There is a triple purpose of this
survey: the first to provide a brief review of several of the classical Human
Growth and Development models as discussed by Erik Erickson, Sigmund Freud, and
Jean Piaget (other theorists are mentioned, but not consistently throughout the
paper). I am not expounding on those theorists mentioned above as I make the
assumption that the reader is already familiar with that writing. I do
expound on the writers mentioned next because I make the opposite assumption
about the reader’s familiarity with them. Which leads me to the second
purpose, which is to contribute insights into Gay- and Lesbian-affirmative
counseling issues, and development and identity models as explained by Warren
Blumenfeld, Vivian Cass, Eli Coleman, Diane Raymond, and Richard Troiden (see
References). The third is an overlay of a model for spiritual growth and
development (and counseling issues) as propounded by James Fowler.1
T. Berry Brazelton. It is noteworthy that T. Berry
Brazelton’s Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS) uncovers
already-formed personality traits in infants (some only 24 hours old). Various
tests, including the use of bells, flashlights, and colored balls, and placing
the infant in various positions, and touching it in certain ways consistently
shows that the infant responds to all these stimuli in ways that give a fairly
specific picture of its preferences. One example: usually, during an
evaluation, the infant will start to cry (at being handled and fussed with).
When put down and left alone, some will cry and cry until someone picks it up
and comforts it, where others will comfort themselves. Parents can readily see
that they have a child who tends to be more independent or less so, which is a
pointer about when to intervene: the results could be dramatic if, for example,
the parents try to hold and soothe the child who would prefer to take care of
him or herself.
Erik Erickson. Erickson calls this the trust v.
mistrust stage (birth to 1 year). At this time the infant may learn that
its mother can be out sight but not out of mind, and can maintain an
"inner population of remembered and anticipated sensations and
images" (Erickson, 1950, p. 219). The alternative speaks to the mistrust
part of this stage (babies may learn to be mistrustful, because they are not
appropriately cared for).
James Fowler. James Fowler’s first stage
(of faith) is infancy and undifferentiated faith. He says
[t]hose observers are correct, I
believe, who tell us that our first pre-images of God have their origins
here. Particularly they are composed from our first experiences of mutuality,
in which we form the rudimentary awareness of self as separate from and
dependent upon the immensely powerful others, who were present at our first
consciousness and who "knew us"--with recognizing eyes and
reconfirming smiles--at our first self-knowing (Fowler, 1981, p. 121).
Sigmund Freud. Freud places the same infant in the
oral stage, where the mouth is the focus of pleasure, and feeding is the
most important activity. This stage is fraught with dilemmas and
disappointments, joys and smiles.
Gays and Lesbians. Gay and Lesbian development is
still a question mark. Whether any of the above has any effect on a
child’s sexuality is unknown. Richard R. Troiden has researched and
written extensively on growth, development, and identity models for Gays and
Lesbians. He says
Whether sexual orientations are
established before birth (Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith 1981a, b; Whitam and
Mathy 1986), grow out of gender-role preferences established between the ages
of three and nine (Harry 1982), or are organized out of experiences gained with
gender roles and their related sexual scripts (Gagnon and Simon 1973), the
meanings of sexual feelings are neither self-evident nor translated directly
into the consciousness. People construct their sexual feelings to the extent
that they actively interpret, define, and, make sense of their erotic yearnings
using systems of sexual meanings articulated by the wider culture (Garnets and
Kimmel, 1993, p. 192).
Later on in this paper we will see
evidence that some Gays and Lesbians can trace some of their awareness of
feeling "other," and development of a sense of identity to remembered
events described in the stages mentioned above.
Jean Piaget. Jean Piaget’s sensorimotor
stage (birth to 2 years) is characterized as a time when "infants think
exclusively through their senses and motor abilities: their understanding of
the objects in their world is limited to the actions they can perform on
them" (Berger, 1988, p. 47).
Summary of Piaget’s stages
from birth to 2 years
* birth-1 month: Sucking, grasping,
looking, and listening;
* 1-4 months: adapt reflexes (sucks
for pleasure v. feeding); hear a noise, turn to look;
* 4-8 months: aware of and recognize
objects and people;
* 8-12 months: object permanence
(objects exist even if not seen); anticipate some events (see or smell spinach?
don’t open mouth);
* 12-18 months: active
experimentation without pre-knowledge of outcome;
* 18-24 months: creates mental
combinations before acting on them; ability to represent things not
actually in view; pretending; full object permanence
It is worthwhile to note that
Although these studies of perception
were not designed to prove or disprove Piaget’s theory, most researchers
now agree that Piaget underestimated early perceptual abilities and hence
certain aspects of cognitive development during the first six months of life
(Caron and Caron, 1982: Gratch, 1979 in Berger, 1988, p. 131).
I wonder (much like studying
Gray’s Anatomy and "feeling" all the ailments described
therein) at the seeming connections between my early (and not so early)
childhood and my adult personality traits. For example, I am told by my Mother
that, as an infant, when I was hungry, I screamed. Not just screamed, as in
loud. Apparently, as my Mom described it, I tensed my entire body, arched my
back, and let out with unending shrieks that would not be appeased until I had
her breast or a bottle in my mouth. One thing she did tell me is that she had
cysts in her breasts that inhibited the milk, thus forcing her to wean me
before she otherwise would have. Did this have an effect on my later life?
Perhaps. For my entire adult life when I would feel hunger, I would go into a mild
panic. I had to buy something to eat NOW and became very insecure if I
couldn’t get something in my mouth (no, I’m not hypoglycemic); and
when I would go to the grocery store, as I walked down the aisle looking for
things on my list, I would get this practically uncontrollable urge, usually
when hungry, to by something NOW. Up until very recently, that urge had been so
strong that I felt every fiber of my being tense up when I mentally suggested
(to my inner child) that I/we might not feel good after eating all that
"junk food." This could also be a conditioned reflex, but the
similarities, nonetheless, are striking.
It gets more interesting in this and
succeeding stages for it is here that words and symbols come into use, and
Erickson. Erickson’s children (1 - 3
years) are in the autonomy v. shame and doubt stage (either becoming
self-sufficient, including toileting, feeding, walking and talking; or doubting
their abilities). Because of the difficult correlation of stages described by
various theorists, I include here, also, Erickson’s initiative v.
guilt stage, where children undertake adult-like activities, sometimes
overstepping the limits set by parents, where guilt kicks in.
Fowler. Fowler’s children (2 - 6
years) have now moved into the intuitive-projective faith stage where
long-lasting images and feelings are formed. He says:
Intuitive-Projective faith is the fantasy-filled, imitative
phase in which the child can be powerfully and permanently influenced by
examples, moods, actions and stories of the visible faith or primally related
adults (Fowler, 1981, p. 133).
Both this theory (above quote) and
Troiden’s (see sensitization quote this page), point sharply to
the importance of the myriad symbolic messages that surround the child.
I can’t imagine anything worse
than a child who is told not only that homosexuality is bad and that
homosexuals are terrible people who do despicable things, but also told that
God judges "those people" so harshly that to burn in Hell is hardly a
fitting punishment. How can a child with (even latent) homosexual feelings
process total rejection? How can a child, even with no conscious sexual
awareness, process the damnation of a trait that is certainly dreadful and
which he or she only know they’d better not have one of? How do they
develop a faith, religious or otherwise, that will sustain them through
difficult times if the very foundations of that faith are characterized as
being anathema to the very feelings the child possesses but can’t control
or understand? Fowler continues:
In league with forms of knowing
dominated by perception, imagination in this stage is extremely productive of
longlasting images and feelings (positive and negative) that later, more stable
and self-reflective valuing and thinking will have to order and sort out
(Fowler, 1981, p. 133).
Freud. In Freud’s anal stage
(1 - 3 years), the anus is the focus of pleasurable sensations, and toilet
training the focal activity. In the phallic stage (3 - 6 years), for
boys the penis is the important body part, and masturbation brings both
pleasure and guilt; girls are (according to Freud) envious and wonder why they
don’t have a penis (feminist theorists and practitioners vigorously
disagree); children of both sexes fantasize about sex with their parents and
feel guilty; words and symbols come into use, and imagination flourishes.
Gays and Lesbians. For Gay and Lesbian kids, however,
there is an added overlay. From ages , roughly, there may not be any
conscious recognition of homosexuality, but Stage One of Troiden’s theory
addresses Sensitization. I am witness to this awareness. At age 5, yes,
five, I was consciously aware of same-sex leanings. I distinctly remember
looking at pictures of men and women (usually being attracted to the bathing
suit ads) and being drawn to the pictures of men. I didn’t think
homosexual thoughts, specifically, that I can remember, but I was aware that I
was more attracted to men’s bodies and their imagined personas. In this
context, Troiden’s quote about sensitization makes immanent sense
The sensitization stage
occurs before puberty. At this time, most lesbians and gay males do not see
homosexuality as personally relevant, that is, they assume they are
heterosexual, if they think about their sexual status at all. Lesbians and gay
males, however, typically acquire social experiences during their childhood
that serve later as bases for seeing homosexuality as personally relevant, that
lend support to emerging perceptions of themselves as possibly homosexual. In
short, childhood experiences sensitize lesbians and gay males to subsequent
self-definition as homosexual (Richard R. Troiden in Garnets and Kimmel, 1993,
In this intense period of
exploration of the physical world, it’s daunting to think that some
children are being taught to hate and fear their bodies and feelings. This, in
my opinion, makes for a very difficult passage into self-love, belief in
spiritual values, creativity, and close relationships.
Kohlberg. Kohlberg’s children,
meanwhile, are in the preconventional stage of moral development: Stage 1:
might makes right; Stage 2: look out for Number One.
Piaget. Piaget moves his little human
experiments into the Preoperational stage (2-6 years): this means preschool
for many kids; objects are now independent of the child’s existence; some
symbolism comes into play--language and pretend; there is not much if any logic
Erickson. Erickson’s children (7 - 11
years) are immersed in the industry v. inferiority stage. They are
learning competence skills and productivity, which are tempered by feelings of
inferiority if they can’t achieve that sense of accomplishment through
doing something well.
Fowler. A quick look at Fowler’s next
stage (6 or 7 - 12 years), the mythic-literal faith where the "boy
or girl works hard and effectively at sorting out the real from the
make-believe" (Fowler, 1981. p. 135). The ability to see others’
perspectives and God’s, too, are in the formative stages, as well.
Here we see [kids] working with the
same structuring of fairness that typifies Kohlberg’s stage two: fairness
of instrumental exchange, where whatever one person is entitled to each other
person is also entitled to (Fowler, 1981. p. 144).
Beliefs are appropriated with
literal interpretations, as are moral rules and attitudes. Symbols are taken as
one-dimensional and literal in meaning.
The new capacity or strength in this
stage is the rise of narrative and the emergence of story, drama and myth as
ways of finding and giving coherence to experience (Fowler, 1981. p. 149).
Again, even in matters of faith,
according to my own interpretation, the Gay or Lesbian youth is cut off from an
abiding, compassionate womb of belief. It is because (again, in my interpretation)
there are so few public, positive role models, mentors, or teachers. For an
ostensibly straight kid when there is upset or confusion, even if it is
difficult for him or her to bring the problem to an adult or counselor, there
is a peer group where, even if elliptically, the subject can be discussed. Not
so for the Lesbian or Gay male. Since homosexuality is so far outside the norm,
even today, and especially in the preteen and teen cohort, the subject cannot
be broached except in the most veiled of terms. We are deprived of the All
American Dream, because the dream consists of a man and a woman with children,
a white picket fence and a house and a car. No role models or pictures or
television programs show Lesbians and Gays that we, too, can partake of that
vision, should we desire.
Freud. Freud’s children are in a
period (roughly) of sexual latency, where their psychic energy is channeled
into learning skills, which facilitates Piaget’s (learning) processes at
Gays and Lesbians. Gay and Lesbian children’s
lives get an additional overlay which is
characterized by generalized feelings of marginality, and perception of being
different from same-sex peers. The following comments illustrate the forms that
these childhood feelings of difference assumed for lesbians: "I
wasn’t interested in boys"; "I was more interested in the arts
and in intellectual things"; "I was very shy and
Similar themes of childhood
marginality are echoed in the comments of gay males: "I had a keener interest
in the arts"; "I couldn’t stand sports, so naturally that made
me different. A ball thrown at me was like a bomb"; "I just
didn’t feel I was like other boys. I was very fond of pretty things like
ribbons and flowers and music"; "I began to get feelings I was gay.
I’d notice other boys’ bodies in the gym and masturbate
Both lesbians and gay males in the Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith (1981a)
sample saw gender-neutral or gender-inappropriate interests, or behaviors, or
both as generating their feelings of marginality (the social realm). Only a
minority of the lesbians and gay males felt different because of same-sex
attractions (the emotional realm) or sexual activities (the genital realm).
(Richard R. Troiden in Garnets and Kimmel, 1993, p. 197; Bell, Weinberg, and
Hammersmith 1981a:74, 86).
Personally, I know the truth of
those comments which describe my feelings quite well, from sports to interest
in the arts. I drew pictures of cars. I didn’t want to own them, just
draw them. I didn’t like sports but loved being in the showers with other
boys and young men, where I could surreptitiously look at the wonderful shapes
and colors (I went to somewhat racially and ethnically integrated junior high
and high schools), and horse around in what 90% of them thought was "boys
being boys," activities where I had different thoughts entirely.
Blumenfeld and Raymond have a
different take on Gay and Lesbian development. Their view asks us to consider
the parents’ role in character development:
...recent studies (e.g., Freund and
Blanchard) suggest that parental distance, rather than causing homosexuality,
may actually be a response to atypical gender behavior on the part of the
child(ren) in the family (Blumenfeld and Raymond, 1988, p. 141).
As a counselor, dealing with parents
or children, I would want these awarenesses brought into the discussion. The
ramifications are far reaching, and certain to be difficult areas as it makes
the parent a direct participant who might unwittingly (or wittingly) exacerbate
the child’s negative attitude about him or herself.
The significance of all this to
counseling is pretty clear, I think. Certainly in Alaska (and nationwide, if the newspapers
are accurate in their reporting) there is a growing tendency on the part of
adults to deny the sexuality of their children--perhaps this has always been
the "trend"? Controversies fairly leap off the page with the
righteous indignation of parents who don’t want to admit their children
might think sexual thoughts much less act on them. (Since the age of Freud it
seems parents have been consistently in denial, though in other cultures and in
other ages this has not necessarily been the case.) Their phobias, naturally,
are transmitted to the children and it’s usually downhill from there (the
totality of my sex education (from adults) was "It’s the man’s
duty to satisfy the woman"). If the child is harboring same-sex feelings,
the sanctions are quite severe. In my counseling practice, I would want to find
a way to validate those feelings with the client and help explain the process2 even if the client is an adult
working through those childhood experiences. It was no easy thing for me to
come out to myself then--granted, I was coming to terms with these feelings in
the early 1950s when homosexuality was not only considered a psychopathology
but also socially unacceptable. It’s only somewhat easier in the
‘90s: the social stigma can still be a major obstacle, depending on the
Abraham Maslow. Taking a side-step for a moment to
consider Maslow’s Humanistic Theory (Berger, 1988. p. 45), the Gay or
Lesbian kid’s process is fraught with danger. Consider the child who, at
age 10, let’s say, discovers that there’s something different about
him or herself, and it might be same-sex feelings. That child is transformed
into "other," and for "other" there is no safety, which is
the second category from the bottom on Maslow’s hierarchical scale of
self-actualization. There is no safety because telling someone about those
feelings brings down a hailstorm of opprobrium, threatening both security and
stability. Jump one stage up on the scale and it’s worse. Here the child
looks for love and belonging, affiliation, and acceptance which is not
available for Gay and Lesbian youth, unless they’re blessed with an
extraordinary set of parents and peers.
From a counseling standpoint, on
issues of being "other," or feeling love or finding safety or
acceptance (discussed above), I would want to work with the parents as well as
the child(ren). Education and positive support demand micro (family) management
as well as a broader, macro (social systems) managed education campaign.
Piaget. The concrete operational stage
(7-11 years), according to Piaget, is a time that "children can begin to
think logically in a consistent way, but only with regard to real and concrete
features of their world" (Berger, 1988, p. 47). Piaget’s children
are voraciously learning, constructing logical thoughts (albeit self-centered),
and discovering the laws of conservation, classification, and number.
So, while kids are developing
stories and myths about themselves and explaining the world through industry
and obeying laws, Gays and Lesbians are outside the law and effectively cut off
from this/these growth phase(s).
Erickson. Erickson, in the identity v.
role confusion stage (12 plus years) talks about the sexually maturing
youth questioning every belief that has gone before. Youths, he states, are
trying to reconcile what they appear to be for others with what they feel
themselves inside. This is manifested both in personal relationships and career
achievement. Role confusion, according to Erickson, can occur when a young
adult can’t find an occupation with which to identify, at which point,
s/he might over-identify "with the heroes of cliques and crowds"
(Erickson, 1950, p. 228).
Fowler. Fowler’s Stage 3 (12 plus
years) is called synthetic-conventional faith, wherein the young adult
"form[s] a personal myth of the self" (Fowler, 1981, p. 151). In
doing so, Fowler posits, one mentally steps
outside the flow of life’s
stream.... And with this comes the possibility and burden of composing myths of
possible futures. The youth begins to project the forming myth of self into
future roles and relationships. On the one hand this projection represents
faith in the self one is becoming and trust that that self will be received and
ratified by the future. On the other it brings dread that the self may fail to
focus, may find no place with others and may be ignored, undiscovered or
shunted off into insignificance by the future (Fowler, 1981, p. 152).
Much of the extensive literature
about adolescent conversion can be illumined, I believe, by the recognition
that the adolescent’s religious hunger is for a God who knows, accepts
and confirms the self deeply, and who serves as an infinite guarantor of the
self with its forming myth of personal identity and faith (Fowler, 1981, p.
For both adolescents in the forming
phases and adults who find equilibrium in Stage 3, the system of informing
images and values through which they are committed remains principally a tacit
system (Fowler, 1981, p. 161) [meaning, a system for which they cannot
Freud. The genital stage
(adolescence) characterizes Freud’s budding citizen; the genitals are the
focus of pleasure and complementary (comprising the full sensual spectrum)
experiences are sought.
Gays and Lesbians. And what of the Gay or Lesbian
young adult? Here there be dragons (if I may use Robert Bentley’s title
of his 1972 book). We discover that God doesn’t like queers, that queers
are an abomination, that they are dirty, evil, terrible people. At least
that’s what most mainstream religions tell us, and if it is not
explicitly stated from the pulpit, we hear it from peers and most certainly on
television from various televangelists, locker-room talk, and parents. A few
are lucky enough to belong to a more liberal group, and can sometimes find
solace, but the vast majority of young adults looking for comfort in mainstream
faith find themselves cast out by what appears to be the very hand of God.
The Metropolitan Community Church,
a largely Christian-based church for Lesbians and Gays (and others who wish to
attend) has answered the need for many who seek a Trinitarian belief system. Dignity
is another organization that welcomes Gay and Lesbian Catholics. There are
Lesbian and Gay synagogues in most major metropolitan cities for Jews who
aren’t welcome in their own temples. There is even an international group
for gay and lesbian children of survivors of the Holocaust and many more
informal spiritual gatherings from the Radical Faeries to grass roots
My opinion is that we remain
marginalized and that affects us deeply, emotionally, psychologically,
spiritually, and socially. When we adopt a Gay or Lesbian church, we most
certainly find community and support. Nonetheless, we are not participating in
the mainstream of religious expression, and consequently enjoy only the
benefits (considerable as they are) of the tributary church in which we worship
(for those who seek formal or organized institutions). From a counseling standpoint,
I believe, that before we can name ourselves truly whole we must all share the
entire spectrum of church and temple access. Which means, we must (Gay,
Lesbian, Straight, Bisexual, Transgender, etc.) all have equal access to
whatever place of worship we wish and in that process be able to express our
individual orientations, to be celebrated for our diversity, honored for our
gifts, and be able to worship along side everyone else, whom we honor for their
gifts, diversity, etc.
Psychologically, I believe the
damage is immense, especially for the person who wants to follow a spiritual
path that coincides with a mainstream religion. Even if the person seeks a
spiritual path that has nothing to do with mainstream religion, there is a
terrible stigma attached to the Lesbian or Gay supplicant. As stated
previously, television religion and many, if not most, churches reject utterly
the open expression of Gay and Lesbian Cultures.
I believe that the exclusionary
language used by parents and religious organizations to promote what turns out
to be a one-track behavior model can do tremendous damage to a questioning
youth. I believe, also, that it’s a paramount need for clients to
discharge their pent-up feelings about that confusion and hurt. I envision my
practice addressing this issue. I’m not sure how, at this point, but I
suspect it will center around such authors and thinkers that speak directly to
spirituality and gayness. Here is one Editor’s view, which I’ll
explore in my Paper on spirituality:
I hope, with this book, to shed a
little light. The speakers gathered here not only have the ability to
illuminate questions about soul--or, as the case may be, the lack of it--in
contemporary life but they have the relatively unique vantage of experiencing
soul through a queer prism. In each case, in varying ways, these sixteen men
have encountered their souls and the souls of others through the facet of being
"other" in a society of calculated sameness. In order to survive, let
alone thrive, they have had to grapple with, descend to, and inhabit the realm
of the soul during a time and place when such voyaging is not widely
While it could be said that the soul
is beyond categorization--that it is neither masculine nor feminine,
heterosexual nor homosexual--I argue that the seeds of behavior and belief
leading to modern gay identity are found in the soul. Like many of the speakers
in this book, I believe that being gay--or at least that quality of being that
is currently so labeled--is its own immutable truth. That despite a hundred
years of theorizing about homosexuality, the very core of who I am as a
"gay person" remains an inexplicable mystery waiting to be plumbed if
only one were to know the right questions. The queries presented here are an attempt
to fathom that mystery; they cut against the grain of accepted discourse about
being gay, which says that it is primarily a historical invention (Thompson,
1994, pp. 1-2).
Where does that put the Lesbian or
Gay person? In identity confusion, according to Troiden, which is Stage
Two of his model (not to be confused with Erickson’s stage of the same
The hallmark of this stage
is...inner turmoil and uncertainty surrounding their ambiguous sexual status. The
sexual identities of lesbians and gay males are in limbo: they can no longer
take their heterosexual identities as given, but they have yet to develop
perceptions of themselves as homosexual.... (Richard R. Troiden in Garnets and
Kimmel, 1993, p. 199).
The stigma surrounding homosexuality
also contributes to identity confusion because it discourages adolescent (and
sometimes adult) lesbians and gay males from discussing their emerging sexual
desires, or activities, or both with either age mates or families (Richard R.
Troiden in Garnets and Kimmel, 1993, p. 201).
So, there’s a double whammy,
if you will, for Lesbian and Gay young adults. How to reconcile the myriad
pressures they feel, just to adjust to this new body and emerging
consciousness, much less to work through the maze of sexual feelings that do
not conform to what everyone else seems to be thinking, feeling, and, worse,
expecting of the sexually unsure person.
Troiden adds that inaccurate
knowledge about homosexuality (promulgated by societal sanctions against
Gay/Lesbian-positive information) further confounds identity formation. What is
tragic about this is the extent to which it can permeate Gay and Lesbian growth
either as identity or development3. And the effect on career is even
greater. The closet is a well-known metaphor for hiding a major part of our
lives. Our identity (seen through a career filter) must be hidden and sometimes
even repudiated. One doesn’t develop a healthy sense of self in this
environment. (A while ago, I was at my accountant’s office and mentioned
an ex-lover, and tax problems we had had. She accused me of flaunting my
"lifestyle," at which point I asked her if the pictures on her desk
were of her husband and children. She said they were. I asked her if I put
pictures of my lover on the desk would I be flaunting my "lifestyle"?
She got the point, but probably only on a superficial level.
Maslow. Maslow’s young adult is
working on esteem, success, and status.
Piaget. In Piaget’s formal
operational stage (ages 12 and up), the change for Gay and Lesbian youth is
dramatic. Piaget’s children can think about abstractions and can move in
thought between real events and possible events. Here, a young adult looks at
ethics, politics, social, and moral issues.
I need to throw in, here, that Rogers’ young adult is comparing an
ideal self to the actual self and trying to come as close to that ideal as
possible, modifying first the ideal and then the self to achieve a sense of
balance but also of growth.
[Writer’s note: I can’t
exactly correlate Erickson’s stages with Troiden’s or Cass’,
and Fowler’s stages are also to difficult to correlate precisely. What
I’ll do now is simply identify those stages and put them in a context
that seems to make sense, with the caveat that more would have to be researched
and written for this to be a comprehensive survey.
It is important to keep in mind that
moving ahead in terms of growth and development is dependent on successful
negotiation of (each of) the previous stages.]
Fowler. For Fowler, in terms of faith,
there is a break from the myths of childhood into a faith that struggles up
from within. Fowler’s Stage 4 is the individuative-reflective faith
(18 plus years): "The two essential features of the emergence of Stage
4, then, are the critical distancing from one’s previous assumptive value
system and the emergence of an executive ego" (Fowler, 1981, p. 179).
Fowler puts emphasis on the latter step noting that many people make the break
from previous value systems, but fail to break away from reliance on external
sources of authority (into their own inner authority--executive ego).
Freud. Freud has his young folks move into
the genital stage which lasts throughout adulthood. It’s a misnomer in
that this stage doesn’t refer solely to genital activity, rather it is
the expression of the sum total of ourselves. The stage is better summed up in
Freud’s axiom "to live and to work."
Gays and Lesbians. For Gays and Lesbians, Troiden puts
us in Stage 3, identity assumption. At this point one identifies as Gay
or Lesbian and tells other homosexuals. There is self tolerance in this stage,
if not complete acceptance; there is regular social intercourse with others;
there is sexual activity and some exploration of the culture. An interesting
observation is that Lesbians tend to develop their identity in the context of
relationships, where Gay men tend to find their identities in sexual contexts,
though that seems to be changing (especially since the age of AIDS).
In the culture there can be
meaningful contacts with other, more experienced Lesbians and Gays.
Developmentally, this is instrumental in helping neophytes see that there is a
Community, some social organization, and a sense of belonging. The few role
models that can be found are fonts where the newly self-identified homosexual
learn a) strategies for stigma
management; b) rationalizations that legitimize homosexuality and neutralize
guilt feelings; c) the range of identities and roles available to homosexuals;
and d) the norms governing homosexual conduct (Troiden, 1993, p. 206).
It is interesting that Fowler
discusses the third stage of faith in similar terms,
a conformist stage in the sense that
it is acutely tuned to the expectations and judgments of significant others,
and as yet does not have a sure enough grasp on its own identity and autonomous
judgment to construct and maintain an independent perspective (Fowler, 1981,
What is clear is that Gay and
Lesbian youth and young adults are more often than not psychologically and
spiritually damaged beyond the normal kinds of neuroses that accompany and
define "growing up." The task is to process through an almost
overwhelming number of negative images and words to develop a healthy view of self,
a self able to negotiate in a difficult world, and against prevailing
homophobia (internal as well as external). This includes the negotiation of a
system of faith that may have been built on fear and not love, on judgment and
not acceptance. The task is to get to a place where one can truly celebrate
Whether or not these issues come up
in my counseling practice is up to the client, in most instances. I can see,
however, that these issues could use a thorough airing in a workshop or retreat
Erickson. Erickson moves us (now as adults)
into intimacy v. isolation as Stage 6:
Body and ego must now be masters of
the organ modes and of the nuclear conflicts, in order to be able to face the
fear of ego loss in situations which call for self-abandon: in orgasms and
sexual unions, in close friendships and in physical combat, in experiences of
inspiration by teachers and of intuition from the recesses of the self. The
avoidance of such experiences because of a fear of ego loss may lead to a deep
sense of isolation and consequent self-absorption (Erickson, 1950, p. 129).
Stage 7 can be considered in this
developmental period, as well. It is generativity v. stagnation.
Erickson’s adult gains a positive identity by expanding ego interests and
mentoring/shepherding one’s children, or, lacking that, some object of
"a parental kind of responsibility" (Erickson, 1950, p. 231). Failing
that, Erickson’s adult feels more in need of "pseudo intimacy,
punctuated by moments of mutual repulsion...often with a pervading sense of
individual stagnation and interpersonal impoverishment" (Erickson, 1950,
As I see it, "parenting"
in the Gay and Lesbian communities takes the form of mentoring each other and
younger Gay and Lesbian people, not to mention bridge building to and in the
straight community. There is a growing movement, however, which must be
mentioned (and deserves further research) of adopting children, and also of
artificially inseminating a (Lesbian) partner (usually with sperm donated from
a Gay male friend, who then, sometimes, shares parental responsibilities).
Whether one seeks to support others in the Community or raise one’s own
children, the fulfillment is the same process that Erickson talks about in his
wholly heterosexual society. The tremendous sense of well-being
(Erickson’s generativity) that I get, for example, from mentoring
a young, Gay, born-again Christian man is as fulfilling as Erickson predicted.
I’ve never had a desire to have my own biological children, but over the
years I seem to have "adopted" many young people and have maintained
a quasi parental relationship with them, very generative.
Fowler. In Fowler’s next stage (conjunctive
faith), a broader consciousness now begins to develop:
Stage 5, as a way of seeing, of
knowing, of committing, moves beyond the dichotomizing logic of Stage 4’s
"either/or." It sees both (or the many) sides of an issue
simultaneously. Conjunctive faith suspects that things are organically
related to each other; it attends to the pattern of interrelatedness in things,
trying to avoid force-fitting to its own prior mind set (Fowler, 1981, p. 185).
Here, then, is an important
developmental issue. How, if one is damaged by an insensitive (personal)
infrastructure, can one take the long view, as espoused by Fowler? It is not
easy, for anyone, hetero- or homosexual, to be sure. With that added overlay,
however, of what I’ll call the Post Traumatic Closet Syndrome (PTCS), no
wonder there’s so much anger, resentment, and mistrust on the part of the
I think it is a tribute to Gay and
Lesbian adults that they can be as creative as they are, even if by way of
overcompensating for their "damaged goods" legacy (similar to women
as second class citizens in the eyes of the patriarchy). This stands in stark
contrast to the spread of AIDS (and most other hetero- as well as homosexual
STDs), which I believe is due, as least in part, to a lack of self-esteem.
I can attest, as would many friends
especially here in Alaska (and in most non major metropolitan
areas), that the feeling of disenfranchisement and disempowerment is
particularly strong. Consider one political structure (the Municipality of
Anchorage) where our basic civil rights are abrogated (we can be legally fired
from a job or evicted from apartments because we’re Lesbian or Gay or
Bisexual or Transgender), or in a dysfunctional community (in Alaska there are
maybe a dozen LesBiGayTrans social groups, only one (nearly defunct) political
group, and 2 bars that do a land office business(!), all of which fight
constantly among themselves); or a seriously underfunded national scene (many
groups from Lambda Legal Educational and Defense Fund (LLDEF) to the Human
Rights Campaign (HRC) to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) to ACT
UP to the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt). It is no wonder that we suffer as
individuals: we seem to recapitulate our own ontogeny, meaning we criticize
each other, disparage our leaders, and generally don’t notice that
we’re repeating and promulgating the work of our oppressors (this is true
for all people, not just Gays and Lesbians).
One way out of the conundrum, I
believe, is to recognize the points of arrest or stagnation, put them in their
historical and psychological context, and start to consciously change the
pattern, telling the oppressor part of ourselves that we’ll not tolerate
the abuse. Change is slow, I know: we didn’t develop these patterns
overnight and we won’t solve them overnight. But one starting point is to
change the action (behavior) and deal with the reactions that develop. I hope
to keep part of my heart and mind on this concept in my practice. The
"cure" is a concerted processing of those traumas and the development
of a strategy to cope creatively with the stigmatization and still work toward
a viable future for everyone, Gay and non-Gay alike.
One last word on Fowler. In this
stage, he says there is a reunion between the power that symbols hold and the
actual, physical symbol. In Stage 4, symbols were divorced from their meanings
as a means to deconstruct faith and to control our personal role in the
spiritual/religious process. Here, they are reunited as a means to rework the
There must be an opening to the
voices of one’s "deeper self." Importantly, this involves a
critical recognition of one’s social unconscious--the myths, ideal images
and prejudices built deeply into the self-system by virtue of one’s nurture
within a particular social class, religious tradition, ethnic group or the
...this stage’s commitment to
justice is freed from the confines of tribe, class, religious community or
nation (Fowler, 1981, pp. 197-198).
Gay and Lesbian. For the Gay or Lesbian person Stage
4 is about commitment, during which process there is a sense of
self-acceptance, a fusing of sexuality and emotionality, increased happiness,
coming out to non-homosexuals, and committed relationships. "The
homosexual subculture encourages both lesbians and gay males to perceive the
homosexual identity as an ‘essential’ identity, a ‘state of
being’ and ‘way of life’ rather than merely a form of
behavior or sexual orientation" (Richard R. Troiden in Garnets and Kimmel,
1993, p. 208; Ponse 1978; Warren 1974; Warren and Ponse 1977).
I see a fairly clear path from
arrested growth in childhood to the dysfunction in adulthood, particularly
around this and the previous stage. To gain an identity (and not suffer role
confusion), to learn intimacy (and not isolation), and to
come to a place of individuative reflection require tremendous help from
the young person’s support network. Not only does the network have to
encourage growth but it has to encourage deviation, regardless of the
expression (unless clearly destructive), in order to nurture a truly
self-realized person (one lays out his or her attitudes and feelings (whether
in relationships or career) and waits to see what is reflected in the mirror of
that stimulus. Thus, one adjusts, changes, grows, and self-monitors). Again, I
would delve into this material in a workshop or retreat with great enthusiasm.
I believe we can learn a lot from reviewing even the fundamentals of these
areas of growth (much less the more complex issues), especially as related to
current issues and problems. The key to all this is developing a process
whereby people can bring their issues into a counseling session and work
through them in safety and with guidance, and most importantly, with role
models that help reshape the habits and destructive patterns.
Unlike Cass’ identity pride,
which is more limited, Fowler says we’re at a place where we transcend
the local for the universal and even the mystical. For Gays and Lesbians, this
process is mitigated by the constant awareness that one’s job,
one’s housing, and even one’s life are in constant danger. Indeed,
we try to live our lives as if everything were generally safe. Underlying the
fašade, however, is that gnawing sense that just around the next corner there
is trouble, physical or emotional. It’s difficult, at best, to develop a
trusting nature, even spiritually, when the cards appear to be stacked against
you. One strategy a counselor might consider is helping boost a client’s
self-esteem in order that could choose a more integrous and "out"
life, thus helping to dispel the bad hype about being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,
or Transgendered, thus helping establish a safer space for others to learn,
grow, develop, and trust.
Troiden leaves Lesbian and Gay
identity formation here, so I’ll pick up with Cass’ model which
adds at least one stage that, I believe, clarifies the issue and, further,
parallels Fowler’s stages of faith. For Cass, there’s identity
pride and, as a last stage, identity synthesis. And for Fowler,
stage 5 is conjunctive faith. Here’s a closer look.
In Cass’ identity pride
stage, growth and development continue:
This is the "These are my
people" stage where the individual develops an awareness of the enormous
incongruity that exists between the person’s own increasingly positive concept
of self as lesbian or gay and an awareness of society’s rejection of this
orientation. The person feels anger at heterosexuals and devalues many of their
institutions (e.g., marriage, gender-role structures, etc.). The person
discloses her or his identity to more and more people and wishes to be immersed
in the gay or lesbian subculture consuming its literature, art, and other forms
of culture (Cass in Blumenfeld and Raymond, 1988, p. 88).
A quick look at the Lesbian and Gay
communities in the U.S. since 1969 (the Stonewall Rebellion4) not only shows the ethos of the
Lesbian and Gay communities as a psychologically developing group, but the
development of the political movement as well. Initially, in the early
‘70s, there was a tremendous rejection of all things heterosexual.
Marriage was considered hetero-imitative, as was fidelity. It was, after all,
the sexual revolution (for young heterosexuals, as well), and the Gay
Liberation movement, as it was known then, took full advantage of it.
Promiscuity was the word of the day. A few years later (with the spread of
AIDS) the more "in-your-face" tactics of groups such as the AIDS
Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) burst on the scene. One take on those eras
is that rejection of heterosexual norms was a stage in the growth of the
movement. Where could it go? To remain rebellious would be to stagnate and not
develop a broader world view, one that included coalition building and
constructing a world that works for everyone.
Nonetheless, the movement was
building an identity (strikingly parallel to individual models of Gay and
Lesbian development), and, by including many different subsets of the movement
(leather, S&M, suits, drag queens (who were the foot soldiers of the
movement in the first place), bull dykes, lipstick Lesbians, etc., etc.), it
was able to lay the foundation for political strength and visibility that would
be so vital in the ‘80s and ‘90s, especially as AIDS decimated the
Erickson. Erickson’s last stage is ego
integrity v. despair. This stage describes the person who has transcended
the "triumphs and disappointments adherent to being" (Erickson, 1950,
p. 231). In what I see as a typically Western view that attaches importance to
material things, Erickson seems to be pushing a patriarchal posture when he
discusses [a man’s] ego identity in terms of "patrimony of
the soul, the seal of his moral paternity of himself" (Erickson, 1950, p.
232). Without chastising him for that oversight (it was 1950, after all, and
social consciousness was still largely the realm of white, straight men),
I’ll point out that he sees this stage as "...post-narcissistic love
of the human ego--not of the self--as an experience which conveys some world
order and spiritual sense, no matter how dearly paid for" (Erickson, 1950,
Fowler. To be sure, Fowler’s stage of
universalizing faith is defined by people who inhabit rarefied climes,
including but not limited to such luminaries as Ghandi, Martin Luther King,
Jr., Mother Teresa, Dag Hammarskj÷ld, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Heschel, and
Thomas Merton. He adds, however,
...we must not fail to attend in the
descriptions of Stage 6 to the criteria of inclusiveness of community, of
radical commitment to justice and love and of selfless passion for a
transformed world, a world made over not in their [leaders] images, but
in accordance with an intentionality both divine and transcendent (Fowler,
1981, p. 201).
Fowler uses Martin Luther King, Jr.
(in his later years) as an example of that sentiment:
King’s assault on the more
blatant features of a segregated city proved subversive to the genteel
compromises by which persons of good will of both races had accommodated
themselves in a racist society.
This subversive character of the
impact of Stage 6 leadership often strikes us as arising from a kind of
These are not abstract visions,
generated like utopias out of some capacity for transcendent imagination.
Rather, they are visions born out of radical acts of identification with
persons and circumstances where the futurity of being is being crushed, blocked
or exploited (Fowler, 1981, p. 203).
Gay and Lesbian development for Cass (Stage 6)
demonstrates an attempt at reconciliation with non-Gays:
The intense anger at
heterosexuals--the "them and us" attitude that existed in stage
5--softens at this stage to reflect a recognition that some heterosexuals are
supportive and can be trusted. However, those who are not supportive are
further devalued. There remains some anger at the ways that lesbians and gays
are treated in the society, but this is less intense. The person retains a deep
sense of pride but now comes to perceive less of a dichotomy between the
heterosexual and homosexual worlds. A homosexual identity becomes an integral
and integrated aspect of the individual’s complete personality structure
(Blumenfeld and Raymond, 1988, p. 89).
Blumenfeld and Raymond point out
that personality and emotional development in Gays and Lesbians can be easily
affected (negatively) by societal attitudes:
The decision to conceal the
homosexual identity from significant others may be detrimental to psychological
well-being. Is it possible to achieve an integrated personal identity or have
authentic relationships while concealing fundamental aspects of the self?... In
choosing to hide an essential part of the self, individuals are left with a
gnawing feeling that they are really valued for what others expect them to be
rather than for who they really are (Blumenfeld and Raymond, 1988, pp. 90-91;
Minton and McDonald, 1984).
"Choice" is an important
concept here, especially as regards remaining closeted. If we must stay
in the closet for any reason, our options and creativity are severely
limited--by fear of exposure (real or imagined) and the results of that
exposure (real or imagined). Faith, likewise, is stunted/transmogrified by the
internal and external judgments that disallow free association with ones gods
and goddesses, much less the "radical commitment to justice and love"
of which Fowler so eloquently speaks.
What seems clear is the path of
identity and ego/superego development, whether in terms of faith, sexual
identity, or psychosocial interaction and productivity: with support and encouragement
crises can be processed, feelings worked through, development can be a
relatively positive experience. The problem lies in how each individual
interprets the stimuli that affect her or him. Without really positive and
process-oriented support it would be easy to fall into any of the ubiquitous
emotional pits; indeed, it seems that the mere fact of growing up can be
treacherous. This is not to say that people don’t grow up happy and
fairly well adjusted. My view, however, is that if people really did find
happiness, or as Erickson might say, trust, autonomy, initiative, industry,
identity, intimacy, generativity, and integrity, then why is there
war, poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, domestic violence, a 50% divorce rate,
racial and ethnic hatred, not to mention religious bigotry, which,
incidentally, blames Gays and Lesbians for everything from the floods in the
Midwest, to hurricanes, to the alleged decay of the moral fiber of American
society? I posit that there is a tremendous disparity between what people say
they believe and what they’re willing to do to improve the world. I posit
that there is a wide discrepancy between they way people perceive themselves
internally and the way they relate to the world at large. I posit that there is
a vast chasm between people’s beliefs about their connections to their
gods, to themselves, and to each other and the quotidian reality of those
I think that most of us are
survivors, and pretty clever ones at that. The question is not whether we can get
through the day and not get injured by someone who lost their tenuous grip on
an equally elusive reality, but rather, can we reconnect with our lost gods,
our lost selves, and our lost companions, and find a truly creative,
fulfilling, and joyous existence.
The intent of this paper has been to
provide some (but not exhaustive) background material in growth and development
models as relates specifically to Gays and Lesbians. It is meant as an
abbreviated guideline for use by counselors, whether Gay, Lesbian, straight, or
not, as well as for interested readers or clients, also whether Gay, Lesbian,
or straight, or not. I believe that oppression whether expressed as homophobia
or racism or sexism or ageism (to mention just a few of the many oppressive
phobias) is detrimental to all people, thus making it a valid and needed part
of any practice. By comparing and contrasting some of the classical theories
with contemporary Gay and Lesbian theories, the reader can develop more
inclusive language and counseling models that can benefit Gays, Lesbians and
The additional overlay for spiritual
growth and development was provided as a much-overlooked but important element
in counseling. In particular, it relates to Gays and Lesbians as we are
marginalized in mainstream religions more than by any other group. The healing
process around matters spiritual is at least as important as healthy
development and growth processes.
My opinion is that mind, body,
spirit, and emotions are the cornerstones for an effective counseling
1Warren Blumenfeld is a writer and
Gay activist who frequently conducts antihomophobia workshops in schools,
businesses, and other institutions. He is editor of Homophobia: how we all
pay the price, author of AIDS and your religious community, and
co-producer of the documentary film Pink Triangles. Vivienne Cass is a
clinical psychologist in private practice in Perth, Western Australia. She has published several articles
and book chapters on the topic of Lesbian and Gay identity formations. Eli
Coleman is a professor and director of the Program in Human Sexuality,
Department of Family Practice and Community Health, University of Minnesota
Medical School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the founding and current
editor of the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. Cass and
Coleman patterned their concepts after the multi-stage theoretical models of
personality development pioneered by people such as sociologist Charles Horton
Cooley, philosopher George Herbert Mead, and psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and
Erik Erikson, who believed that personal identity develop along an interactive
process between the individual and his or her environment. Diane Raymond is
chair of the philosophy department at SimmonsCollege. She is active in the reproductive
rights and feminist movements and is a Lesbian mother. Richard R. Troiden
graduated from the State University of New York at Stoneybrook, and his 1977
Doctoral dissertation was entitled Becoming homosexual: research on
acquiring a gay identity. He is the author of Gay and Lesbian Identity:
a sociological analysis, published in 1988 by General Hall, New York. James Fowler is widely regarded,
along with his associate Lawrence Kohlberg and his contemporaries Carol
Gilligan and Daniel J. Levinson, as a seminal figure in the field of
developmental psychology. He has taught at HarvardUniversity and BostonCollege and is currently the head of the
center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions at EmoryUniversity.
2 Before people can identify
themselves in terms of a social condition or category, they must a) learn that
a social category representing the activity of feelings exists (e.g.,
homosexual preferences or behavior); b) learn that other people occupy the
social category (e.g., that homosexuals exist as a group); c) learn that their
own socially constructed needs and interests are more similar to those who
occupy the social category than they are different; d) begin to identify with those
included in the social category; e) decide that they qualify for membership in
the social category on the basis of activity and feelings in various settings;
f) elect to label themselves in terms of the social category, that is, define
themselves as "being" the social category in contexts where category
membership is relevant (e.g., self-definition as a homosexual); and g)
incorporate and absorb these situationally linked identities into their
self-concept over time (Richard R. Troiden in Garnets and Kimmel, 1993, p. 196;
Lofland 1969; McCall and Simmons 1966; Simmons 1965).
3 The techniques Gays and Lesbians
use to hide their homosexuality from themselves much less from peers and family
are legion: everything from "passing" to being deeply closeted, using
a "beard" (dating a person of the opposite sex (usually Gay or
Lesbian)) to dispel rumors of homosexuality, denial, cures, religious
4New York's Stonewall Inn riot launches a
"gay rights" movement as homosexuals protest a June 27th police raid
on a Greenwich
dance club and bar on Christopher Street. From the People's
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