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The Nature of Discourse in Transformative Learning: The Experience of Coming Out Open Access

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Abstract of DissertationThe Nature of Discourse in Transformative Learning: The Experience of Coming OutMezirow's theory of transformative learning (1978, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2009) posits "perspective transformation" as a central learning process. Key to this transformation is the critical examination of the individual's deeply held assumptions and beliefs through discourse to examine new perspectives and test new ideas. The availability and benefit of the discourse described in transformative learning theory, however, depend on the presence of ideal conditions for discourse. The theory does not fully account for marginalized individuals in society who may not easily encounter the ideal conditions or resources conducive to discourse with trusted others. A marginalized individual, such as a "closeted" gay man who decides to disclose his sexuality and "comes out of the closet," may not engage in discourse under the ideal conditions Mezirow describes, yet he may describe his coming out process as a transformative experience (De Monteflores & Schultz, 1978; Cass, 1979; Herek, 1990, 1996).The purpose of this qualitative research study was to explore the nature of discourse in the transformative learning experience of the coming out process of gay men. Drawing from in-depth interviews with nine gay men about their coming out experience, this phenomenological study focused on the impact of cultural scripts and access to resources necessary for discourse to occur as part of their coming out process and their transformative learning experience. It adds to the breadth of understanding of ideal conditions in which the effects of discourse can be received. Five conclusions are offered: (1) critical reflection is an antecedent to discourse and can be done with self-talk; (2) self-talk may also provide benefits of discourse; (3) more accurate and complete information is a critical condition--an antecedent to discourse, a condition for discourse, and an outcome of discourse; (4) observational learning can be an important resource for obtaining more accurate and complete information necessary for coming out and discourse--as a precursor for discourse and/or a way to receive the effects of discourse; and (5) the great need for safety and trust strongly informs the sources for engaging in discourse.

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