about the project

Holding Hands: Experiences of Shame, Pride and Protest among LGBTQ Relationship Partners

Many LGBTQ individuals grow up with a sense of being ‘other’ in a heteronormative society. As a result, many LGBTQ individual may develop internalised homophobia and transphobia, and consequently feelings of shame. This, however, is not just an internal experience, as many LGBTQ individuals report being recipients of hostility, victimisation and harassment.

Homophobia and transphobia may contribute to mental health problems in some LGBTQ individuals. Interpersonally, homophobia and transphobia (both actual and internalised) may play out between partners and inhibit partners from commonplace displays of affection (e.g. holding hands in public).

Holding hands in public, a taken-for-granted act of interpersonal affection for many heterosexual couples, may carry particular anxieties and/or significance for LGBTQ partners. Holding hands may be experienced with feelings of anxiety, shame and fear, or, conversely, may be regarded as a significant and meaningful act of pride and/or resistance.

To explore participants personal experiences of this, the project utilised a participatory, creative research approach. The project involved the following components:

  • study participants were invited to produce images (e.g. photographs or drawings) that symbolise and represent their experiences, and to use these images as a point of discussion in individual interviews
  • further data was also collected by inviting participants to conduct audio-recorded friendship conversations with a close friend about this topic.


Dr Poul Rohleder

Poul Rohleder is a senior lecturer at the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex. He is also a clinical psychologist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice. His research interests are on sexuality, diversity and mental health. He has published widely in these areas. He is Associate Editor of the journal Psychology and Sexuality. Find out more about him on his academic staff profile.

Dr Julie Walsh

Julie Walsh is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Essex. She also works as a psychoanalyst in private practice. Her research interests are in gender and sexuality studies, queer theory, and psychoanalysis and literature. She is the author of Narcissism and Its Discontents (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); co-editor of the journal Sitegeist: A Journal for Psychoanalysis and Philosophy; and co-editor of two volumes of essays: Narcissism, Melancholia and the Subject of Community (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and Shame and Modern Writing (Routledge, 2018). Find out more about her on her academic staff profile.

Dr Róisín Ryan-Flood

Róisín Ryan-Flood is a senior lecturer in Sociology and director of the Centre for Intimate and Sexual Citizenship (CISC) at the University of Essex. Her research interests are gender, sexuality, kinship, the digital realm, and feminist epistemology. She is the author of Lesbian Motherhood: Gender, Sexuality and Citizenship (Palgrave, 2009), and co-editor of Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process (Routledge, 2010) and Transnationalising Reproduction (Routledge, 2018). She is also co-editor of the journal Sexualities: Studies in Culture and Society (Sage). Find out more about her on her academic staff profile.

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