Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Cheryl A. Getz, EdD, Chair; Lea A. Hubbard, PhD, Member; Frank Harris III, EdD, Member


Constructivist Grounded theory, Gay men, gender, LGBTQ+, higher education, individual context, integrated self, Intersectionality, masculinity, Meaning-making process, multiple identities, sexuality, societal context, southern California


Since the mid-twentieth century, a shift in demographics of those attending higher education institutions has resulted in increased attention to underrepresented students and their development, specifically their social identities, including race (Cross, 1991), gender (Gilligan, 1982), and sexual orientation (Cass, 1979; D'Augelli, 1994; Fassinger, 1998). However, many theories have compartmentalized aspects of one's overall identity with little understanding of how one's social identity may influence the development of other identities. In the past decade, the concept of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1995), which explores the interplay between one's multiple identities and the larger systems of power and privilege within society, has been applied to understanding the holistic development of college students' multiple social identities (Abes, Jones, & McEwen, 2007; Jones & McEwen, 2000). The purpose of this study was to understand how traditionally-aged gay men in college come to make meaning of the intersections of their gender and sexuality. The research questions for this study included: (a) how do gay men make meaning of their masculinity and sexuality during their college years, (b) in what ways do gender, sexuality, and other dimensions of identity intersect for gay men in college, and (c) what are the critical influences during college on their meaning-making process? Seventeen gay men attending three universities in a metropolitan city in Southern California participated in this constructivist grounded theory study (Charmaz, 2006). Data collection included two in-depth interviews for each participant as well as journaling and an activity using the Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity as a methodological tool for identity salience. A focus group was held also to discuss the theoretical model and the major themes that emerged. The findings are represented in a theoretical model, depicted as a labyrinth that represents a nested system between the Individual and Societal Contexts. The Individual Context includes five main themes: (1) Sense of Sameness Disappears; (2) Compartmentalizing Identit(ies); (3) Seeking Community; (4) Questioning Allegiances; and (5) Living in the Nexus. The Societal Context includes two main themes: (1) Socialization of Hegemonic Masculinity and the Inherent Tensions and (2) Heteronormativity and Homophobia as Internal and External Influences.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies