The construction of men who are nurses as gay


T. Harding: e-mail:


Title. The construction of men who are nurses as gay

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to examine the construction of the stereotype of male nurses as gay, and to describe how this discourse impacts on a group of New Zealand male nurses.

Background.  A discourse stereotyping male nurses as gay is accompanied by one which privileges hegemonic masculinity and marginalizes homosexuality.

Method.  This social constructionist study drew on data collected from existing texts on men, nursing and masculinity and interviews with 18 New Zealand men conducted in 2003–2004. Discourse analysis, informed by masculinity theory and queer theory, was used to analyse the data.

Findings.  Despite the participants’ beliefs that the majority of male nurses are heterosexual, the stereotype persists. A paradox emerged between the ‘homosexual’ general nurse and the ‘heterosexual’ psychiatric nurse. The stigma associated with homosexuality exposes male nurses to homophobia in the workplace. The heterosexual men employed strategies to avoid the presumption of homosexuality; these included: avoiding contact with gay colleagues and overt expression of their heterosexuality.

Conclusion.  There is a paradox between widespread calls for men to participate more in caring and discourses which stereotype male nurses as gay and conflate homosexuality and sexual predation. These stigmatizing discourses create a barrier to caring and, aligned with the presence of homophobia in the workplace, deter men’s entry into the profession and may be important issues with respect to their retention. Nurse educators must ensure that nurses are able to resist collusion with stigmatizing discourses that marginalize men (and women) in the profession through the perpetration of gender and sexual stereotypes.