After the Act: Narratives of Display and the Significance of Civil Partnership

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Emma Jane Temple-Malt


Civil Partnership is significant because its availability indicates that social attitudes about sexual minorities have altered dramatically over the past two decades (Weeks 2007: 3, Shipman and Smart 2007). At one time, social attitudes labelled people's attractions to persons of the same sex as 'abnormal', and resulting same-sex relationships were expected to be invisible and conducted in private (Plummer 1975, Weeks 1977, Rich 1980). These expectations have changed, to such an extent, that it is now rather common to view same-sex and opposite-sex relationships as the 'same' and equally worthy of recognition and rights (Weeks 2007, Heaphy et al. 2013).This project explored what (if any) impact inhabiting this contemporary socio-cultural and historical climate is having on the everyday lives of sexual minorities. Finch's (2007) concept of 'display' was employed as a conceptual lens to explore the 'narratives' that 42 civil partners aged 30 to 65 told about displaying their non-heterosexual orientation and same-sex relationship in encounters with others. I argued that if these more liberal attitudes had impacted on their lives it should be discernible from the personal stories they told about the interactions they had with one of six different audiences (e.g. self, couple, family, friends, acquaintances and strangers).Three main findings and arguments were formed from my analysis of these civil partners' narratives. First, despite the remarkable changes in social attitudes towards sexual minorities, the stories my interviewees told illustrated that there is a generational difference in terms of the impact that these more liberal attitudes have been able to have on the ways that they display their non-heterosexual orientation and relationship. Essentially, these social attitudes have noticeably influenced the lives that younger generations are able to lead. Second, my use of 'display' as a conceptual lens to examine interviewees' narratives has illuminated how the stigmatizing spotlight attached to non-heterosexual orientation and same-sex relationships has diminished over time. This was signalled by how narrators approached the display of their non-heterosexual orientation and their same-sex relationship. Third, 'display' as a conceptual lens has been significant for illuminating the challenges and negotiations involved in displaying a civil partnership and, I argued, is able to offer a more nuanced understanding of the continuing salience of the heterosexual assumption in an 'era of equality'.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2015