35. Models that change: The study of gay identity development

K. Heng


Since the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 1974, a large number of models of gay identity development have been proposed in the literature. This is unique because for the first time, more attention was paid to the process of developing a gay identity rather than theorizing about the etiologies of homosexuality. This paper reviews the changes in thought found in the literature describing how one comes to develop a gay identity.
For the marginalized, identity development is generally described against a backdrop of stigma. Fortunately, our current society is very different from the hostile world that surrounded the APA in 1974: homosexuality is more tolerated and accepted, laws are less discriminatory, and gay role models are more abundant and accessible. As society has evolved, so too have its descriptive models. Shame and reluctance are found in Plumer’s (1975) and Lee’s (1977) models. Pride and activism appear in Hencken and O’Dowd’s (1977) and Cass’ (1979) models. Troiden (1989) mentions the fear of AIDS in his writings. Alderson’s (1998) model reflects a climate where religion, friends, and society can be catalysts in developing a positive identity. Taken together, these models are like time capsules containing clues as to the social conditions of the time.
As the rate of social evolution accelerates, it is doubtful that any model regarding marginalized individuals will ever become definitive. For the case of homosexuality, if and when its stigma is removed, then the defining feature of gay identity development is also removed. It is possible that in its place will be a general model of sexual identity development, where homosexual and heterosexual paths diverge innocently and quietly in a society that does not value one over the other.
Alderson K. The ecological model of gay male identity. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality 2003; 12(2):75-85.
Cass V. Homosexual identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality 1979; 4(3):219-35.
Troiden R. The formation of homosexual identities. Journal of Homosexuality 1989; 17(1/2):43-73.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.25011/cim.v30i4.2795


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