Shifting Sands or Solid Foundation? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Identity Formation

  • Michele J. Eliason
  • Robert Schope


How do some individuals come to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender? Is there a static, universal process of identity formation that crosses all lines of individual difference, such as sexual identities, sex/gender, class, race/ethnicity, and age? If so, can we describe that process in a series of linear stages or steps? Is identity based on a rock-solid foundation, stable and consistent over time? Or are there many identity formation processes that are specific to social and historical factors and/or individual differences, an ever-shifting landscape like a sand dune? The field of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) studies is characterized by competing paradigms expressed in various ways: nature versus nurture, biology versus environment, and essentialism versus social constructionism (Eliason, 1996b). Although subtly different, all three debates share common features. Nature, biology, and essentialistic paradigms propose that sexual and gender identities are “real,” based in biology or very early life experiences and fixed and stable throughout the life span. These paradigms allow for the development of linear stages of development, or “coming out,” models.


Gender Identity Sexual Minority Sexual Identity Identity Formation Bisexual Woman 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michele J. Eliason
    • 1
  • Robert Schope
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Health and AgingUniversity of California-San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Social WorkThe University of Wisconsin OshkoshOshkoshUSA

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