One of the more neglected topics openly discussed in the church is human sexuality. Throughout history the church has held a less-than-favorable view of sex and sexuality. More recently the church has begun accepting a healthier understanding of sex, albeit isolated to heterosexual marriage relationships. The church rarely openly discusses human sexuality and identity development. I have yet to experience a discussion on LGBT identity development in the church.
Identity development is directly linked to environmental influences. In a heterosexist society such as ours homosexual identity formation can be challenging. Not long ago I became aware of the Cass model of homosexual identity development. In 1979 Vivienne Cass published six stages of homosexual identity formation. It’s important to keep in mind not everyone navigates the stages congruently. Some people close themselves off (identity foreclosure) from continuing in the homosexual identity formation process. Identity foreclosure can happen at any stage in the formation process.
Stage 1: Identity Confusion
Some people say you are a product of your environment. To fit in with your surroundings you conform to societal norms. When thoughts, feelings, or even behaviors contradict societal norms you start questioning your identity. Haunted by the incongruence of your private self with public expectation you’re left wondering, “Who am I?” You can no longer live in the perceptions you once held, but you don’t yet know how to move forward. You feel trapped in an isolated confusion you think no one could understand.
Stage 2: Identity Comparison
Feeling alone and isolated you wonder if indeed you are homosexual. Still uncertain about how to process your self-perception in comparison with other’s perception of homosexuality you feel alienated. As a result, you recognize yourself as different. Not wanting to be different you keep up appearances. At this point, you may be experiencing an overwhelming sense of self-hatred. Maybe you’ve tried everything you can think of to change. Nothing seems to work. You struggle to see yourself for who you really are. All you can see is the disgust you believe others see in you. The lies fill your thoughts, but if you can move past them you will continue the journey to a healthy identity.
Stage 3: Identity Tolerance
Even though you may not accept your homosexual identity you are at least beginning to tolerate it. You want to connect with other homosexuals, if nothing more than to not feel alone. I recommend caution at this point. It’s important to realize the value of positive emotional connections with other homosexual people. Negative emotional connections can devalue your self-image. You need to find encouragement and support from mature homosexual role models with your best interests in mind. You may also seek out support and guidance from spiritual leaders you trust.
Stage 4: Identity Acceptance
As you explore what it means to be homosexual you begin to accept yourself for who you really are. You’re experiencing a greater sense of connection while feelings of isolation are fading. You are beginning to identify yourself as homosexual, or at least you accept your homosexual attractions. You start deciding who you want to come out to. Even though you accept your homosexuality you continue to compartmentalize your public behaviors to avoid negative reactions from others. Your self-preservation indicates the insecurities you continue to experience. You carefully select those with whom you share your secret.
Stage 5: Identity Pride
By this point your homosexual identity is solidified. You have identified and accepted yourself as different from heterosexual society. In fact, being homosexual has become your identity. You are “Gay and Proud!” Less interested in concealing your homosexuality you openly display your identity. Two emotions seem to play a significant role: pride and anger. You resist anyone who speaks out against homosexuality because you view it as an attack against you personally. You live with an “us against them” understanding of the world.
Stage 6: Identity Synthesis
As you experience love and acceptance from heterosexuals the more you realize sexuality is only a small part of your human identity. Your perceived dichotomy between heterosexual and homosexual worlds wanes. You recognize more clearly commonalities with heterosexuals instead of focusing on differences. No longer do you define yourself as gay or lesbian. Instead, you become increasingly aware of the complexity of self that makes up your identity. Continuing on this journey will lead to maturity.
Regardless where you are in this journey you are not alone. There are countless people walking this journey with you. Reach out to others for support and encouragement. You may certainly reach out to me by completing the contact form on this site. If you are a LGBTQ ally please share this post with your LGBTQ friends. You can find more information about homosexual identity formation by clicking here.
Cass, Vivienne C. Homosexual Identity Formation: A Theoretical Model. Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 4(3), Spring 1979.