Stigma Management Strategies for Sexual and Gender Minorities
The process of managing one’s stigmatized identity, also termed stigma management, is complex for sexual minorities. If they tell others about their sexual orientation, they run the risk of being charged with “flaunting” their sexuality; after all, heterosexuals do not make such proclamations about their identities. Alternatively, choosing to withhold such information may lead to isolation and loneliness.
Researchers have found that sexual minorities use a broad variety of behavioral strategies in order to manage their identities. These strategies entail elements of concealment and self-disclosure (Cain, 1991) and include censoring oneself, actively preventing others from acquiring personal information, and supplying false information about oneself (Herek, 2003; Zerubavel, 1982). This process often involves performing an internal cost–benefit analysis in which “lesbians, gay man, and bisexuals must constantly decide whether or not to tell, whom to tell, and when to tell” (DiPlacido, 1998, p. 149).
De Monteflores (1986) was interested in the types of behavioral strategies that sexual minorities use to cope with social prejudice. The first of these was termed assimilation to refer to “passing” or acting straight so as to escape detection. This requires continual vigilance, accommodation, and fragmentation. A second behavior was termed ghettoization and referred to removal of oneself from contexts that are heterosexual. The last of De Monteflores’s strategies, confrontation, encompassed existence in both heterosexual and gay cultures, with the ability to “be out” in contexts that are not necessarily open and accepting. In their discussion of sexual identity management in employment settings, Chrobot-Mason, Button, and DiClementi (2001) identified behavioral strategies similar to those proposed by De Monteflores such as avoidance (eluding personal questions and talking in generalities about one’s personal life), counterfeiting (altering gender-specific pronouns, fabricating stories about dates or relationships), and integration (revealing one’s true identity and managing the consequences of this disclosure).
Regardless of the type of coping responses sexual minorities use to manage their identities in a heterosexist context, “constant self-monitoring and vigilance over safety consume a fair amount of psychological energy” (Fukuyama & Ferguson, 2000, p. 99).
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