F Ken Freedman







Articles by F ken Freedman

Faith, Identity, and Gay/Lesbian Awakening
F. Kenneth Freedman

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

Stage I

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.

Stage II

It gets more interesting in this and succeeding stages for it is here that words and symbols come into use, and imagination flourishes.

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 2 to 6, 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 to me:

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, p. 196).

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 and consistency.

Stage III

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 this stage.

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 unaggressive...."

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 excessively...."

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 social milieu.

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).

Stage IV

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. 153).

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 account--it’s mystical].

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 support groups.

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 encouraged.

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 name).

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.

Stage V

[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 can

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, pp. 172-173).

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 diversity.

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 setting.

Stage VI

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, p. 231).

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 LesBiGayTrans communities.

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 past.

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 like....

...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 façade, 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 population.

Stage VII

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, p. 232).

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 Hammarskjöld, 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 relevant irrelevance....

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 self-concepts.

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 straights alike.

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 relationship.


1 Warren 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 Simmons College. 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 Harvard University and Boston College and is currently the head of the center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions at Emory University.

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 conversions, etc.

4 New York's Stonewall Inn riot launches a "gay rights" movement as homosexuals protest a June 27th police raid on a Greenwich Village dance club and bar on Christopher Street. From the People's


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