Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 8-11-2018


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Will Adams

Committee Member

Jessie Goicoechea

Committee Member

Suzanne Barnard


sexual minorities, LGBTQ, LGBT, gay, lesbian, bisexual, closet, liberation psychology, phenomenological research, phenomenology, film


This dissertation is a phenomenological research study about the lived experience of being in the closet as a sexual minority. This study’s research findings are represented in two distinct but overlapping ways: a traditional written hermeneutic interpretation, and a short film called “Illuminate” which cinematically brings to life the closeted lifeworld. To produce this film, I developed an innovative research method called “cinematic-phenomenology.” As a researcher, I conducted phenomenological research interviews with five self-identified sexual minorities about their lived experiences of being in the closet. During interviews, I helped participants describe their felt sense of the closet through symbolic imagery, by guiding them to language their feelings using Eugene Gendlin’s body-focused psychotherapy technique Focusing. I also conducted a thematic interpretation of participants’ data using Max Van Manen’s approach to hermeneutic phenomenological interpretation. My research findings led to the following key insight: that the phenomenon of the closet entails a traumatic loss of existential rights—the right to truth, freedom, love, hope, and power. Then, as a filmmaker, I collaborated with cinematographers, actors and musicians to produce a phenomenological short film called “Illuminate” which visually illustrates these existential themes of the closet via poetic cinematography. All imagery in the film is directly inspired by research participants’ embodied and metaphoric descriptions of what being in the closet felt like for them personally. The final short film can be viewed at It seeks to make visible the invisible trauma that the closet inflicts, illuminate how sociopolitical oppression deprives marginalized minorities of their existential rights, and instill empathy, compassion, and hope among viewers. “Illuminate” is the first film to be produced by the Phenomenological Film Collective, a community-engaged filmmaking group I have founded which utilizes my cinematic-phenomenological research method to produce social advocacy films (