Academic journal article Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development

Measuring Dimensions of Lesbian and Gay Male Experience

Academic journal article Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development

Measuring Dimensions of Lesbian and Gay Male Experience

Article excerpt

This article describes the development of new scales for assessing identity and outness in lesbians and gay men. Relevant measurement issues are reviewed.

Over the past several decades, sexual orientation research has featured an increasing focus on manifestations of antigay stigma in the lives of lesbian and gay male (LG) individuals (Garnets & Kimmel, 1993). This change has reflected a dramatic shift in psychological theories of sexual orientation wherein the unique difficulties faced by LG people axe viewed as the result of societal intolerance and marginalization rather than pathology inherent in same-sex attractions. For example, problems such as identity confusion and internalized homonegativity (i.e., negative beliefs and feelings about one's sexual orientation) are now generally thought to be part of a normative developmental process in which LG individuals must negotiate their same-sex attractions in an oppressive, unsupportive context (Fassinger, 1991; Gonsiorek & Rudolph, 1992). From this viewpoint, LG people must make ongoing decisions about the degree to which they should reveal their sexual orientation in spheres (e.g., family of origin, work, chu rch) where self-disclosure may lead to interpersonal rejection and other negative consequences.

This perspective on sexual orientation has led theorists to identify variables that are uniquely relevant to LG people, but relatively little work has been devoted to assessing these constructs. Thus, researchers who wish to use quantitative methods to study these variables face substantial challenges regarding measurement. The relative lack of instrumentation has led some researchers to develop study-specific measures for which information about item content, validity, or factor structure is not often published (e.g., Berger, 1990; Hershberger & D'Augelli, 1995; Kahn, 1991; Meyer, 1995; Miranda & Storms, 1989; Otis & Skinner, 1996; Waldo, 1999). Such an approach is understandable given researchers' needs for instruments, yet there is a clear need for published scales that assess aspects of LG experience.

We conducted the present study to provide preliminary psychometric data on two new self-report measures designed to assess dimensions of the lives of LG individuals. We developed these scales as part of a large national study of same-sex couples. Our focus was on dimensions related to LG identity and levels of disclosure regarding one's sexual orientation. These areas have received much attention by theorists and clinicians (Bohan, 1996; Hancock, 1995), but our literature review indicated that the corresponding measurement issues have received relatively little consideration. Furthermore, we discovered that many of the published scales related to our areas of interest had been created for either lesbians or gay men, but not both groups. Indeed, the published measures of internalized homonegativity that we found were created for gay and bisexual men only; thus, many of the items were inappropriate for lesbians. The purpose of this article is to describe the development of the two new scales. First, however, w e provide a basis for our instrument development process by reviewing recent efforts to conceptualize and assess phenomena related to LG experience.

CONCEPTUALIZATION AND MEASUREMENT OF VARIABLES RELATED TO LG EXPERIENCE

Quantitative research on LG identity has featured diverse approaches for conceptualizing and measuring identity-related variables. An important distinction among these approaches is whether identity has been conceptualized from a stage perspective or a dimension perspective. The stage perspective is grounded in an explicitly developmental view of LG identity wherein the process of identity formation is characterized as a series of phases through which LG individuals achieve awareness and acceptance of their sexual orientation (McCarn & Fassinger, 1996). For example, Fassinger and her associates have formulated a model that includes four phases of identity development: awareness, exploration, deepening-commitment, and internalization-synthesis (Fassinger & Miller, 1996; McCarn & Fassinger, 1996). …

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