Factors related to the coming out process for lesbians

Date
1989-12-30
Authors
Kahn, Marla
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Abstract

Cass' model (1979) of homosexual identity development and her Stage Allocation Measure (1984) were assessed to determine their utility in describing the subjective experience of coming out as a lesbian and whether proposed stages could be tied to behavioral correlates of the Openness Questionnaire (Graham, Rawlings & Girten, 1985). Antecedent patterns of communication in the family, as measured by the Personal Authority in the Family System Questionnaire (Bray, Williamson & Malone, 1984); birth-order; and sex-role attitudes, as measured by the Attitudes Towards Women Scale, Short Form (Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1973) were investigated to determine how they were related to the process of lesbian identity development. A pilot study of 81 lesbians was conducted, and 290 lesbians participated in a national study. Results suggest that subjective identification of developmental stage and comfort with disclosure is congruent with actual disclosure. Four unique patterns of development were delineated by the number and ordering of stages of Cass' model that respondents identified as relevant to their developmental process. Relevant stages, speed of development, stage attainment, ability to disclose, and attitudes towards women's roles were linked to these patterns of development. Women who skipped early and middle stages of Cass' model were most likely to achieve Identity Synthesis. Higher levels of Intergenerational Intimidation and Intergenerational Triangulation were significantly related to slower lesbian identity development and decreased disclosure. Intergenerational Intimacy also decreased the likelihood of disclosure, and it is suggested that the possible risk of losing important intimate relationships prevents disclosure. Significant differences in family factors and attitudes towards women's roles were found for various birth-order positions. Neither family dynamics or attitudes affected the rate of identity development or stage attainment for different birth-order positions. Cohort differences suggest that younger women who have grown up in a more liberal environment proceed through the developmental process more quickly regardless of their sex-role attitudes. Conversely, more repressive environments require that a woman hold more liberal attitudes to achieve the coming out process.

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Keywords
Social sciences, Psychology, Lesbians, Self-disclosure, Communication in families, Sexual behavior
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