Avoiding shame: young LGBT people, homophobia and self-destructive behaviours

Elizabeth Sarah McDermott, Katrina Roen, Jonathan Scourfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper reports on findings from qualitative research conducted in the UK that sought to explore the connections between sexual identities and self-destructive behaviours in young people. International evidence demonstrates that there are elevated rates of suicide and alcohol abuse amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. Rarely included in this body of research are investigations into young LGBT people's views and experiences of self-destructive behaviours. Data from interviews and focus groups with young LGBT participants suggest a strong link between homophobia and self-destructive behaviours. Utilising a discourse analytic approach, we argue that homophobia works to punish at a deep individual level and requires young LGBT people to manage being positioned, because of their sexual desire or gendered ways of being, as abnormal, dirty and disgusting. At the centre of the complex and multiple ways in which young LGBT people negotiate homophobia are 'modalities of shame-avoidance' such as: the routinization and minimizing of homophobia; maintaining individual 'adult' responsibility; and constructing 'proud' identities. The paper argues that these strategies of shame-avoidance suggest young LGBT people manage homophobia individually, without expectation of support and, as such, may make them vulnerable to self-destructive behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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