As discussed earlier, in previous studies of lesbian and gay selves and relationships, ‘coming out’ has been linked to radical biographical disruption and reconstruction. For example, Davies (1992) argues that coming out involves social relocation: different places, different social networks, and different social and sexual contexts. He argues that through coming out the person becomes ‘in a real sense, a different person’ (1992: 76). Others have argued that coming out implies ‘coming into’ lesbian and gay communities which provide the cultural and social resources for reimaging how it is possible to live and relate. Such communities become the basis for a new self and new ways of living as a lesbian or gay man. Building on this, and as also discussed in Chapter 1, a number of theorists and researchers have suggested that lesbian and gay selves and relationships are underpinned by a distinctive ethos of relating: one that is rooted in an ethics of friendship (Blasius, 1994; Nardi, 1999; Weeks et al., 2001; Weston, 1991). Indeed, Weeks et al. (2001) in their mid-1990s study of same-sex intimacies, found that their participants’ life stories echoed these theoretical accounts. Coming out was linked to radical self-reinvention and often implied a radical break from the relational ideals and practices that participants had grown up with. Lesbian and gay communities and friendship networks provided cultural and social resources for alternative selves and relating practices.
They also appeared to promote critical reflexivity with respect to heterosexually gendered ways of relating. Weeks et al.’s participants were often disconnected from the families they grew up with, and friendships were at the heart of their ‘chosen families’. They were frequently critical of gendered-heterosexual relating norms and sought to structure and do their relationships in unconventional ways.
As detailed in this chapter, our interviewees’ relational biographies suggest that a generational shift is occurring in some contexts with respect to the possibilities for same-sex relationships. For some, it now seems possible to be in a same-sex relationship without experiencing the sense of estrangement – and the need to reinvent oneself – that previous generations of openly same-sex partners did. This has enabled some, like most of our participants, to maintain their connections with their families of origin, and to recognise their ‘inherited’ relational mores, values and practices (whether they embrace them, are antagonistic towards them or are ambivalent about them). On the one hand, there are clear gains that come with this, not least in terms of not having to bear the costs incurred by previous generations who had to live with the material, emotional and social burdens of marginalisation. There might also be said to be gains in not having to bear the costs (material, emotional and social) of having to engage in the labour of intensive self-invention and relational innovation. On the other hand, it is clear that these generational developments could equally be associated with loss: of what some see as the radical creative potential of same-sex and queer relationships for undoing oppressive relational and social orders. However, for the moment, we put the issues of losses and gains to one side, so as to explore in more depth the implications of these new generational developments for how people create and do their relationships. We will return to them in the Conclusion of the book.