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Counseling and Wellness

A Model of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity Development

Stage 1: Sensitization

Occurs: Before Puberty

Characterized By: Feeling different “for some reason” from peers.

Results: Individual begins to make adjustments and view self in an atypical manner.

Movement to Next Stage: If individual is unable to maintain or reclaim a congruent identity at this stage, movement to the next stage occurs.

  • Feelings of differentness are usually associated with “gender” rather than “sex” at this age.
  • Children usually experience teasing or negative labeling for cross-gender traits (“sissies” or “tomboys”, etc.)

Stage 2: Identity Confusion

Occurs: In adolescence as individuals begin to label some behaviors as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual.

Characterized By: Feelings of differentness becoming more associated with sexuality.

Results: Stagnation as a closeted individual or movement towards acceptance of self.

Movement to Next Stage: If individual is unable to maintain or reclaim a congruent identity at this stage, movement to the next stage occurs.

  • Individuals begin to feel that there may not be an identity category for them.
  • Feelings of sexuality are difficult to accept as they may be dissimilar to those felt by majority of peers.
  • Teasing and harassment may continue.
  • Strategy to cope with confusion may take one or more of four different forms:
    • Denial – Simply deny feelings and impulses.
    • Avoidance – Staying away situations and people where these feeling may come up.
    • Repair – Active work to try and appear Straight to self and others.
    • Compartmentalization – Maintaining level that it is only my sexuality.
    • Acceptance – Integrate feelings and impulses as being part of the self.

This is the most difficult stage.


Stage 3: Identity Assumption

Occurs: Early Adulthood

Characterized By: Less feelings of social and personal isolation.

Results: Greater integration of the self with sexual identity.

Movement to Next Stage: Need for even more congruence and a feeling of wholeness.

  • Stability in family and friends is important in this stage as individuals begin to experiment in Being Out.
  • Typical problems at this stage are isolation and rejection and abandonment from family/friends.
  • AIDS has had the effect of delaying identity integration because of the irrational fear associated between AIDS and being Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual.
  • Management of stigma is important at this stage and may be accomplished in one or more of three ways:
    • Capitulation – Believes negative stereotypes, but still claims membership of the community.
    • Passing – Selective concealment of one’s identity.
    • Alignment – Immersion of the self in the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual communities.

Stage 4: Commitment & Integration

Occurs: Anytime in life after the first three stages have been experienced.

Characterized By: Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual becoming a way of being rather than only a description of one’s sexual behavior.

Results: Intimate love commitment and ability to identity oneself as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual to other individuals.

Movement to Next Stage: New situations, people, or stress due to trauma.

  • Individuals experience a feeling of greater happiness and self-satisfaction.
  • Management of stigma not handled through passing but by greater integration of one’s sexuality with one’s identity.

These Stages are crossed and re-crossed many times throughout one’s life.

  • Movement, experiences, and age of onset in these stages can differ depending on whether one is Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual.
  • There is a growing transgender movement that this model does not necessarily encompass.
  • This is a continual and cyclical model.

From: Troiden, R.R (1989). The formation of homosexual identities.  Journal of Homosexuality, 17, (1/2), 43-73).

(The original text is not inclusive of people who are Bisexual and has been adapted for the current text.)

Compiled by: Barry A. Schreier, Ph. D.