Saturday, November 20, 2010
Cass’ Model of Sexual Identity Formation Summarized by Amanda May
Summary of Theory
Cass (1979) introduced this theoretical model for sexual identity formation to help answer “how an individual acquires a homosexual identity” (p. 219). She later tested this model in 1984 and added a seventh stage called the pre-stage, which is categorized by not associating yourself as being gay or lesbian. The original six stages are as follows: identity confusion, identity comparison, identity tolerance, identity acceptance, identity pride, and identity synthesis. Individuals begin this process of identity formation when they perceive a thought, feeling, or behavior may be perceived as gay or lesbian. This process can end at any point, when the individual chooses to no longer develop; known as identity foreclosure. However, if the person proceeds to sixth stage, identity synthesis, their public and private selves will become one. It is in this stage that individuals no longer feel this new sexual identity is the only thing that defines them but there are many different aspects that make them whole.
Cass believed that a person’s perception of his or her environment played a large role in how they would fall within these stages. Movement throughout the stages depends on how a behavior was perceived to affect the person, their definition of self, and how he or she views how others perceived it. Attempting to resolve the dissonance one is experiencing will be a motivating force to push the individual into the next stage. Individuals may experience stages differently than others, depending on their perception of the dissonance and the different pathway chosen.
Application in Higher Education
It is important to understand the different stages of this theory to help students that may be experiencing one of the stages. Since, alienation and distress are common during some of these stages of identity formation, it is important as student affairs professionals to make sure there are resources for students. Promoting gay or lesbian clubs or social events is essential to help alleviate some of the feelings of alienation. Also, it is important to make sure we are listening to students and refer them to appropriate resources when necessary. More research is needed on how this theory relates to students in higher education.
Halpin, S. A., & Allen, M. W. (2004). Changes in psychosocial well-being during stages of gay identity development. Journal of Homosexuality, 47(2), 109-126.
The authors of this article wanted to examine if there was a relationship between Cass’ Model of Homosexual Identity Formation (1979) and a person’s psychosocial well-being. The participants of this study were 425 men, ages 12-64, who indicated a sexual preference to other men. It was discovered that individuals in the middle stages of gay identity development had the lowest scores, whereas, individuals in the beginning and end stages showed the highest levels of satisfaction and happiness. The authors concluded the middle stages may be more turbulent than Cass had indicated. Further studies are needed to discover helpful strategies to assist individuals throughout these stages.
Cass, V. C. (1979). Homosexual identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4(3), 219-235.
Cass, V. C. (1984). Homosexual identity formation: Testing a theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 20(2), 143-167.
Cass, V. (1996). Sexual orientation identity formation: A western phenomenon. In Cabaj, R. P., & Stein, T. S. (Eds.), Textbook of homosexuality and mental health (pp. 227-251). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.
Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn., K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass