity terms, appearances, and cultural norms; shared or at least similar political and economic environments; and trends in homophobia which related to experiences of and sense of safety and trends in self-acceptance. To determine the moments or shifts in these generational affiliations, I made use of historian James Darsey’s concept of a catalytic event to “punctuate the progress of movement discourse” which he formulated in his studies of the lesbian and gay social movement (1991, 58). These events can also be extrapolated to think about everyday lesbian-queer life as “competing stories [that] metamorphose from act to scenic element and, as much as the event itself, define the exigence” (ibid, 61).

I derived trends that mark three generations from these women’s stories, maps, and artifacts, as well as from the archival materials. Using the first and final year of the study period, I refer to those generations the 1980s (1983-1991/1994), the 1990s (1991/1994- 2001/2003), and the 2000s (2001/2003-2008). Here I queer Darsey’s usage and instead look for multiple, nested catalytic events to determine the essence of generations, from the spectacular to the banal. Hence the choice of generations in my qualitative research are not fixed from one year to another but highlight periods of heavy change (i.e. 1991/1994) and point to the generations between them (i.e. 1983-1991/1994).

Quantitative studies are—surprise!—not so appreciative of queer shifts of time and require exactitude. In other words, counting the same data twice would be useless. Therefore for the purpose of breaking down my data, I created four periods that use the first year of each of the periods in generational shifts in order to embrace that moment as a harbinger of difference: pre-1983, 1980s (1983-1991), 1990s (1992-2001), and 2000s (2002-2008). The other options would be to choose the final year, which seems less useful to capture the end rather than the beginning when looking for evidence of change, or to split the difference and choose the middle year which then this haphazardly divides these shifts rather than being punctuated by their beginnings.

Now! Back to what these data visualizations have to say…

Works Cited

Darsey, James. 1991. “From ‘Gay Is Good’ to the Scourge of AIDS: The Evolution of Gay Liberation Rhetoric, 1977-1990.” Communication Studies 42 (1): 43–66.

Stein, Marc. 2005. “Theoretical Politics, Local Communities: The Making of U.S. LGBT Historiography.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 11 (4): 605–625.