Homosexual Identity Formation

201508_gay_01The 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 behavioural 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.

eros_gg_nude_s_027Within 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.

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“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 behaviours 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).

eros_gg_nude_s_003Normal homosexual behaviour 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 behaviour; attractions or behaviours do not mean that an adolescent is lesbian or gay. Moreover sexual activity is a behaviour, whereas sexual orientation is a component of identity. Many teens experience a broad range of sexual behaviours that are incorporated into an evolving sexual identity consolidated over a period of time.” (Ryan and Futterman, Lesbian and Gay Youth, p.10)

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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 one’s 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.

homosexual - gay identity

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 re-contextualizing 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).

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“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 than 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.

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