Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sexual Orientation Identity Change in Previously Heterosexual-Identified Mid-Life Women

Jeanne M. Miller, Fielding's School of Psychology

Although much has been written about sexual orientation identity development in general, little research has been conducted into the experiences of previously heterosexual-identified women who discover same-sex attractions in mid-life. The present study explored the subjective experience of such women in an effort to understand how these women make meaning of their shift in sexual-romantic attractions, what impact the experience of sexual orientation identity change has on overall identity structure, and how traditional models of sexual orientation identity development do or do not illuminate their experiences. It is necessary to increase our knowledge in this area to enhance our ability to treat and educate both the women undergoing such an experience and the providers who may encounter them in practice. Interviews were conducted with 14 previously heterosexual-identified women who discovered sexual and romantic attractions to other women in mid-life and subsequently changed their sexual orientation identity from heterosexual to lesbian. Interviews were then analyzed for common themes and processes. Previously heterosexual-identified women who subsequently identify as lesbian appear to recast the meaning of past events in the service of maintaining a cohesive life narrative that fits with current social constructions of what it means to be lesbian. They do this within the larger context of social, psychological, and cultural parameters that make up their current and past "indigenous psychology." For this group of women, although sexual orientation identity formation follows traditional developmental models, it is clear that there are distinct tasks to be accomplished, including the resolution of cognitive dissonance over conflicting roles, identities, and value systems. These tasks were made especially difficult because the women had to undo or redo identities that were previously considered complete. Additionally, all the women in the present study experienced a period of moratorium exploration before settling into their new sexual orientation identity. This moratorium may also have allowed several women to move from a previously foreclosed identity status to a new identity achievement status.

Keywords: mid-life lesbian, sexual orientation identity formation, indigenous psychology, autobiographical time, sexual fluidity

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