By Jill Goodman, Ph.D. (cand.)—O.S. Department at USC
Book Review: “Beyond the closet: The transformation of gay and lesbian life” (2002) by Steven Seidman
Steven Seidman’s book is based on qualitative study of 30 gay and lesbian individuals living in the United States between the years of 1996 to 1998. His two year study included intensive interviews with these 30 individuals with the aim to “offer a more complex view of the experience of being in the closet” (p.7). However, as Seidman conducted his study he did not find the stories reflecting what he had anticipated. He writes, “As the interviews piled up, I was realizing that the closet was not the pervasive reality that I had expected it to be” (p. 74).
Seidman’s interviews present a range of experiences of the closet. The narratives show differences in experiences from gay and lesbian’s of different generations, races, and classes. The varied perspectives show changes in the ‘closet’ as social changes have occurred in society. In addition to case study examples, Seidman explores public ideas about gay and lesbians in the media (i.e. television, films), as wells as United States laws and statues that have affected the experience of the closet by gay and lesbians. He also explores how faith and family affects the experience of the closet. Seidman provides case study examples of how the interviewees have lived part or the whole of their lives in the closet, and the experiences of those who came out of the closet. He points out the differences of the closet shaping all the choices of a person attempting to create a heterosexual persona, verse those persons who were both out of the closet, and at other times and places, in the closet. He describes how the closet has shifted becoming “episodic patterns of concealment” (p. 8). He also points out that there are “multiple closets” (p.31) rather than one universal closet experienced by all gay and lesbian individuals.
Despite the title “Beyond the closet”, Seidman concedes that the closet still exists, however due to increasing social change, the closet has taken on a variety of new definitions. As changes continue in society, so will experiences of the closet. Seidman writes, “there is today surely more tolerance of difference; many outsiders are now ‘at the table’, but they are there only as guests, playing by the rules of the hosts” (p. 204). Is overall aim to present a “more complex view of the experience of being in the closet” (p. 7) is ultimately achieved.
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