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.
Annotated Bibliography
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


  1. This one made me think of the need for student diversity services. I work in the LGBT Resource center and we have so many students who some to our office struggling with school but its not because they are poor students but rather they are constantly focused on their status. They feel bombarded by negative opinions of them, feel like they are invalid somehow and struggle with feeling good about their identity. I think its important to have support services which are both community building and informational in nature. When we provide services like the women's resource center, LGBT Resource Center, Disability Services, Multicultural Center, Veterans Service Center, etc. we help students make connections with other students who have like identities and validate their experiences and we also provide educational opportunities to tell people outside these communities about the issues they face. I think students who are able to relax and aren't always in a protective mode can focus better on school and without these services they may not otherwise be able to fully benefit from their education.

  2. Individuals in the beginning and end stages showed the highest levels of satisfaction and happiness, but what about between those stages when students need services the most? We must address the best way to support them so they can focus in school. I agree with above and I believe it's one reason why U of U is trying to set up student life center so support services is available for everyone not just those who are registered in specific department in student affairs.

  3. I can't help but keep thinking about how big of an influence outside environments help or delay an individual to move through Cass's Model of Sexual Identity. I agree with Kat about the need for student diversity services on campus. Though we have these different resources on campus, I feel there is still a need for staff in different offices to be able to work with many students of different backgrounds or identities. The lack of diversity may be prevalent to students when they enter one office and is directed to another because there is not an awareness of how to help students throughout.

  4. In regards to Carol's comment, I was curious about the stages in between when these individuals may be experiencing difficult situations also. The acceptance phase seems particularly counterintuitive, because I feel they still haven't really accepted themselves fully as being gay or lesbian. As mentioned in class, I knew of a few people who would get married, but they knew they were gay, only to almost keep a status quo with people they knew. I believe within the stage, there was the divergence of the public and private self, and only certain people that they felt they could divulge to. As student affairs practitioners, we really do have to create a safe place for these students (as everyone else has touched on), because it's important for them to encounter positive interpretations of their preferences to help them achieve self satisfaction.

  5. I agree, as student practitioners it is important to be advocates for student resources and activities that help our students “normalize” their experiences. It is extremely difficult to be successful at school, if you are constantly feeling like you are in crisis. I really enjoyed learning about this particular identity development and it just proved to me that there needs to be more resources available within and outside the college community. I believe it was Kylee who mentioned in class that after a student leaves college they feel more isolation, because the same resources aren’t available. This is unfortunate and it is important to help students with this transition, to alleviate the isolation they may feel.

  6. I had a conversation with a student recently. He identified himself as gay and it has only been two years. Previous to that he was enaged to a woman then later learned that it's not what he wants. He now is happily in a relationship with another man and the interesting thing he said that "at first it was hard to transition from being straight to being gay with other men" but he got used to it and he has been with this person for a while.

    The other part of the conversation is that he wants to become a doctor and he works at the hospital. With his close friends and others he is comfortable to identify as a gay person but in his professional life he is not because he is unsure of the treatment and the acceptance from others toward him as being a gay medical practitioner.

    In my own observation that by just listening to him telling his story, it made him feel more confidence with his identity. I was taken back as how cautious he is thou still about being careful at work, that he still acts as a male medical practioner but yet does not feel conformable. In a way, I believe that he is in the middle stages of accepting his identity but his actions are still depending on the environment where he feels safe and comfortable with.

  7. I used Cass's model for my application paper. I understood more what the character in my book was going through once we went over this theory in class. I kept asking myself, "okay when is this book going to point out some theories to me so I can use it in my application paper." I have so many family members who tell me when they see a guy or girl who is gay and they don't understand why the guy or girl can see something is wrong with them. Stevie from "Ain't Gonna be the Same Fool Twice" also went through this when she was hesitant to accept her identity. She also didn't know how her parents would react. In the end her grandma had to tell her it is her who needs to accept who she is before anyone else will.

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