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Theories on LGBTQ Development

Vivienne Case “Homosexual Identity Model”

In 1979 Vivienne Cass released her “Homosexual Identity Model” based on her empirical research of gays and lesbians in Australia. Her model has been used in higher education as the standard for discussing the identity development for gay and lesbian college students.

It is important to note that this is a stage model, meaning, according to Cass, the individual progresses along this path. An individual may take several years to get through a particular stage and may never make it to stage 6. Finally “foreclosure” (when an individual denies their identity or hides it from others) can occur in any stage and halt the process.

Stage 1: Identity Awareness
-The individual is aware of being “different.”

Stage 2: Identity Comparison
-The individual compares their feelings and emotions to those they identify as heterosexual.

Stage 3: Identity Tolerance
-The individual tolerates their identity as being non-heterosexual.

Stage 4: Identity Acceptance
-The individual accepts their new identity and begins to become active in the “gay community.”

Stage 5: Identity Pride
-The individual becomes proud of their identity and becomes fully immersed in “gay culture.”

Stage 6: Identity Synthesis
-The individual fully accepts their identity and synthesizes their former “heterosexual life” and their new identity.

**Please note this model is based on research of predominantly white gay men and lesbian women of high to middle class status. This stage model is not necessarily reflective of the process a bisexual or transgender individual may go through. Ultimately, this stage model may not be applicable to everyone.

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Anthony D’Augelli “Homosexual Lifespan Development Model”

In 1994 D’Augelli released his “Homosexual Lifespan Development Model.” This model is not a stage model, meaning an individual may experience these different processes at different times and they can occur multiple times.

Homosezual Lifespan Development Model
  • Exiting a Heterosexual Identity— Realization of an identity other than what society has deemed “normal.”
  • Developing a Personal LGB Identity Status—The process of coming out to one’s self and identifying to one's self as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
  • Developing a LGB Social Identity—The process of sharing a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity (or coming out) to friends.
  • Claiming an Identity as a LGB Offspring—The process of coming out to parents or guardians.
  • Developing a LGB Intimacy Status—The process of forming intimate relationships with people of the same sex.
  • Entering a LGB Community—Coming out in multiple areas of one’s life and being active within the community, including going to events, bars, clubs, organizations, etc.

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McCarn-Fassinger “Lesbian Identity Development”

In 1996 McCarn-Fassinger developed the “Lesbian Identity Development” Model, which looks at both identity development from a personal perspective and a group perspective.

  • Awareness
    • Individual Awareness of feeling or being different
      • Gay: “I wonder if there is something strange about me?”
      • Lesbian: “I feel pulled toward women in ways that I don’t understand”
    • Group Awareness of different sexual orientations in people
      • Gay: “I had no idea how many gay people there are out there!”
      • Lesbian: “I had no idea there were lesbian/gay people out there.”
  • Exploration
    • Individual Exploration of strong, erotic feelings for people of the same sex (or a particular person of the same sex)
      • Gay: “I want to be closer to men (or a certain man).”
      • Lesbian: “The way I feel makes me think I’d like to be sexual with a woman.”
    • Group Exploration of one’s position regarding lesbians/gays as a group (both attitudes and membership)
      • Gay: “I think a lot about fitting in as a gay man and developing my own gay style.”
      • Lesbian: “Getting to know lesbian/gay people is scary but exciting.”
  • Deepening/Commitment
    • Individual Commitment to self-knowledge, self-fulfillment, and crystallization of choices about sexuality.
      • Gay: “I might be willing to live with a male lover.”
      • Lesbian: “ I clearly feel more intimate sexually and emotionally with women than with men.”
    • Group Commitment to personal involvement with referenced groups, with awareness of oppression and consequences of choices.
      • Gay: “I get angry at the way heterosexuals talk about and treat lesbians and gays.”
      • Lesbian: “Sometimes I have been mistreated because of my lesbianism.”
  • Internalization/Synthesis
    • Individual Synthesis of love for women or men, sexual choices, into overall identity
      • Gay: “I feel deep commitment about my love for other men.”
      • Lesbian: “I am deeply fulfilled by my relationships with women.”
    • Group Synthesis of identity as a member of a minority group, across contexts
      • Gay: “I rely on my gay/lesbian friends for support, but I have some good heterosexual friends as well.”
      • Lesbian: “I feel comfortable with my lesbianism no matter where I am or who I am with.”

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Arlene Istar Lev “Transgender Emergence Model”

In 2004 Lev released their “Transgender Emergence Model.” This model is a stage model that looks at how trans people come to understand their identity.  Lev is writing from a counseling/therapeutic point of view and this model talks about not only what the individual is going through, but the responsibility of the counselor.

  • Awareness – In this first stage of awareness, gender-variant people are often in great distress; the therapeutic task is the normalization of the experiences involved in emerging as transgender.
  • Seeking Information/Reaching Out – In the second stage, gender-variant people seek to gain education and support about transgenderism; the therapeutic task is to facilitate linkages and encourage outreach.
  • Disclosure to Significant Others – The third stage involves the disclosure of transgenderism to significant others (spouses, partners, family members, and friends); the therapeutic task involves supporting the transgendered person’s integration in the family system.
  • Exploration (Identity & Self-Labeling) – The fourth stage involves the exploration of various (transgender) identities; and the therapeutic task is to support the articulation and comfort with one’s gendered identity.
  • Exploration (Transition Issues & Possible Body Modification) – The fifth stage involves exploring options for transition regarding identity, presentation, and body modification; the therapeutic task is the resolution of the decision and advocacy toward their manifestation.
  • Integration (Acceptance & Post-Transition Issues) – In the sixth stage the gender-variant person is able to integrate and synthesis (transgender) identity; the therapeutic task is to support adaptation to transition-related issues.

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