By Candela Sánchez Rodilla-Espeso and Edgar Rodríguez-Dorans
Fiona Murray joined the School of Health in Social Science as a lecturer in June 2018. Wanting her to discuss some of her ideas with the freshness of being in the role for only a month and about her doctoral thesis, we – Candela and Edgar – had a conversation with her about the themes she is interested in, her feelings on what the future holds, and how would her involvement with CCRI be.
As the conversation starts, Fiona talks about ‘communication’ as an important element of her role with CCRI. Communication as a strategy to reach more people from various disciplines, from other institutions, from various locations to promote and foster collaborations in what feels very interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work.
Edgar: What disciplines are you interested in getting in touch with? Or which ones you’d like to get more involved in?
With my research on Gay Men’s Identities I recently won the People’s Choice Award at the university finals of the Three Minute Thesis Competition at the University of Edinburgh. This competition was created by The University of Queensland with the aim of communicating widely and effectively the research conducted by PhD students around the world.
Being at the last stages of my PhD motivated me to participate in this competition because I thought, first of all, that I had enough material to actually know what my main argument was. Simultaneously, this would help me to organize my thoughts and synthesize the contents of my work in the time frame that the competition requires: three minutes. But finally and most importantly, I wanted to share with a broader audience what I have come across during my research: that being gay is not the same than being homosexual and that gay is a term more complex than it could apparently seem.
This is the video of my participation in the competition and you can see the transcription below, so if you’re interested you could think with me or discuss with me what are your thoughts on the topic.
Thanks for reading, Edgar.
“I’m homosexual and I’m afraid About what my future will be And that people won’t like me.”
For the project ‘Humans of New York’,
This boy shared his story last year
With photographer Brandon Stanton,
Who collects stories and provides glimpses
Into the lives of strangers in New York City.
20 years ago I also believed that I was homosexual,
And I was very afraid of facing the world with that label.
It didn’t take me long to understand what homosexuality means
But now I’m interested in understanding what ‘being gay’ means.
[Difference between sexual orientation and gay identity]
Over five decades, psychology has defined homosexuality
And crafted the term ‘sexual orientation’.
But many of us have abandoned the label ‘homosexual’ long ago.
Because it has a history of pathologization and illegality
That reduces people’s subjectivities to a sexual aspect.
That’s why I think of ‘gay identities’ instead.
Research in this area has focused on the influence of broader social aspects such as: (1) national politics,
(2) The impact of mass media on the construction of gay identity,
(3) And the homosexual-heterosexual dichotomy.
The public portrayal of gay men is highly sexualized,
Often centred on phallocentric sex.
But I’m guessing that this boy,
While trying to understand his identity,
Was thinking about something else,
Not only sex, perhaps not even sex.
[Research Question and Methodology]
As in a personal odyssey across the UK
I travelled cities and towns
Listening to gay men’s narratives.
Through face to face, in-depth, unstructured interviews
I explored gay men’s experiences of erotic and romantic intimacy
And how through them we make sense of our identity
[What I’ve seen so far…]
Men from various ages and backgrounds told me
That ‘being gay’ means a hundred different things
Completely unrelated to sexual activity.
Being gay can mean (1) having had to leave home
When your mum turned her back on you
Because you love someone you were not supposed to love
(2) A history of loving in secret and years of oppression
–And that’s why this research is important;
Because a better understanding helps to eradicate
The verbal, emotional, and physical violence
That generations of gay people have experienced throughout their lives–
But being gay also means
(3) Intimacy and togetherness, and
(4) Delight in the eye candy
Looking at guys who never looked back;
And most importantly:
(5) There’s a suggestion
That through erotic and romantic relationships
These men are trying to make sense of their lives in a way they couldn’t before;
As if when looking for lovers,
They were looking for meanings.
Because when these men actually look back and reciprocate our desire,
Serve as an element to validate our identity and corroborate our very own existence.
I am Edgar Rodríguez, I have identified myself as a gay man for several years. During this time I have been interested in understanding what ‘being gay’ actually means to gay men.
Erotic and romantic relationships have particularly attracted my attention because they seem to be central to the understanding of gay identity. This observation made me want to explore how gay men talk about their experiences of sexual and romantic intimacy, and try to understand how through them they (we) make sense of their (our) identity.
Perhaps you are interested in these topics too, perhaps you would like to talk about them too. If that is the case I want to invite you to take part in my research.
If you are interested in participating, please take a few minutes to read the following information before making up your mind about whether or not you would like to help me with my study.
What is the purpose of the study?
This is a research project which will help me to complete my PhD in Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Edinburgh.
The main goal of my research is to get an understanding of how gay men get a sense of their identity through listening to their stories of romantic and erotic relationships.
I want to interview men who identify themselves as gay and discuss with them their experiences of sex and love and the meanings, thoughts, and feelings derived from those experiences.
Who can participate?
If you identify yourself as a gay man, are travelling to or based in the UK, are at least 16 years old, are able to communicate in English, have experienced sexual desire towards men, and have participated in or longed for a romantic relationship, I invite you to participate in this study.
What will I do if I take part?
If you are happy to contribute to my research I will ask you to meet for a one to one interview session which I will audio-record.
Although in this interview there are no pre-established questions and I expect the conversation to develop naturally with your input on topics of your erotic and romantic relationships, some examples of the themes we may talk about are (but not limited or compelled to):
People you have been in love with.
Circumstances in which you feel sexual desire.
Relationships you have been involved in.
Your thoughts when you start to have a crush on someone.
The meanings that being single or partnered has for you.
Thoughts about your identity coming from sexual experiences you have had or fantasized.
Experiences of sex or relationships that have gone well or not so well.
Important episodes of your love and/or sex life.
The meanings that being gay has for you.
The role sex and relationships play in your sense of yourself as a gay man.
The interview is expected to last approximately 90 minutes but of course this will depend on you, on the time available, and on the conversation itself. Some interviews can be shorter whereas others can extend a bit.
We will make arrangements to meet in a venue of your preference as long as it is private to facilitate communication. When we meet I will ask you to read and sign a consent form and return it to me. In that form I will expand on your rights as a participant and the details of the research.
If you do not wish to participate you do not have to do anything in response to this request.
What are the possible risks of taking part?
Whilst there are not significant risks attached to this research, sometimes a research interview about intimate subjects like these can bring up unexpected feelings, or the interview can leave you realizing that you need to talk more about something. If this happens to you, or if you need emotional support, I will share some details of available sources which offer telephone and face to face consultation, and other relevant services.
What are the possible benefits of taking part?
Whilst there may be no personal benefits to your participation in this study, by helping me with this interview, the information you provide can contribute to develop knowledge about gay men’s identities and their (our) relationships.
Although your participation will not be remunerated, some participants find the opportunity of conversing about their experiences rewarding.
What will happen to the results of the research study?
Firstly, what you have to say about your erotic and romantic relationships could make an important contribution to my research!
I expect to publish the results of this study on my PhD thesis, I also expect to publish them in articles in academic journals, and presentations at academic conferences. If you decide to take part and want to know about the findings, I will make a summary of the preliminary findings available to you. We will talk about the time to get that preliminary analysis when we meet.
Will my taking part in the study be kept confidential?
As I will ask you to talk about intimate topics of romance and sex, you may be concerned about the confidentiality of your personal details.
I will keep confidential all potentially identifying information provided by you by anonymizing those aspects, e.g. no personal details relating to who you are, where you live or work will be disclosed to anyone.
I will keep all the information you provide on a password-protected computer and secure cloud storage. I will be the only person having access to the audio recordings. My supervisors will have access to the transcriptions of our interview but under no circumstances I will disclose responses that make you identifiable.
When I finish my thesis and publish articles, I will only make public information emanating from the interview in such a way that no participant will be identified.
Who is organising the research?
I am conducting this research as my PhD project and I am supervised by Seamus Prior and Jonathan Wyatt. I am undertaking my research at the School of Health in Social Science at the University of Edinburgh with funding from the CONACYT (Mexican Council for Science and Technology).
How can I take part in this research?
If you feel you would like to be part of this research or you would like to know more, please email me and I will get back to you shortly (contacting me to ask questions does not obligate you to participate in the study).
Edgar Rodríguez Sánchez | PhD student
Counselling and Psychotherapy, University of Edinburgh
“He’s the most astonishing man England has given to the world!
He’s beefy; clever, sharp, and witty; fair hair, soft as silk;
with beautiful legs and white skin; delicate like a daffodil!”
This Wednesday 10th February at 6:00PM at Adam House Theatre, in number 3 of Chambers St, we’re staging “Caravaggio was right! A love story of a single man”; this is part of the “RAG Week Edinburgh”, a series of events where all the money earned is donated to charity. If you come and watch it, your donation will be helping people who live with HIV. Theatre for a positive cause!
A 50 minutes performance that aims to engage the audience in a hilarious but unnerving story of two men who are in love but cannot be together. ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’, a beautiful painting of triumphant Cupid by Caravaggio, is the focal point for a discussion between JoseGuillermo, a Mexican poet; Melanie, a psychoanalyst with questionable ethics; and Edmundo, a young soldier who tries to convince us that the painter was right, because love conquers all. Decided to avoid the depression of a life reduced to love letters, poems, and recollections of the time when his romance was not a dream, JoseGuillermo wants to satiate his desire through multiple erotic encounters with random men.
Join Marta Bernal, Gordon Houston, and Edgar Rodríguez in this story of relationships and commitment!
Suggested pieces to accompany this love story, “I’m not dying of love: I’m dying of you” by Jaime Sabines, and Bod Dylan’s “To make you feel my love”.