Moving 'Out', Moving On: Gay Men's Migrations Through the Life Course

Thumbnail Image
Lewis, Nathaniel
gay , queer , sexuality , migration , coming out , mobility , United States , Canada
This thesis explores how gay men make migration decisions through the life course. Recent studies of queer migration fall into two categories: (1) the role of the state and its heteronormative policies (e.g., family reunification-based immigration policy or criminalized homosexuality) and (2) queer migrations within countries, which employ narrative approaches but often presume a linear, usually rural-to-urban trajectory of migration among young queer people fleeing one place and emancipating themselves elsewhere. This study nuances the dynamics of migration decision-making among gay men, adopting a life course approach that examines how historical and social contexts, institutions, and individual circumstances and subjectivities convene to shape migration trajectories. For this research, I use the migration narratives gay men living in two cities—Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and Washington, D.C., U.S.A.—to capture the dynamics of migration decision-making in two different locational contexts. 48 interviews with Self-identified gay men (24 in each city) ground this study. Respondents were asked about their reasons for migrating, the community, home, and family environments in sending and receiving places, changes in aspects of health, well-being, and relationships before and after migrating, and aspects of everyday life after moving to Ottawa or Washington, D.C. The focus on two capital cities was adopted not only to examine places that draw internal migrants from a variety of places, but also to elaborate on the dynamics of gay life in two mid-sized cities overlooked in sexuality and space literature, and on the ways in which the institutions of these two “government towns” have simultaneously attracted and regulated gay men and other sexual minorities. I advance several findings in this study. First, coming-out migrations are both much less linear than traditionally conceived and are influenced more by the internal social dynamics of places than flat characterizations of places as homophobic or backward. Second, the dynamics of the places that gay men leave and come to are often quite literally embodied in terms of health and well-being. Third, the government town is a paradoxical place that has been queered by the emergence of gay rights-seeking and advocacy regimes, yet continues to regulate gay men’s lives in diffuse ways.
External DOI