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Temple University

1. Hand, Judith A. Making Sense of Change: Sexuality Transformation at Midlife.

Degree: PhD, 2011, Temple University


This research examines the sense-making activities of women who engage in intimate relationships with women following a significant period of heterosexual marriage. Using data gathered through interviews with 36 women, the study explores how subjects use common cultural ideas about sexuality to frame the stories they tell to explain their sexual histories. The idea that sexuality is something one is born with, rather than a choice is on the rise in the United States. This essentialist view in conjunction with cultural ideas about the timing at which sexuality is supposed to emerge implies that people should be "aware" of their sexuality at adolescence. For many of the women in the study that "normal" timing was not the case. In addition to the essentialist supposition is the notion the sexuality is binary. One is either heterosexual or one is the particular type of person known as the homosexual, a construct created in the 19th century that continues to be an important part of modern understandings of sexuality. Women who have spent significant time as heterosexuals and go on to have intimate relationships with women must contend with these cultural understandings as they try to make sense to themselves of a sexual story that seems to lie outside the bounds of that hegemonic narrative. Using modified grounded theory to analyze the collected interviews, four story types emerged. These four story types evinced different levels and types of commitment to the views of sexuality that exist in both the mainstream culture and the gay and lesbian community. They include "Always Knew" and "Retrospective" stories, which demonstrated a close commitment to the dominant narrative. The other two types - "Shifter" stories and "Left Fielder" stories - were more loosely connected to the ideas of essential and binary sexuality. As these stories emerged additional insights were provided in the form of the women's discussions of the impact of the social world in terms of lesbian invisibility, lesbian imagery, homophobia, and group or individual support for telling certain types of stories and/or taking on a lesbian identity. This study builds on, and adds to, scholarship in a number of areas. These include: narrative and identity; the social construction of sexuality; the changing nature of biography as people strive to make the past make sense of the present; and the influence of hegemonic cultural ideas in important areas of social and personal life. Additionally the study provides some insight into how heterosexuality is both a "goes without saying" sexuality route as well as a sometimes problematic achievement.

Temple University – Theses

Advisors/Committee Members: Ericksen, Julia A., Delaney, Kevin, Grasmuck, Sherri, Goode, Judith.

Subjects/Keywords: Sociology; Changing sexuality; identity narratives; Lesbian; sense making; sexual identity; sexuality stories

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APA (6th Edition):

Hand, J. A. (2011). Making Sense of Change: Sexuality Transformation at Midlife. (Doctoral Dissertation). Temple University. Retrieved from,108810

Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):

Hand, Judith A. “Making Sense of Change: Sexuality Transformation at Midlife.” 2011. Doctoral Dissertation, Temple University. Accessed March 03, 2021.,108810.

MLA Handbook (7th Edition):

Hand, Judith A. “Making Sense of Change: Sexuality Transformation at Midlife.” 2011. Web. 03 Mar 2021.


Hand JA. Making Sense of Change: Sexuality Transformation at Midlife. [Internet] [Doctoral dissertation]. Temple University; 2011. [cited 2021 Mar 03]. Available from:,108810.

Council of Science Editors:

Hand JA. Making Sense of Change: Sexuality Transformation at Midlife. [Doctoral Dissertation]. Temple University; 2011. Available from:,108810