Homosexual Identity Formation

Tuesday 11 April 2017.

Homosexual Identity Formation

The past 25 years we have seen an increasing number of studies concerning homosexuality. These studies have dealt with both the positive and negative effects of homosexuality. There has been a focused attempt to validate homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle. This research is both good and bad, in that what is being studied itself is a new concept; a gay identity. More importantly this research is questionable because of the motives of the researchers themselves, many who have accepted a gay identity and adopted a homosexual lifestyle. The research has tended to emphasize the uniqueness of this gay identity. In doing so they have created highly specialized bodies of theory and research that are isolated from general fields of study. This is a common problem of all new fields of studies. Still we must be especially careful in researching homosexuality because we are dealing with life-long consequences in the lives of people who are choosing to accept what has always fallen and continually falls outside the bounds of societal norms.

Psychological theory, which should be employed to described only individual mental, emotional, and behavioral aspects of homosexuality, has been employed for building models of personal developmental that purport to mark the steps in an individual’s progression toward a mature and egosyntonic gay or lesbian identity. The embracing and disclosing of such an identity, however, is best understood as a political phenomenon occurring in a historical period during which identity politics has become a consuming occupation. (De Cecco & Parker, The Biology of Homosexuality: Sexual Orientation or Sexual Preference? p. 20 in Sex, Cells, and Same-Sex Desire: The Biology of Sexual Preference edited by De Cecco and Parker)

While some suggest that identity has become a watchword of our times as it provides a much needed vocabulary in terms of how we define our loyalties and commitments (Shotter, 1993), others suggest that identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis. In this sense the crisis of identity occur, as Mercer suggests, when something we assume to be fixed, coherent and stable is displaced by the experience of doubt and uncertainty.
Within much of the recent social-scientific work on the topic, the notion of identity as fixed, neutral and unproblematic has been questioned. As Kitzinger (1998) suggests, rather than viewing identities as freely created products of introspection, or the reflections of some unproblematic inner self, they are more accurately understood as being profoundly political, both in origins and implications.
(Heaphy, Medicalisation and Identity Formation: Identity and Strategy in the Context of AIDS and HIV, p.139; article found in the following book by Weeks and Holland editors. Sexual Cultures Communities, Values, and Intimacy)

I am especially concerned with the theorizing and promoting the concept of the formation of a homosexual/gay identity. Individuals who have always been at a difficult stage of life, adolescents, are being encouraged to accept this idea of a homosexual/gay identity. Adolescence is a period of immense physical, mental, psychosocial change and development in life. An adolescent is one that is no longer a child, but not yet mature enough to understand the changes going on. This is a confusing time in life, a time of questioning. A period of time for an individual who wants to remain close to their parents and at the same time is seeking independence. It is during this period of life that sexual and emotional bonding is beginning to develop, typically along societal norms towards members of the opposite sex. There is also same-sex sexual physical activity that often takes place among adolescent males. But for some, a sexual confusion may arise, and they feel attracted to members of their own sex.

Although turmoil theory has been largely refuted, adolescence is still noted for its dynamic changes in physical and psychological development, parental relations, self-esteem, identity formation, and cognitive development. It is a time of pervasive adjustment to the vicissitude of the inner self and the adult world. (Mills, The Psychoanalytic Perspective of Adolescent Homosexuality: A Review, p. 913)

Homosexual activities are behaviors that are common in adolescence and which may progressively contribute to sexual orientation and identity. Like masturbation, homosexual activity may be a means of experimentation and self-exploration. The fantasies which accompany masturbation and allow the adolescent to safely try out sexual possibilities and help him or her manage infantile sexual propensities which surface at this time of development. Early adolescent homosexuality carries this process further to include another person who aids in the process of self-discovery. Within this narcissistic alliance, homosexual activity offers opportunities for comparison, information gathering, experimentation reassurance, and help in dealing with guilt over infantile wishes (Glasser, 1977).
Normal homosexual behavior in early adolescent boys is distinguished from its counterpart in that there is a strong preponderance of strong heterosexual interest in the homosexual activity (Glasser, 1977). Homosexual experimentation allows early adolescent boys to imagine what girls are like and how they should be approach sexually. This experimentation also helps them to integrate their own feminine identifications into their own personality. Another element of normal adolescent homosexual activity is that sexual acts with older men are considered forbidden and taboo. Young boys who experiment with homosexual activities view themselves as very different from adult homosexuals and look upon these men with disdain.
(Mills, The Psychoanalytic Perspective of Adolescent Homosexuality: A Review, p. 918-919)

Homosexual activities and homosexual identity in adolescence should be viewed differently in terms of their consequences. As a person progresses through the various stages of adolescent development, homosexual experimentation can be a means of self-discovery and ameliorating infantile conflict. Normatively, by the time the person reaches late adolescence, these homosexual tendencies and activities have abated and been replaced with a heterosexual orientation. (Mills,The Psychoanalytic Perspective of Adolescent Homosexuality: A Review, p.921)

Adolescence is a time of exploration and experimentation; as such sexual activity, does not necessarily reflect either present or future sexual orientation. Confusion about sexual identity is not uncommon in adolescents. Many youth engage in same-sex behavior; attractions or behaviors do not mean that an adolescent is lesbian or gay. Moreover, sexual activity is a behavior, whereas sexual orientation is a component of identity. Many teens experience a broad range of sexual behaviors that are incorporated into an evolving sexual identity consolidated over a period of time. (Ryan and Futterman, Lesbian and Gay Youth, p.10)

In order to try to understand this idea, the concepts of sexual orientation and a homosexual/gay identity have been theorized. A variety of developmental stage models for a homosexual/gay identity formation have been formulated within recent years. All of these models accept and promote the concept of coming out, which is a public annunciation of accepting a homosexual/gay identity.

Identity, according to Troiden, is a label which people apply to themselves and which is representative of the self in a specific social situation. Frequently, identity refers to placement in a social category, such as homosexual, gender group, and so on. (Cox and Gallios, Gay and Lesbian Identity Developmental: A Social Identity Perspective, p. 3)

The process of assuming a self-definition as a lesbian, gay, and bisexual is commonly referred to as coming out. . . . The term coming out originates in gay and lesbian culture. . . . Thus the term coming out, as used in the gay and lesbian community and in the gay liberation movement, has always implied some level of public declaration of ones homosexuality. (Appleby and Anastas, Not Just a Passing Phase, p. 66)

Coming out is viewed as the developmental process through which an individual recognizes their sexual preference for members of their own sex, and choosing to integrate this knowledge into their personal lives.
Taken together, they describe a progression from vague awareness of difference, through a gradual definition of sexual feelings, to identification with a social category, and sometimes beyond to a recontextualizing stage. These developmental models affirm the idea that the homosexual orientation is an inner potential, waiting to be discovered and expressed.
(Lipkin, Understanding Homosexuality, Changing Schools A Text for Teachers, Counselors, and Administrators. p. 101)

The common assumption is that GLB identities develop as individuals work through conflicts and stresses that are related to their sexual orientation. Resolving feelings of inner confusion, ambivalence, and fear of rejection, they gradually consolidate a affirmative sense of self that enables them to accept and express their same-gender feelings. It is hypothesized that this process is organized in a developmental sequence of stages that is delineated in a somewhat different way by each of the various models. (Elizur & Ziv, Family Support and Acceptance, Gay Male Identity Formation, and Psychological Adjustment: A Path Model, p.127)

As with all new fields of study, there are differing and some-times contradicting ideas or theories. It is clearly seen that humans grow developmentally physically, emotionally, and mentally. This is how a gay identity is theorized to occur, in developmental stages. The scholarship on the formation of these theories primarily occurred in the fields of psychology (Cass) and sociology (Coleman and Troiden).

During the past decade, several investigators have proposed theoretical models that attempt to explain the formation of homosexualities (Cass 1979, 1984; Coleman 1982; Lee 1977; Ponse 1978; Schafer1976; Troiden 1977,1979; Weinberg 1977,1978). Although the various models propose different numbers of stages to explain homosexual identity formation, they describe strikingly similar patterns of growth and change as major hallmarks of homosexual identity development. First, nearly all models view homosexual identity formation as taking place against a backdrop of stigma. The stigma surrounding homosexuality affects both the formation and expression of homosexual identities. Second, homosexual identities are described as developing over a protracted period and involving a number of "growth points or changes" that may be ordered into a series of stages (Cass 1984). Third, homosexual identity formation involves increasing acceptance of the label "homosexual as applied to the self. Fourth, although coming out begins when individuals define themselves as homosexual, lesbians and gay males typically report an increased desire over time to disclose their homosexual identity to at least some members of an expanding series of audiences. Thus, coming out, or identity disclosure, takes place at a number of levels: to self, to other homosexuals, to heterosexual friends, to family, to coworkers, and to the public at large (Coleman 1982; Lee 1977). Fifth, lesbians and gays develop "increasingly personalized and frequent” social contacts with other homosexuals over time. (Cass 1984) (Garnets & Kimmel, Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Male Experiences, p.195)

Clinical and developmental psychologists first proposed coming-out models or sexual identity models over two decades ago. These theoretical constructions described the advent of a same-sex identity through a series of invariant steps or stages by which individuals recognize, make sense of, give a name to, and publicize their status as lesbian or gay (bisexuality is seldom addressed). The reification of these master models to explain nonheterosexuality remains popular today. Although diverse in conceptual underpinnings, they are nearly universal in their stage sequences and assumptions regarding the ways in which youths move from a private, at times unknown, same-sex sexuality to a public, integrated sexuality. (Savin-Williams, Mom, Dad, I’m Gay p.16)

Three models of homosexual/gay identity formation will be looked at and then, one person’s merger of all three models into a mega-model will be discussed. All models are based on adult recollections. Coleman and Troiden have been accused of male bias with their models. Also Horowitz and Newcomb in their article, A Multidimensional Approach to Homosexual Identity write that Troiden and Coleman have no empirical validation whatsoever to their theorized models of homosexual/gay identity formation. These stage models tend to be linear in nature and are over simplistic. In doing so they thus tend to deny the wide range and variety of individual homosexual experiences.


The first person to formulate and publish a theory on a homosexual identity formation was V.C. Cass in 1979. At the time, she formulated her theory Cass was a Clinical Psychologist at Murdoch University in Western Australia. Cass’s model for homosexual/gay identity development uses six stages. Her model is non-age specific and is not linear. The individual may be in more than one stage at a time and also, they may return to a previous stage. There are six stages in her theory of homosexual identity formation.

1) Identity confusion. Am I a homosexual? In this first stage an individual begins to recognize that I may be different. The basis is on behavior, actions, feelings, and or thoughts in which he may think he is different from others. These perceived differences may be labeled homosexual. Resulting emotional tension may be experienced in the form of confusion, bewilderment, anxiety, etc. This emotional tension arises because now there is the knowledge of a difference between homosexual and heterosexual. There are three possible paths an individual may take for resolution of this identity confusion. This homosexual identity can be rejected and resisted, by avoiding behaviors that are perceived to be homosexual and by shutting out information that might confirm a homosexual identity. A second path would be that this identity is accepted as legitimate, but yet undesirable. The third possible path would be to accept the homosexual identity and evaluate it as desirable.

2) Identity comparison. I may be a homosexual. An individual’s reaction to being different may be positive, while the individual continues to hide their acceptance of being a homosexual from others. They may do this by trying to act as a heterosexual. The individual may also have a negative reaction to being different, seeking to avoid gay behavior, gay identity or both, and this may result in self-hatred. While comparing themselves to being homosexual, there is the possibility of feeling alienated from heterosexual peers, family, and community, while also having a sense of not belonging to another community of similar people.

3) Identity tolerance. I am probably a homosexual. In this stage an individual begins to tolerate a homosexual identity, seeking out contact and acceptance from other homosexuals. The type of contact will influence self-esteem and social skills. Self-affirming interaction can lead to the next stage. However, purely sexual contact, and without a gay identity or positive socialization, may result in stunted development and possibly be very damaging.

4) Identity acceptance: I am a homosexual. Relationships within the family and with others may be problematic. He may reveal to some people he is a homosexual, while denying it to others. Social acceptance or rejection of this accepted homosexual identity continues to cause problems for the individual as he tries to live in two worlds.

5) Identity pride: There is a strong personal acceptance of this homosexual identity. Though negative reactions by others may shake pride, a stronger identification and interaction with other homosexuals encourages pride in accepting a homosexual/gay identity. As shame diminishes in accepting a homosexual/gay identity, hiding one’s identity is questioned. In this stage, one may have an us versus them or straight versus queer attitude. This also includes the possibly strong tension between interacting with more groups.

6) Identity synthesis: Sexual orientation no longer is the main determinant of one’s identity. Homosexuality is viewed as one part of a multifaceted self. There is an ongoing reevaluation of keeping a homosexual/gay identity separated from the other segments of one’s identity. This is when the individual fully accepts the homosexual/gay identity.


Eli Coleman in 1982, proposed a model that has five stages, for the formation of a homosexual/gay identity. When Coleman first wrote about homosexuality/gay identity formation he was associated with the University of Minnesota Medical School. He is a psychologist and sex therapist, who has also served on the editorial board for the Journal of Homosexuality.

1) Pre-coming out. This is often a slow and painful process. Within this process there is a preconscious awareness of an attraction to members of the same sex. In this first stage the individual may reject, deny, or repress his homosexuality. He is aware of stigma, and does not want to admit, perhaps even to himself, that he might be or is a homosexual. The stress of dealing with these feelings may result in depression and can lead to suicide.

2) Coming out. This stage begins in an initial acceptance of and a reconciliation to their homosexuality. The first expression to others, which includes a positive response, particularly from family or close friends may lead to greater comfort and wider disclosure. Conversely a negative response could send the individual back to stage one. Now hiding from oneself requires even greater levels of denial than before.

3) Exploration. Now the individual experiments with their new identity both sexually and socially. They begin contact with others in the gay community. There is often a homosexual adolescence which includes promiscuity, infatuation, courtship, and rejection. For the older individual, there is the possibility of shame at the seemingly immature impulses. If one then assumes this stage is representative of their future gay life, they might try to flee.

4) First relationship. A sense of attraction and sexual competence may lead to the desire for deeper and more lasting relationships. It requires skills to maintain a same-gender connection in a hostile environment. The intense expectations, passiveness, and mistrust can doom a first relationship. One partner may rebel by pursing sex outside the relationship.

5) Integration. In this final stage the individual sees themselves as a fully functioning person in their society. The individual’s public and private selves become congruent. A growing self-acceptance leads to a greater confidence and the ability to sustain relationships. As openness and caring increase possessiveness and mistrust diminishes. Though rejection is grieved, it is not devastating.


In 1989 Richard Troiden theorized a third model for the formation of a homosexual/gay identity. Troiden uses an age specific four-stage model for developing a homosexual identity. He was an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Miami University in Oxford, OH when he developed his theory of homosexual identity formation. Troiden is a gay sociologist. His model uses sociological theory, which represents a synthesis and elaboration on previous research. He called his model an ideal-typical model of gay identity acquisition. To obtain data for his theory Troidan interviewed 150 gay men. Participants to be interviewed were gained by using a snowball technique that is they were found by word of mouth.

Stage 1. Sensitization. This stage occurs before puberty, and is generally not seen in a sexual context. Rather, heterosexuality is accepted as the norm. So there is no homosexual/heterosexual labeling to one’s feelings or behaviors. What is noted is gender conformity or nonconformity to activities. Though there are generalized feelings of marginality and perceptions of being different then their same-sex peers. These perceptions are seen primarily in childhood social experiences. It is the subsequent meanings and labeling of childhood experiences, rather than the experiences themselves, which are significant in the sensitization stage.

Stage 2: Identity Confusion. In this stage, there is a confusion of identities. As specific things become personalized and sexualized during adolescence an individual may begin reflecting on the idea that their feelings and behaviors could be regarded as homosexual. As a result, there is inner turmoil and uncertainty around their ambiguous sexual status. No longer is a heterosexual identity seen as a given, and as of yet there is, no developed perceptions of having a homosexual identity. There are several factors responsible for this identity confusion. One is an altered perception of self. There is now along with gender experiences, genital and emotional experiences that set them apart from same-sex peers. Added confusion is seen when responding to both heterosexual and homosexual feelings and experiences. A third factor is the stigma surrounding homosexuality. An additional factor is ignorance and inaccurate knowledge about a social category for these behaviors and feelings. How does one become a member of this category?

Stage 3. Identity Assumption. A homosexual/gay identity becomes both a self-identity and a presented identity. Now that this homosexual/gay identity is tolerated, there is association with other homosexuals, exploration of a homosexual subculture, and sexual experimentation. Although a homosexual identity is assumed during this stage, it is first tolerated, and it is accepted later.

Stage 4: Commitment. An individual adopts homosexuality as a way of life. There is a self-acceptance and a comfort with a homosexual/gay identity. More emphasis is placed on this identity being a way of life, state of being, and an essential identity than a set of behaviors or sexual orientation.


One of the most recent attempts to theorize a homosexual identity model is by Arthur Lipkin in his book, Understanding Homosexuality, Changing Schools A Text for Teachers, Counselors, and Administrators. Lipkin is graduated from Harvard University, taught in public schools in Cambridge, MA. He is an instructor and research associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Using the three models just discussed, Lipkin combines them into a mega-model of five stages.

"1. Pre-Sexuality (Troiden 1)
Preadolescent nonsexual feelings of difference and marginality.

2. Identity Questioning (Coleman 1; Cass 1, 2; Troiden 2)
Ambiguous, repressed, sexualized same-gender feelings and/or activities. Avoidance of stigmatized label.

3. Coming Out (Coleman 2, 3, 4; Cass 3, 4; Troiden 3)
Toleration then acceptance of identity through contact with gay/lesbian individuals and culture. Exploration of sexual possibilities and first erotic relationships. Careful, selective self-disclosure outside gay /lesbian community.

4. Pride (Coleman 5; Cass 5; Troiden 4)
Integration of sexuality into self. Capacity for love relationships. Wider self-disclosure and better stigma management.

5. Post-Sexuality (Cass 6)
A diminishment of centrality of homosexuality in self-concept and social relations."

(Lipkin, Understanding Homosexuality, Changing Schools A Text for Teachers, Counselors, and Administrators, p. 103-104)

Weaknesses of the theories

Now that these models, which theorize the formation of a homosexual/gay identity, have been discussed, let us look at some of the problems, limitations, and pitfalls that even those authors advocating for homosexuality themselves warn about.

One of the problems with a linear model is that it is assumed that those who reach the final stage have all passed through the same series of steps. Research designed to document stage-sequential models, however, reveal diversity as well as patterns; the more specific the stages or steps were in a given model, the less likely the stages matched the experiences of the different individuals under study (Sophie, 1986) (Heyl, Homosexuality: A Social Phenomenon, p. 331 in Human Sexuality: The Societal and Interpersonal Context, Kathleen McKinney and Susan Sprecher)

Almost everything known about the coming out process is in question, such as how it happens (e. g., a discovered essential lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity or a socially constructed identity), when it happens, its order or disorder, and whether there is an end state to the process or whether it is always open-ended. (Hunter, Shannon, Knox and Martin, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youths and Adults, p. 67)

All of these theories are retrospective in nature, based on homosexual male adults recalling their childhood. We are talking about adults adding labels and definitions to childhood feelings, emotions, behaviors, etc. The young child expresses his experiences in terms of gender conforming/nonconforming behavior and not sexual behavior. A young child may have a perception of being different from his peers, but he does not have the vocabulary to express it. It is during puberty and throughout adolescence, when these feelings and behaviors become sexualized. Also, they now have the vocabulary to begin seeing themselves as heterosexual or homosexual. The cultural stigma towards homosexuality now has greater meaning. Adding to their confusion are the many sexual stimuli, and as well as the fact that the adolescent body usually responds to both homosexual and heterosexual cues. There is a blurring of sexual cues, emotional and physical responses in adolescence, and one may be attracted toward members of both sexes. It is a very confusing time for them.

Notwithstanding these contributions, identity formation models have come under increasing criticism during the last decade for: (a) over-emphasizing the differences between gay/ lesbian and heterosexual families, and under-emphasizing the diversity among the former (Laird, 1993) and (b) not being sufficiently sensitive to the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which GLB identity formation occurs (Boxer & Cohler, 1989; Cox & Gallois, 1996; Eliason, 1996). There are significant variations among these models and discrepancies have been found between the proposed developmental sequences and the experiences of GLB respondents (Eliason, 1996; Herdt, 1996; Sophie, 1985/1986). (Elizur & Ziv, Family Support and Acceptance, Gay Male Identity Formation, and Psychological Adjustment: A Path Model, p.128)

Much of the research on same-sex identity formation presumes some underlying and stable core trait of sexual orientation that is expressed or experienced and that then leads to the formation of an identity based upon the available social categories (Cass, 1979; Coleman, 1981/1982b; Troiden, 1979). Thus, such models tend to be linear, positing a single pathway and set sequence of stages in development of such an identity and defining a specific end objective to this process. Especially in earlier models of gay and lesbian identity formation, the progression through such stages is freighted with moralistic and social/political overtones. These models of identity development typically ignore the potential for ongoing shifts in identity across the life course and fail to critically examine cultural assumptions that underlie such developmental schemes. (Savin-Williams & Cohen. The Lives of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals Children to Adults, p.442-443)

One reason for the failure of the specific stage theories to account for the diversity of experience of participants is the assumption of linearity which underlies these theories. (Sophie, A Critical Examination of Stage Theories of Lesbian Identity Formation, p. 50)

Troiden himself cautions against taking his model of a homosexual identity formation too literally. As a whole these models are largely descriptive and atheoretical. These models are gross generalizations, ideal types, which vary from individual to individual. It is not a one size fits all model. In doing so they neglect to identify how the individual identity develops in relation to group identity. Research that has included female subjects has yielded some apparent differences in development between lesbians and gay males. The research data was taken from small sample sizes and without heterosexual comparison groups, i.e. individuals acquiring a heterosexual orientation. The use of stage models inherently applies linearity, with implication to an end state and carries the risk of model reification. What is being observed now is that these theories of homosexual/gay identity formation may not be applicable to generations after the generational cohort that entered adolescence in the 1960s and 1970s. The experiences of adolescents in the 1990s who acquire a homosexual/gay identity are in a more rapid manner. This may be due in part because of the coming out of earlier generations. Or it may be because these theories of homosexual/gay identity formation are not a faithful rendering of the process individuals actually have gone through. These models of homosexual/gay identity formation are relatively silent on the psychological processes occurring in gay and lesbian individuals before the discrete and dramatic process termed coming out.

Most profoundly they are true – at least in a universal sense. Although a linear progression is intuitively appealing, extant research suggests it seldom characterizes the lives of real sexual-minority youth. (Savin-Williams, Mom, Dad, I’m Gay p.16)

Although coming-out models are inherently male-centric, recent research suggests that they do not even characterize the lives of current cohorts of males with same-sex attraction. (Savin-Williams, Mom, Dad, I’m Gay p.17)

Perhaps the most critical weakness of these models of homosexual/gay identity formation is that these developmental stage models assume an essential theoretical orientation, sexual identity involves learning what one is and that a homosexual is a form of being. Yet advocates for these theories of homosexual identity try to deny this underlying assumption of homosexual essentiality. This is how Troiden tries to express it in the following quotes.

First, gay identities are not viewed as being acquired in an absolute, fixed, or final sense. One of the main assumptions of this model is that identity is never fully acquired, but is always somewhat incomplete, forever subject to modification. (Troiden, Born Gay? A Critical review of Biological Research on Homosexuality, p.372)

Nor is the model meant to convey the idea that gay identity development is inevitable for those who experience the first stages. Rather, each stage is viewed as making the acquisition of a gay identity more probable, but not as an inevitable determinant. (Troiden, Born Gay? A Critical review of Biological Research on Homosexuality, p.372)

t is quite possible that as adolescents, young adults, or even as adults, a relatively large number of males consciously test the extent in which they may be sexually attracted to other men. As a consequence of such sexual experimentation, a substantial number of males may decide that homosexuality is not for them and choose to leave the scene entirely. (Troiden, Born Gay? A Critical review of Biological Research on Homosexuality, p. 372)

The earlier discussion of esentialism verses social constructionism views of homosexuality is once again seen here in our present discussion of these models of the formation of a homosexuality/gay identity. Savin-Williams and Cohen who advocate for homosexuality write about this in their book.

Much of the research on same-sex identity formation presumes some underlying and stable core trait of sexual orientation that is expressed or experienced and that then leads to the formation of an identity based upon the available social categories (Cass, 1979; Coleman, 1981/1982b; Troiden, 1979). Thus, such models tend to be linear, positing a single pathway and set sequence of stages in development of such an identity and defining a specific end objective to this process. Especially in earlier models of gay and lesbian identity formation, the progression through such stages is freighted with moralistic and social/political overtones. These models of identity development typically ignore the potential for ongoing shifts in identity across the life course and fail to critically examine cultural assumptions that underlie such developmental schemes. (Savin-Williams & Cohen. The Lives of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals Children to Adults, p.442-443)

Humans grow and mature physically, emotionally, sexually and in mental capacity. It is evident that we grow in developmental stages, yet what is not so evident is what can be contributed to nature versus nurture. Is one born a homosexual or did one learn homosexuality. We have the capacity to respond both positively and negatively to a variety of stimuli. These outcomes are visible to others and to the individual himself.

Applying these to our sexuality we will realize many interesting things. Sexuality is primarily a learned cultural phenomenon. We must be aware that our physical bodies will respond sexually to a variety of stimuli, just as it responds to many sensory stimuli. We are living and growing beings.

The research on identity development documented not only that individuals followed different paths for reaching new identities, but also that identities, once formed, were not always as stable and permanent as people had thought they would be. Golden (1987) concludes that the assumption that we inherently strive for congruence between our sexual feelings, activities, and identities may not be warranted, and that given the fluidity of sexual feelings, congruence may not be an achievable state (p.31). Thus, behavior, emotions, and identities do not necessarily develop into stable packages that can be easily labeled as heterosexual, gay or lesbian, or even bisexual, even though the individual or the society or the gay community might desire such consistency. (Heyl, Homosexuality: A Social Phenomenon, p. 333 in Human Sexuality: The Societal and Interpersonal Context, Kathleen McKinney and Susan Sprecher)

Thus, the process of the development of a lesbian identity or a change in sexual orientation in general, must be viewed in context of current social and historical conditions. (Sophie, A Critical Examination of Stage Theories of Lesbian Identity Formation, p.50)

Existing sociocultural arrangements define what sexuality is, the purposes it serves, its manner of expression, and what it means to be sexual. (Troiden in, Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Male Experiences, p.191)

Because sexual learning occurs within specific historical eras and sociocultural settings, sexual conduct and its meanings vary across history and among cultures. (Troiden in, Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Male Experiences p.192)

Developmental stage models have traditionally been used to describe the process necessary to arrive at a healthy homosexual identity, a healthy homosexual is always considered the final stage of the model and requires integrating homosexuality into broader personal identity. Anything short of this integration is judged to be incomplete or less than optimal outcome. (Horowitz and Newcomb, A Multidimensional Approach to Homosexual Identity, p.2)

We must therefore take a very cautious approach to the use of theories, such as a homosexual identity to validate homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle to adolescents, who are themselves in a very confusing time in their lives. How does one separate the behavior from the identity?

Self-categorization is not merely an act of self-labeling, but adoption over time of the normative (prototypical behavior, characteristics, and values associated with the particular group membership. (Cox and Gallios, Gay and Lesbian Identity Developmental: A Social Identity Perspective, p. 11)

Sexual behavior plays a significant role in the development of sexual-minority (gay and bisexual) males. Research spanning the last three decades illustrate that sexual-minority males exhibit greater sexual freedom-engage in more sex with partners (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983), meeting more partners in highly sexualized environments (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983), approving of sex without love (Klinkenberg & Rose, 1994; Lever, 1994; Tripp, 1975), reporting more sex partners (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Lever, 1994), and developing sexually nonexclusive romantic relationships (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Kurdek, 1989, McWhirter & Mattison, 1984)-than their heterosexual and lesbian counterparts. Extant research suggests that sexual behavior facilitates the development of close relationships and the garnering of friends (Klinkenberg & Rose, 1993; Nardi, 1992). (Dube, The Role of Sexual Behavior in the Identification Process of Gay and Bisexual Male, p. 123)

More importantly if the final stage of these models is a healthy homosexual the truth of the matter as seen in the lives of many of those who have accepted a homosexual identity reveals the failure of these models.


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