The growth of homosexual identity : an empirical study from a social work perspective of crisis in sexual identity experienced by a sample of homosexual persons in Cape Town, with special reference to cultural factors

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study seeks to investigate the nature of homosexual identity and its development, to explore the manifestation and incidence of crisis among homosexuals, and to determine the relationships between crisis and homosexual identity growth. Furthermore, it attempts to identify the idiosyncratic features of the South African "gay experience" and to examine the way such experience impinges on homosexual identity development. Given the gravity of the recent phenomenon of AIDS and its increasing appearance, the study extends to an investigation of AIDS, and its link with crisis and homosexual identity. Finally, the study seeks to indicate how Social Work may address the diverse needs of the gay collective, including strategies to deal with AIDS. The study employs a combination of methodological techniques which include the application of clinical case material, an extensive survey of research literature, a newspaper inquiry, participant observation, random interviews and a mailed questionnaire. (This questionnaire was designed to tap information with regard to demographic profiles, the unfolding of sexual identity, "coming out", crisis, and attitudes towards a local South African gay organisation.) It presented a choice between fixed alternative items but also elicited open-ended commentary. A forty-eight percent response rate was received to the mailed questionnaire. On the basis of research, the writer has developed a theoretical model of homosexual identity growth which comprises various developmental stages ranging from early infancy to late adulthood. The study concludes that homosexual identity growth is a dynamic and on-going process catalysed by the interaction between self, society, and sub-culture. Homosexual identity is strongly linked to the gay sub-culture which presents a classic double-bind; it acts as a symbolic family for the homosexual person but it also perpetuates the expression of behaviours and emotions which are externally regarded as non-legitimate. Hence, crisis is universally experienced by homosexuals as part of their process of identity development, and is usually associated with "coming out". Crisis can be expressed in egocentric (internal) or sociocentric (external) terms, and may occur at any stage. The level of self-acceptance and self-esteem varies with each individual, and personal fantasy, as a core element of sexuality, is a key indicator of the extent of identity resolution.

Bibliography: pages 562-602.