Influences on the Career Development of Gay Men

By Prince, Jeffrey P. | Career Development Quarterly, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Influences on the Career Development of Gay Men


Prince, Jeffrey P., Career Development Quarterly


An integrated approach to viewing individuals' careers within the context of their lives has surfaced as a recent theme in the general career development literature (Subich, 1993). Savickas (1993), for example, emphasized the need for counselors to focus on the personal nature of an individual's career perspective and pointed out the importance of recognizing the inseparability of an individual's career from other areas in life. Similarly, Richardson (1993) argued the importance of refocusing career counseling on the personal aspects of people's experiences and described the current career literature as having become imbalanced with its limited focus on careers rather than on individuals' experiences. One clientele with whom it is critical to attend to individual, personal histories consists of the populations of lesbian women and gay men, for whom issues of sexual identity, social oppression, and gay culture a intertwined with career development.

Over the past several years an increasing number of writers have documented the need to consider individuals' experiences, and have contributed invaluable guidance to counselors who attend to the personal and work concerns of lesbian and gay clients (Belz, 1993; Chojnacki & Gelberg, 1994; Chung & Harmon, 1994; Cornett & Hudson, 1987; Croteau & Hedstrom, 1993; Elliott, 1993; Etringer, Hillerbrand, & Hetherington, 1990; Hetherington, 1991; Milburn, 1993; Morgan & Brown, 1991). This article extends the literature through viewing work from a number of domains outside the traditional career development literature. It highlights how the comprehension of personal issues in the lives of gay men can increase understanding of career development. Specifically, this article applies selected findings from the general literature of lesbian and gay psychology, and examines how issues of sexual identity development, societal stigma, multicultural identity development, and psychological adjustment can inform both practice and research with gay men.

SEXUAL IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT

A fundamental influence on the career development of gay men relates to sexual identity development, a process that occurs concurrently with the formation of one's career identity (Chojnacki & Gelberg, 1994; Elliott, 1993). Several theories have been proposed that describe gay male identity development(Cass, 1979; Coleman, 1982; Troiden, 1989); a brief review of these models can provide a framework for highlighting implications for career development. These theories are similar to those of ethnic identity development in that they involve sequential stages in the transformation of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors from those of the dominant culture (heterosexual) to those of a minority culture (gay). Latter stages describe gay identity as an aspect of a person's internal definition and social presentation of self. Troiden provided a thorough review of the various models and noted the following similarities across all theories:

1. Nearly all models view gay identity formation against a backdrop of stigma.

2. Gay identities develop over long periods of time and involve a number of growth points or changes that may be ordered into stages (i.e., identity confusion, coming out, exploration, and integration).

3. Gay identity formation involves an increasing acceptance of the label homosexual or gay as applied to the self.

4. Models describe individuals as increasingly interested in disclosing their sexual identity to members of an expanding series of audiences. In other words, the coming-out process is a lifelong, developmental process.

5. Gay men develop increasingly personalized and frequent social contacts with other gay men over time.

These models have been criticized for their linear and prescriptive flavor, as well as for their insensitivity to ethnicity, age, class, locale, and political views (Fassinger, 1991). In addition, they do not incorporate bisexuality or the possibly fluid nature of sexuality, but instead create a dichotomy of people as gay or nongay. …

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