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Taking Pride in your LGBTQ+ Identity

two young gay men posing in front of a crowd of people at a festival
How do you identify? Photo by Betzy Arosemena

When you start having the inkling that you might belong to the LGBTQ+ tribe, you’re just beginning on an important journey to feeling comfortable identifying that way, both to your family and friends, and publicly. The identity process does not happen overnight, and there are stages of development that psychologist Vivienne Cass has researched and written about in 1979. This post talks about taking pride in your LGBTQ+ identity as if forms, even among those who invalidate or fear you.

What are the stages of LGBTQ+ identity development?

Cass's model of gay and lesbian identity formation gives us a framework for understanding the process by which LGB people come to understand and accept their sexual orientation. The model has of six stages: Identity Confusion; Identity Comparison; Identity Tolerance; Identity Acceptance; Identity Pride; and Identity Synthesis.

In the early stages, you’re gathering information and comparing yourself to others…

In the first stage, Identity Confusion, you may feel uncertainty or uncomfortable about your sexual orientation. This often occurs during adolescence, a time when many people start to explore sexual identities and develop a sense of self. During this stage, you might struggle to reconcile your feelings with societal norms and expectations. If you grew up in a family or community that is very fearful or avoidant of talking about LGBT+ individuals, this might be difficult to do because your sexual orientation isn’t discussed much, or if it is, you hear negative statements that might make you feel ashamed or different.

The second stage, Identity Comparison, involves seeking out information and comparing yourself to others to better understand your sexual orientation. This may involve exploring LGBTQ+ communities, seeking out role models, or engaging in self-reflection. In this stage, you could also feel alienated or isolated as you grapple with your identity. This can be hard in an invalidating environment like strictly religious communities or families, or when your caregivers are homophobic. Even without such extremely negative environments, you might encounter ignorance from others that makes it uncomfortable to ask questions and explore your feelings with trusted adults or peers.

It might be good to seek out role models in your life or in the media who embrace their LGB identity and who advocate for the community. By seeing folks who are out and proud of who they are, you can see what it might be like to live authentically, rather than ashamed and closeted. At the same time, sometimes being closeted is the safest choice until you can find a community that is more accepting (and less potentially violent) towards LGBTQ+ people.

Next comes getting comfortable with your new reality…

As you progress to the third stage, Identity Tolerance, you begin to accept and tolerate your sexual orientation, even if you may not fully embrace it. This stage often involves coming to terms with your feelings and recognizing that being gay or lesbian is a natural and valid aspect of who you are. However, you may still struggle with feelings of shame or fear of rejection from others. You might also encounter internalized homophobia, or stigmatizing beliefs that you’ve adopted as your own. Things that you might have heard repeatedly from the media, your family, or your community might play over in your head. It can almost be like a flashback or intrusive thought, like “no one will ever accept/love me.”

You would do well to explore these ideas by journaling about them, and reflecting about whether they are truly your ideas or something you just picked up from the media. Where did you hear these ideas first? How much do you believe them? Then ask yourself, what if this idea is not true? What would that mean about me? Do I believe everything that people say about me? How do I know which ideas to believe, and which ones are wrong?

newer LGBTQ+ pride flag
Taking pride in your LGBTQ+ identity takes time and inner work.

In the fourth stage, Identity Acceptance, you fully embrace your sexual orientation and begin to integrate it into your sense of self. This involves developing a positive self-image and accepting yourself as a gay, bisexual or lesbian person. This might allow you to seek out supportive communities and relationships where you feel accepted and understood.

There are usually LGBTQ+ centers in most urban cities in California, but in some rural areas, it might be harder to find people who champion your rights and interests. It can also be challenging to find faith/spiritual communities that are affirming. Luckily, with the internet, there’s more chance to find online opportunities to make connections with others and find social outlets that feel comfortable to you.

Towards the later stages, you take pride in your LGBTQ+ identity…

The fifth stage, Identity Pride, involves embracing and celebrating your sexual orientation openly and proudly. You may become involved in LGBTQ+ activism or advocacy, or actively promote equality and acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community. This stage is characterized by a strong sense of pride and empowerment in your identity.

Finally, the sixth stage, Identity Synthesis, involves integrating your sexual orientation into all aspects of your life. By this stage, you have fully integrated your identity as a gay, bisexual or lesbian person into your sense of self and may no longer feel the need to compartmentalize or hide this aspect of yourself. Instead, you can live authentically and openly; your sexual orientation becomes just one part of your overall identity.

In learning to accept yourself and other members of the LGBTQ+ community, you become more resilient towards homophobic (and other bigoted) words and actions. You have a solid sense of self and your sexual and gender identities are a source of strength and pride, rather than fear and shame.

In closing, Cass's model of gay and lesbian identity formation provides a valuable framework to understand the complex journey of coming to terms with your sexual orientation. From the initial stages of confusion and comparison to the eventual stages of acceptance, pride, and synthesis, this model highlights the importance of self-discovery, acceptance, and integration. By acknowledging and embracing your true self, you can cultivate a sense of pride and empowerment, ultimately contributing to greater visibility, acceptance, and inclusion within society.


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