Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

From Invisibility to Integration: Lesbian Identity in the Workplace

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

From Invisibility to Integration: Lesbian Identity in the Workplace

Article excerpt

This article explores the vocational psychology of lesbians. Identity and work are assumed to be interrelated elements of the self, and a continuum from invisibility to integration captures two critical aspects of a consideration of lesbian identity in the workplace. First, it characterizes the range of responses lesbians use in resolving the core dilemma of how to manage their identities as lesbian workers. Second, it describes a needed progression in the career development literature, in which consideration of lesbian workers becomes an integral part of vocational pychology. This article begins with a brief review of the literature in lesbian and women's identity development, to lay a foundation for the discussion of vocational issues facing lesbians that follows. It then concludes with suggestions for fture theoretical and empirical efforts, as well as implications of this work for vocational counseling.

IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT OF LESBIANS

Gelso and Fassinger(1992) pointed out the developmental underpinnings of all major theories of vocational behavior, in that the formation of an occupational self encompasses intrapsychic, personality (trait), cognitive, learning, and environmental aspects through complex, dynamic interactional processes over time in relatively predictable sequences. Other identity development trajectories--sexual, racial and ethnic, gender, and others--are thus inextricably interwoven with the development of a vocational identity. In addition, for development taking place under oppreasive conditions (racism and xenophobia, sexism and patriarchy, heterosexism and homophobia), theoretical frameworks assume the primacy of those oppressive influences on a normative psychological process of group or cultural self-definition (c.f. Allport, 1954; see Fassinger & Schlossberg, 1992; Gonsiorek & Rudolph, 1991). Most of these models postulate a sequence of stages that must be negotiated in moving through processes of awareness, exploration and understanding, attitudinal change, identification, and integration regarding one's status as a member of an oppressed group in relation to the dominant culture. Most salient in exploring the vocational psychology of lesbians are developmental models and concepts related to gender and sexual orientation.

It has often been suggested in the lesbian and gay identity development literature that important differences between men and women are likely to influence the identity formation process, and yet much of the existing literature does not address these differences. Most of the well-known identity models have been developed based on the experiences of gay men and then generalized to lesbians, or they represent syntheses of existing models into simplified frameworks and, thus, also present predominantly androcentric perspectives on development (McCarn & Fassinger, in press). But influences on women's development such as gender role socialization (particularly regarding the formation of relational identities and the interconnection of intimacy and autonomy), the repression of sexual desire, and the advent of feminism (and its concomitant reinforcement of nonstereotypic gender roles) have been indicated as factors likely to create a unique context for the formation of lesbian identity (McCarn & Fassinger, in press).

For example, much has been written regarding the expression and repression of women's sexuality and the complex interconnection between intimacy and autonomy both in lesbian and in heterosexual women (e.g., Butler, 1993; Daniluk, 1993; Fassinger & Morrow, in press; Frye, 1992; Garner, Kahane, & Sprengnether, 1985; Gilligan, 1982; Peck, 1986; Vance, 1984). Interwoven intimacy and autonomy processes, as manifested in lesbian identity development, suggest that women would be likely to "come out" in the context of a relationship, rather than through articulating and acting on sexual desire alone. This, in turn, would predict a lengthy process of questioning and exploration in women, because it is partly subject to the behavior of intimate others (McCarn & Fassinger, in press). …

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