There is growing scholarly recognition of the experience and diversity of sexual orientation beyond “heterosexual,” “gay,” and “lesbian” identities, and this recognition has led to challenges to the traditional stage models of sexual orientation identity development.
Scholars have found that bisexuals experience identity processes differently from the way lesbians and gay men do (Fox, 1995; Klein, 1990, 1993). For example, some individuals may come to bisexual identity after self-labeling as lesbian or gay. Others may identify bisexual feelings from childhood onward. Still others may not become aware of bisexual feelings until after experiencing heterosexual relationships or marriages.
Further, stage models do not account for ways in which the boundaries between Eurocentric notions of culture, sexual orientation, and gender identity are blurred and reconstructed in non-Western contexts (Brown, 1997; Gonsiorek, 1995). One such example is the existence of “Two Spirit” identities that blend Western notions of gender identity and sexual orientation within Native American communities (Brown, 1997).
Across cultures, LGBT identities have different names and meanings. Researchers are providing new perspectives on the experience of multiple and intersecting identities related to race and ethnicity, nationality, and sexuality. Research regarding the ways race and culture interact with the experience of LGBT identities in the United States has expanded (Boykin, 1996, on African Americans; Diaz, 1997, and Espin, 1993, on Latinos; Manalansan, 1993, on Asian Americans; Crow, Brown, and Wright, 1997, and Wilson, 1996, on Native Americans). Beyond the United States, scholarship on the intersections of LGBT identities and nationality is expanding as well, particularly in reference to Africans, Latin Americans, Middle Easterners, and South and East Asians (Ben-Ari, 2001; Kapack, 1992; Kovac, 2002; McLelland, 2000).
Additional research addresses the influence of gender, socioeconomic class, ability, and spirituality on LGBT identity development. Regarding gender differences, women’s non-heterosexual identity processes have most often been presented as paralleling those of men, yet a number of scholars indicate that women may come out and have intimate same-gender experiences at somewhat later ages (Brown, 1995; Sears, 1989).
Recent research explores LGBT identities related to social class and class systems, posing questions about how non-heterosexual identities intersect with class privilege and oppression (Becker, 1997; Raffo, 1997; Vanderbosh, 1997). Scholarship is emerging that addresses ways that identities of people with disabilities are influenced by LGBT identity processes (Clare, 1999). DuMontier (2000) hypothesized interactions between sexual orientation and faith development, and other authors discuss specific religious traditions and sexual orientation identity (Love, 1998).
By expanding the theoretical bases for understanding LGBT identities beyond those represented by white, Western men in the foundational models of homosexual identity formation (such as Cass, 1979 and 1984, and Troiden, 1979), researchers provide a complex picture of non-heterosexual identity. They highlight the social context of non-heterosexual identities across cultures and draw attention to the diversity that exists within LGBT communities.