Navigating Intersecting Identities in the Study of Sexuality, Relationships, and Families

S. Bear Bergman is an author, a theater artist, and a frequent lecturer regarding issues relating to the points of intersection between gender, sexuality, and culture.

A longtime activist on behalf of anyone who wants to learn and be different at the same time, Bear tours and lectures about topics close to his heart, pausing frequently to encourage and admire youth activists. As a young person, Bear was one of the original founders of the first Gay/Straight Alliances and a founding commission member of what is now called the Massachusetts Safe Schools Project. Today, he creates cultural competency and institutional policy around LGBTQ issues for corporations, universities, school systems, health organizations, and state and provincial governments.

Bear’s published work includes Butch Is a Noun (reissued with a new foreword by Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010) and Lambda Literary Award-finalist The Nearest Exit May be Behind You (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009). He is also the editor (with the inimitable Kate Bornstein) of the multiple-awardwinning Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation (Seal Press, 2010). Bear is the creator and performer of four award-winning solo performances, a frequent contributor to anthologies on all manner of topics, and has recently been named to the editorial board of the LGBT Encyclopedia of America.

Bear lives in Toronto, Ontario with his husband J Wallace and their son, Stanley.

For more information on Bear, please visit his website:

Session Info: 
What is “Normal”? An honest conversation about sexuality and ability

Thyra Calvert

Sexual identities and experiences vary greatly across individuals (Wellings et al., 2006). Yet, there are socially constructed expectations around who should be having sex, and what that sex should look like. Within our society, there exists a pervasive misconception that people with disabilities are not sexual beings (Esmail, Darry, Walter, & Knupp, 2010). For most people, however, sexuality is influenced by an array of factors including: religious or cultural values, time constraints relating to employment or parenting responsibilities, economic need, mental health, physical health, etc. Why, then, are people who live with disabilities presumed to be less sexual purely because they live with a disability?


According to the World Health Organization (WHO;2011), approximately 15% of the world’s population currently lives with some form of disability. The WHO also notes that most people will experience either a temporary or permanent disability at least once in their lives; this is noteworthy as we contemplate the ever-aging population. It is time that we start talking about ability perceptions, and how our social construction of sexuality imposes limitations on all people, not just those living with differing abilities.


Drawing upon the social model of disability, as well as feminist and symbolic interactionist theories, this presentation will critically analyze the complex nature of human sexual identities and their impact on intimate relationships for both “abled” and “disabled” persons across multiple social locations. Together we will question what is it about the social definition of sexuality that permits some people access, while denying others.

How language use impacts gender-variant identity and relationships

Jessica Huston

Language is a key component in the formation of identity for every individual and group. For some, the struggle is in finding language that is ‘just right,’ for others, it is in finding a word at all. For gender-fluid, gender variant, or transgender individuals, finding language to accurately reflect who they are can be particularly problematic. This struggle is reflected, in part, by the process of navigating cultural linguistic limitations and norms in terms of names, pronouns, and gender-based adjectives. These difficulties may be compounded by the process of informing peers and family of one’s desired language choices. How will they react? How might relationships be impacted? Will others honour the person’s identity by using the labels of their choosing?


Finding and using inclusive language may be a frustrating and demoralizing process when faced with our language’s strong gender-based interpretations: how can one live in transition or fluidity of gender when words fail to fully define them, and do not fit with their sense of self? Even when suitable language exists, the process is further complicated by the need to “teach” others which pronouns to use when referring to their own transitioning identity.


Through the lenses of social-interaction, cultural linguistics, and identity theory, this presentation will address the complexity of language implications for people who are gender fluid or transitioning. How can we move within our culture to include all gender-expressions in our language? How do intersectional differences further challenge the use of language? Can we as a society function if we take gender out of individual roles and expectations? As we close, participants will be asked to consider how we can all act as agents of change in the presence of gender diversity and fluidity.

Participation in medical research trials: Where are persons with intellectual disabilities?

Priscilla Burnham Riosa

Objectives: Persons with intellectual disabilities (ID) are exposed to the same medical interventions as everyone else. Yet, it is not clear if clinical trials evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medical procedures have included persons with ID. Given the unique health profiles of many persons with ID, it cannot be assumed that they will react the same to medical treatments as persons without ID. The purpose of this systematic review was twofold: 1) to examine the inclusion of persons with ID among selected medical research trials, and 2) among studies that did not include persons with ID, to determine whether accommodations and/or study modifications could have been made to promote inclusion in medical research.


Method: Three-hundred randomized control trials and clinic trials published between 2007 and 2011 in the top six high-impact medical journals (New England Journal of Medicine, The LANCET, Journal of the American Medical Association, Annals of Internal Medicine, Public Library of Science Medicine, and the British Medical Journal) were randomly selected.


Results: Only 6 (2%) of 300 randomly chosen studies included persons with ID. Over 90% of studies were designed in ways that would automatically exclude persons with ID from participating. However, a close examination of these studies revealed that most persons with ID could have participated in at least 70% of the studies with simple accommodations and/or minor design modifications.


Discussion: The findings highlight the exclusion of persons with ID in medical research. As such, considerations must be made in weighing the applicability of medical treatment effectiveness on persons with ID. Important research, clinical and rights implications of these findings on persons with ID and other vulnerable populations will be discussed.

The effect of child presence and proximity on Intimate Partner Violence sentencing in Canada

Jessica Whitehead

This paper examines the severity of criminal justice responses to intimate partner violence (IPV) when children are present and witness to the incidents. While it is recognized that children living with domestic violence face many risk factors, it is also understood that the incarceration of a parent may have negative repercussions on children’s wellbeing. Thus, children may have aggravating and mitigating effects on the sentencing of IPV offenders that are parents. To date there has been a paucity of research focused on the impact that child proximity and attendance will have on the likelihood and length of offender conviction and sentencing. To examine this question, this study focuses on more than 2,000 cases of IPV that were heard in a specialized domestic violence court in a small Canadian city between 2003 and 2009. Exploring the utility of social control and labelling theories, logistic and ordinary least squares regression analyses are employed to examine the intersection between parental roles and the criminal justice systems responses to IPV.

To cut or not to cut: Female genital cutting in the developed world

Anja Zinke

More than 125 million girls and women from 29 countries have undergone Female Genital Cutting (FGC), which is often considered a cultural rite of passage for girls into womanhood (WHO, 2015). Of these girls and women, approximately 500,000 live in European countries where this practice is illegal and is considered a violation of basic human rights (Andro, Cambois & Lesclingand, 2014). Consider that these families have emigrated from a cultural context that promoted FGC into a developed nation that has no space for this practice. Now their challenge is to negotiate how to perform their culture and raise their daughters into women in the absence of a practice that has traditionally marked the transition from childhood into womanhood.


This presentation will examine how two common discourses, the medical model and cultural relativism, understand FGC in very different ways. To critically examine how families living in developed nations negotiate their ethnic and gender identities, both the physical and sexual repercussions of FGC and its socio-cultural roots will be explored. Despite the possibility of physical complications and death, this practice has become part a woman’s identity in many cultures. What does it mean to be a woman in communities where FGC is prohibited? How does a family maintain its cultural identity in a context that limits their practices? These complexities raise questions about the repercussions of FGC – medical/physical consequences are pitched against social/cultural consequences that may include ostracization or even death. Who decides which outcome is more “manageable” or “acceptable”?

From single to partnered in inter-ethnic relationships

Meaghan Morin

Interethnic relationships have been viewed through an oppressive and negative lens and have been deemed problematic by society (Feng, Boyle, van Ham, & Raab, 2012). Yet in recent decades, the number of interethnic relationships has increased greatly (Rosenfeld & Kim, 2005). Despite an increase in number, individuals engaging in these relationships are faced with many stigmas and stereotypes.  Not only must they face these stigmas, but they must also deal with forming an identity as individuals within an interethnic couple, and may struggle with acceptance on both family and societal levels.


Though there are an increasing number of interethnic relationships, these struggles are real.  What contexts best support the healthy development of these couple and family relationships? Which couples are most likely to survive and thrive in this difficult environment? These questions are not easy to answer, but do require the critical examination of how intersections of social location may impact couples’ relationship development in an interethnic context. For example, how might an intersectional lens that focuses on socio-economic status, faith, and gender deepen our understanding of interethnic relationships? Using an intersectional lens, this presentation will examine the stability/instability and maintenance of interethnic relationships in the context of self and couple identity formation.

Bringing home the bacon: Women’s familial experience as providers

Marra Sheldon

The ways in which males and females orient themselves in their relationship and families has changed over time. The dominant familial image for much of the 19th and 20th century was one in which males were responsible for securing the family’s financial well-being (Cunningham, 2008). The landscape looks different today, with an employment rate of women with children that has generally been increasing over the past three decades. In fact, in 2009, 72.9% of women with children under 16 living at home were part of the employed workforce (Stats Canada 2013). As women increase their earning potential in family systems, how does this impact the identities, roles, and relationships within the family?  Using an intersectionality lens, dimensions of race, gender, education, and socioeconomic status will be featured in this analysis.   In particular, this analysis will focus on how women and men construct and manage their multiple identities as earner, spouse, and parent.

The survivor experience of intimacy and identity: The impact of childhood sexual abuse on the formation of adult sexual schemas and identity

Cassie Eggleton

Nearly one in five Canadian girls will experience childhood sexual abuse (CSA) before their 17th birthday (Vine, Troeme & Finlay, 2006). Starting in the 1960’s CSA has been the focus of considerable study. Researchers have identified strong associations between the experience of CSA and a range of negative long-term effects including, sexual identity and functioning, interpersonal and relational problems, and emotional distress (Neumann, et al., 1996). The degree of long-term impairment or adjustment is a much more contested subject within the literature.


A limitation of the current research has been that these effects are often studied later in life by examining the behavioural difficulties experienced by adults rather than their social functioning. Research has also infrequently focused on the developmental processes that impact identity, which occur from onset of CSA to adulthood.


This lack of identity-focused research is significant as development theorists posit that cognitive self-representations, or schemas, are closely linked to early experiences and that self-schemas persist based on early attachment representations. Research has also recently identified links between experiences of CSA and later struggles with self-identity and relationships, a negative view of self (Davis, 2000; Devon, 2004) and sexual functioning and sexual self-schemas (Anderson & Cyranowski, 1994).


Drawing upon developmental theory and sexual schema theory, this presentation will investigate CSA survivor experiences through the analysis of sexual identity development, intimacy functioning, and interpersonal relationship maintenance. This analysis draws upon an intersectional framework that considers the importance of interesting identities and social locations in the understanding of human interactions and development.

A family affair: Factors contributing to identity development in adolescents’ suffering from autoimmune disorders

Connie Gowland

Living with an autoimmune disease greatly impacts an individual’s identity and has a profound impact on identity development when occurring in adolescence. These illnesses (e.g., diabetes, MS) are generally understood to have no cure, but some can be managed through lifestyle changes, such as specialized diets. Autoimmune diseases most commonly affect people of African American and Latino ethnicities, and overwhelmingly women. Due to the significant challenges for a child living and coping with an autoimmune disease, families play an important role in providing support and resources, as well as influencing the adolescent’s perceptions of the illness and their identity. Adolescents must address these realities during a crucial time when they are developing their competence and fidelity (Erikson) and coping with how their illness can result in their being marginalized within society.


Employing the lenses of symbolic interactionism (Mead), social identity theory (Turner) and family systems theory (Bowen), this presentation aims to explore how adolescents living with an autoimmune disease negotiate their illness and identity through their interactions with family, peers, and the larger society. This presentation will address the following questions: How does living with an autoimmune disease affect the various facets of a child’s identity? How does parental influence and management of the illness alter the adolescent’s perceptions of themselves as they develop? How do adolescents with autoimmune diseases “perform” their identities (e.g. gender, sexual, and ethnic identities) within familial, peer, and romantic relationships?

The relationship between aspirations for parenthood and contraceptive choices

Marissa Traversa

This project is a secondary data analysis focusing on the relationship between wanting children and contraceptive choices. It is a review of attitudes towards parenthood, adoption, abortion, in/fertility and contraceptives. Further, this research explores concepts of stigma, ability, gender, age, religion, education, socio-economic status and their intersection with decision-making.


Society offers mixed messages regarding parenting and contraceptives. Individuals who have children too young, or, do not have children by a certain age, may be stigmatized and face unwelcomed negativity. Teen mothers have the highest risk for giving birth to low birth-weight babies, usually from factors related to lack of support from family and friends. However, some older women, who do not have children before the age of 35, experience undesirable attention from family and others for “waiting too long.” For most sexually active young adults, attempting to prevent pregnancy takes priority over consideration of adoption, parenthood, or fertility, despite the lack of contraceptive education most youth receive.


The literature on parenthood, fertility and adoption has been centered on middle-aged couples (heterosexual) that want and are trying to have children. There is little focus on single parents or childfree families. Additionally, women have played a major role in (in)fertility, abortion, adoption and contraceptive study. More research has been emerging since the early 1990s on male views regarding contraceptives, however more inclusive critical analyses are needed.


This interactive presentation will examine how social location shapes the messages we send to others regarding fertility, parenthood, and contraceptives, and how those messages are received. Discussion will include implications of this research on an individual and clinical level; providing suggestions to individuals, practitioners, and teachers on how to promote and uphold a healthy sexuality.

Boys will be boys? — Implications of Social Scripting Theory and Social Identity Theory on parenting in a gender binary world

Liz Meuse

“What a good boy!” “Such a beautiful girl.” Many will see these as resounding praise for our youngsters, but are they? Does enforcing a child’s biological sex as gender limit their identity formation? Are children capable of defining their own gender identities? And if so when? Does giving our children the choice to decide their own gender leave them vulnerable to bullies and other societal realities that they might not know how to navigate? Furthermore, ableism, racism, and socioeconomic status intersect with gender identity formation and impact our experiences of gender. The gender binary is as limiting a category as black and white; it lacks spectrum and depth to appreciate the uniqueness of individual experience and identity.


Seizing the theoretical frameworks of social scripting theory and social identity theory, this presentation will ask ethical questions about gender, identity formation, and choice. By electing to give our children the choice to decide their identity for themselves, are we leaving them vulnerable to the effects marginalization has on their identity formation? A focus on parenting practices will be highlighted including: Is “gender engaged parenting” (Freidman, 2013), a viable option for all parents, or does the ability to engage in such practices reside only with the privileged? Is “sex-positive parenting” a better approach that allows children to explore their individuality while still allowing them to model the actions of others of the same gender? Do social scripting theory and social identity theory give us reason to be skeptical about raising gender non-conforming children? A feminist lens shows that the pitfalls of gender are clear; how to help our children navigate them is the real challenge.

Child survivors: Rebuilding identity after the Holocaust

Nadia K. Watts

People simply didn’t want to know or couldn’t deal with what I told them…Nobody understood the long term effects that an experience like mine has on a person. Nobody understood that if you don’t let a person talk about it, it just remains a raw mass of pain that isolates you from the rest of humanity” (Nieuwsma, 1998). This reflection on the long-term effects of Holocaust survivorship echoes the narratives of many child survivors.


Research suggests that childhood identity is shaped by both family and environment (Bandura, 1977). Children’s identity within family and community groups helps provide them with feelings of sameness and belonging (Kestenberg, 1992). Childhood identity was drastically altered by concentration camp life. Very few children survived concentration camps, and those who did suffered from feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and anger, as well as the loss of personal identity. How did child survivors attempt to reintegrate and rebuild not only their personal identities, but their familial and community identities as well? Did community groups serve to create a protective buffer function to rebuild life and identity?


This presentation will use an intersectional lens to better understand the complexities of child survivor identity processes and the impact on personal and family identity. Areas of intersection, including socioeconomic status, personal values, religious faith, and community-building will be examined. This presentation will include academic studies and personal accounts, such as writing, art, and films created by survivors to share their stories. This diverse range of sources will illuminate both macro and micro viewpoints, honour the experiences of survivors, and help develop a deeper understanding of this chapter in humanity’s tragic history.

“This is who I am”: Immigrant adolescent girls’ identity development within the intersections of gender, race, and ethnicity

Bronwen Valtchanov

The transition from childhood to adulthood that characterizes adolescence is often seen as a time of dramatic challenge and change. For adolescent girls, there are particular challenges such as body image issues and limiting gender role norms (Shaw, 2007). Immigrant adolescent girls must confront the challenges of female adolescence in addition to the distinct challenges of being an immigrant and an adolescent with diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. These unique challenges of immigrant adolescents can include adjusting to a new culture and language, discrimination (Tirone & Pedlar, 2005), and disproportionate poverty (Kazemipur & Halli, 2001).


For adolescents generally, and for immigrant adolescent girls in particular, participation in leisure activities can vitally support navigating the challenges of adolescence. Specifically, leisure has been found to play an important role in the key adolescent task of identity development through providing opportunities for adolescents to experiment with different roles (Kelly, 1987), differentiate themselves from others (Kleiber, 1999), and connect with others (Caldwell & Darling, 1999). These leisure opportunities for identity development, however, can be restricted by leisure constraints, which can be broadly understood as factors which impede one’s participation in, or enjoyment of, leisure activities (Shaw, 1999).

This presentation will explore qualitative research with immigrant adolescent girls, focusing on challenges and opportunities for identity development. The presentation will emphasize the complexity of participants’ identity development through an intersectional feminist theoretical lens examining the intersections of gender, race, and ethnicity. This research is significant because it contributes to diversely informed theory and practice, which are crucial in an increasingly multicultural Canadian society (Walker, 2007) and growing global community.

Support for family/friend caregivers of individuals with episodic disabilities

Denise L. Whitehead

Over the last ten years there has been growing awareness of the need to provide support for caregivers of adults and seniors. Families and friends provide 80-85% of care and support, with those providing the care to individuals with serious physical and/or cognitive impairments at the most significant risk for adverse employment and economic costs, social isolation, and physical and mental health consequences. There is growing recognition of the importance of caring for caregivers in order to reduce caregiver burden and support the capacity of those with significant disabilities or chronic conditions to remain in their homes.


To date, much attention has focused on caregivers of family members with dementia or other serious, chronic conditions. More recently, we are starting to recognize a growing population of individuals with Episodic Disabilities (EDs) – conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis, Parkinson’s’ Disease, HIV, mental illness, cancer, etc. – who face challenges due to intermittent and unpredictable variability in their capacity to be fully engaged and productive at work and functional in their daily lives.


Episodic disabilities present unique challenges as the associated health condition can weave through periods of relative wellness interspersed with acute and often unpredictable times of illness. Individuals with EDs, often still of working age, face unique challenges since workplace disability policies and public income supports are not designed for those who are “not able, and not quite disabled” (Moss, 2000). They may also experience backlash or stigma (especially those with HIV or mental illness). This project was designed to identify how family members are affected by, and adapt to uncertain and changing needs for care and support in these circumstances and to identify improvements to workplace policies and practices, as well as public policies, to better address the needs of this growing segment of the population and their caregivers.

The multiracial family: Forming racial identity in a multiracial home

Matthew Gmitrowicz

Race does not exist in neat categories such as Caucasian, Asian, Black, Latino, Middle Eastern etcetera. In reality, these commonly used categorizations and “forced” identities do not fit all people. People who are multiracial have a unique lived experience of race and an often unheard story. Utilizing research on the experiences of persons from multiracial families this presentation will shed light on the formation of racial identity for individuals and families that are racially diverse. How do children of interracial couples experience racial identity formation? What is the experience of parents who may be perceived as ethnically or racially different than their children? What is the impact of appearing to be racially ambiguous, or of being perceived as belonging to a race or ethnicity with which you do not identify?


The lived experience of individuals can be different based on many facets of social location; therefore, an intersectional approach that considers the impact of socioeconomic status, cultural differences, and varying family dynamics as contributing factors. As a member of a multiracial family, I will include anecdotal accounts of my own experiences (and those of my family and close others) of being from a multiracial home.

Girls taking up space and being put in place: Political fervour and discipline in Canada’s public school system

Emily Pittman

Narratives of female emancipation tell girls and women that they can achieve just as much, or more, than their male peers at school, at work and in life in general. Yet, patriarchal expectations still negatively impact girls’ ability to self-actualize when also met with the need for discipline when they stray from the bounds of “acceptability.” Indeed, girls who push the limits of acceptability face the structural opposition of the state, the school, parents and other social institutions.


This paper investigates two incidents in which schoolgirls were disciplined based on the political statements manifested in their dress. In January 2014, Tenelle Starr – a young First Nations woman from Balcarres, Saskatchewan – started wearing a sweater that said, “Got Land? Thank an Indian.” While her school initially forbade her to wear the garment, Starr was ultimately successful at reversing the ban. In May 2014, a young white woman from Beaconsfield, Québec was reprimanded for wearing a pair of shorts which school administrators deemed “too short.” Lindsey Stocker protested the administration through a series of posters that she put up at school, but was then suspended for her actions.


The above cases provoke five key questions: 1) What do these young women’s actions represent? 2) How can we measure the success and failure of these protests, where one women was clearly successful and the other was not? 3) Why was one woman successful in initiating a dialogue on structural discrimination within her school, whereas the other was not? 4) How did broader societal attitudes around racial and gender discrimination influence the outcome of these two girls’ actions? 5) How can we move forward from these cases and work to empower young women within the school environment?


This paper makes an important contribution to the literature by stressing the political agency of teenage women, while taking an intersectional approach to patriarchal settler society.



  • A collage of pictures of SMF 2015