This is where FSF becomes FSFR. This space will evolve as I move through my Ph.D. and continue to study social sciences and physical activity. Read about my work below:
Researcher Identity Memo: My name is Jesse Strunk Elkins, and I am me. As plain as this may sound, it is important to me to discern what I do (productivity) from who I am (process). Our engagements, products, degrees, goals, and trajectories can be contained in words, but our wholeness cannot. Internal expanse, feelings, desires, movements, moments, hopes, dreams, and the poetry of this human experience remain ineffable. I will continue to lean into these powerful elements through the idea that the truth within each is best shared lucidly within, in present moments of complete embodiment. While I do believe story sharing is connecting, and connecting offers healing, I will leave those shares for another time, carried by another prose.
I, and my research journey, are dedicated to unraveling the intricate intersections of social beings, behavioral choices, ecological circumstance, embodied freedom, and health promotion through sociological perspectives on physical activity (PA) on a global scale. By ‘unraveling’, I don’t mean to say that I have hidden superpowers and can achieve the impossible. Instead, I mean that, if I’m lucky, I’ll find a few connections, illuminate associations, and simultaneously alchemize academic jargon into that might help some people out. My work centers communities that self-identify along the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and particularly those who I have greater access to (gay men) and those who experience increased barriers to PA (transgender youth and queer people of color).
Health, by my esoteric definition, is the relative embodiment of freedom. When I feel healthy, I feel free. When I feel free, I feel at home. When I feel at home, I know I am safe: regulated, clear-minded, connected, and ‘whole’. My life, like all others, has been a gloriously wired manifestation of love and experiences, all of which are marked by the inclusion of sorrow, heartache, loss, and grief. It is health promoting behavior – social, physical, emotional, and spiritual behavioral actions that have allowed me to facet such narrative artifacts to highlight the beauty of this life, relying not only on the sorrow of this life. A large part of my lapidarist dreams and internal reality is shaped by my positionality and innate belief that that when we connect, recognize, observe, analyze, and address health access and promotion, we collectively inch closer to unity, closer to freedom, closer to home, and closer to safety.
Included in this process of health promotion is my long-term, and ever-deepening practice of internal truth telling and conscious alignment with people, places, thought processes, and all other endeavors. I have chosen to pursue my doctorate in behavioral health sciences in complete alignment because I realized that I am capable. Then, after overcoming such a self-imposed barrier, I realized I can use my capabilities to uplift my embodied freedom, while helping others find, achieve, maintain, and often re-find theirs through methodological research and subsequent and actionable instigation of meaningful change. Beyond this, I understand that this opportunity will continue to open doors for me to access personal desires that I’ve identified are vital to my wellbeing, including professional flexibility, economic mobility, and sustainable learning habits that promote my health and the health of my cherished communities and loved ones. More deeply, my chosen discipline will continue to illuminate all that I am fascinated by, including how our social nature affects our individual behavior and how our behaviors create meaningful ripples through and beyond everything and everyone we interact with.
To investigate these complex systems and the ways in which they move, hold, and adjust one another, my ever-evolving academic pursuits center around themes within social justice, physical activity, and positive health outcomes, and include a primarily ‘critical paradigm’ thinking approach aimed at understanding the powers and structures that influence queer communities. Currently, my research themes include:
Access to leisure time physical activity (LTPA): I am deeply committed to understanding opportunities for physical activity within queer communities worldwide. I am particularly interested in social-ecological influences on access to retreat and luxury spaces that center LTPA to shed light on the systemic, social, behavioral, and cultural factors that impact such access and its subsequent effects on mental and physical well-being, social belonging, sustainability, and healing.
Modalities: By better understanding access, I aim to understand how we can then bolster healing modalities within such spaces through collective narratives and qualitative data collection. I will continue to explore the nuances of language, class styles, teaching styles, and other elements of group LTPA to better understand and craft movement modalities that leave a lasting and positive impact on its participants. I am also fascinated by themes of consistency, variety, body relations, and joy, all of which I believe may contribute in some undiscovered way(s) to sustainable LTPA engagement, leading to embodied freedom. Within this realm, I am also interested in Westernized yoga and embodiment practices, and I plan to critically examine how ancient wellness practices are adapted and commodified while also investigating their potential benefits in local and modern contexts. Even more, I am spellbound by the queer experience within these spaces and how, collectively, it may differ from other group experiences and influence change within “standard” offerings.
Delivery and efficacy: Another facet of my research involves delving into retreat design (among other LTPA-centered spaces) and efficacy in fostering holistic well-being and lasting positive health outcomes with and beyond the physical benefits of PA. I am interested in assessing how retreats can provide “safe” spaces for self-discovery, healing, and personal growth, especially within queer communities.
Within this work, my heart-shaped intention is to deconstruct and dismantle harmful wellness trends through exploring LTPA access points, embodiment modalities, and impact routes, to deliver brain-driven (scientific) and tangible products, artifacts, and interventions (i.e., training the trainer programs). I firmly believe in the importance of critically evaluating popular notions of health and wellness, particularly when they intersect with queer identities. I strive to promote a holistic, inclusive, and evidence-based approach to well-being, fostering a greater understanding of health as defined by embodied freedom within queer communities.
Abstract: Exploring multi-level influences within gay male ecosystems allows us to articulate access points to leisure time physical activity (LTPA) in retreat spaces. Using the socioecological framework as a lens offers insight into developing strategies to increase levels of LTPA in gay male communities. Increasing LTPA levels for a population experiencing vast health disparities will ultimately diminish global healthcare costs and improve health outcomes. The primary aim of this study is to understand which factors influence access to LTPA within gay male ecosystems. Additionally, we seek to understand factors within retreat experiences that influence lasting health outcomes beyond the physical implications of PA to inform retreat design. We administered demographic surveys and conducted in-depth interviews with 10 self-identifying gay and queer men recruited from a yoga retreat in Greece. This explorative study delivers three significant implications including health promotion strategies for communities experiencing diminished access to LTPA, syndicate program design for efficacious retreat models, and study design and discourse that promote the integration of the whole person with broad-spectrum socioecological dynamics to responsibly drive action and access to LTPA. Our results also showed a substantial influence of individual intrinsic motivation, societal financial resources, and intimate familial support as access points. Finally, results suggest community and human connection; and personal growth and healing are key aspects of retreat experiences. The personal narratives in this study may help deconstruct harmful wellness trends and establish impactful and accessible retreats to improve health outcomes for gay men.
Keywords: leisure-time physical activity, gay health disparities, Sociology, Public Health, exercise, recreational activity
Suggested Citation: Elkins, Jesse Strunk and Hopper, Lorenzo and Brown, Candace, Exploring Gay Male Ecosystems: Retreat-Based Leisure Time Physical Activity Access, Design, and Impact. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4525503 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4525503
Survey development, impact research, program implementation, and more.