The 6 Stages of Embracing Your LGBTQIA+ Identity

The 6 Stages of Embracing Your LGBTQIA+ Identity

Whether you’re gay, straight, male, female, or anywhere in between, all of us go through some form of identity development where we investigate what it means to really be me.  This process is confronting at the best of times… Remember all those haircuts and outfits?  Yikes.

But if you’re a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, getting to know and accept yourself can be even more daunting and stressful in a world that still displays homophobia and transphobia.  Coming out as your true LGBTQIA+ identity is also synonymous with being brave and standing up for yourself in the midst of possible ridicule, rejection, and ignorance.

For lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual folk, plus all the many other people with a range of other sexual and gender identities, recognizing, embracing, and expressing your identity involves unique challenges and for some this process can last a lifetime.  Knowing the steps involved in coming out as your true self can help you to understand how far you’ve come and how to prepare for the rest on your journey to being you.

Originally developed in 1979 by clinical psychologist and sex therapist Dr. Vivienne Cass, the Cass Identity Model1 is still considered one of the leading models for LGBTQIA+ identity development.  Here’s what some of the main thoughts and feelings look like in each stage:

Stage 1: Identity Confusion – the phase when you start to notice your identity doesn’t quite match with the ‘norms’ of society, you’re not sure if you’re heterosexual and/or cisgender

  • Feelings: disconnection, loneliness, confusion
  • Thoughts like…
    • Why can’t I fit in?
    • Who am I?
    • What do I want?


Stage 2: Identity Comparison – the phase when you might have admitted to yourself on some level you’re same-sex attracted or gender non-conforming, but you might bargain or rationalise your identity, as in you might try on different labels but not keen on any one in particular

  • Feelings: curious, split/torn, self-critical
  • Thoughts like…
    • Maybe this is just temporary
    • It was just the one time
    • Am I gay, or am I bi?


Stage 3: Identity Tolerance – the phase when you’ve chosen a label (or sometimes two or three) but it’s difficult to really accept yourself as this label, and you’re not sure how to really be a lesbian or be non-binary

  • Feelings: exploratory, shy, apprehensive, reserved/inhibited
  • Thoughts like…
    • Ok, I’m gay, now what?
    • What would my life look like if I expressed these feelings to others?
    • Do others feel like me too? 


Stage 4: Identity Acceptance – the phase when you internally accept yourself.  You’ve become integrated into the LGBTQIA+ community which has helped you embrace your true self, but you might pretend in certain situations (with extended family, at work, etc.) that you’re heterosexual or cisgender

  • Feelings: relief, hopeful, grateful
  • Thoughts like…
    • I finally feel like me
    • I’m not alone
    • I’m hopeful one day I can tell grandma about my identity


Stage 5: Identity Pride – the phase when you observe to a larger degree the great divide between your culture and the homophobic/transphobic culture, which might cause you to reject heteronormative and cisgender culture, spur you into action as an activist, or pique your interest in LGBTQIA+ events, art, literature, and media

  • Feelings: frustration, resentment, anger, passion, pride
  • Thoughts like…
    • What is wrong with the world?
    • Why can’t everyone else just accept us?
    • How can I be a bigger part of my community?


Stage 6: Identity Synthesis – the phase when you no longer feel ambivalent about your identity, have integrated your sexual and gender orientation into your larger self, and can also embrace trustworthy heteronormative and cisgender people and their culture at large too

  • Feelings: harmonious, accepting, pride, congruent
  • Thoughts like…
    • Being gay is only one aspect of my life
    • What do I want in my life – not as a bisexual cisgender male – but as me, John Doe?


These stages aren’t necessarily exhaustive, and everyone has a unique journey coming out.  Also, and very importantly, these stages aren’t always linear, meaning some go through Stage 3 before Stage 1 and Stage 5 before Stage 2, and so on.  There’s also no set timeframe that each stage typically lasts, so you could move through stages really quickly, or slowly too.

The most important thing to remember is that in whatever manner and timing that feels right for you, that’s the way you should go about on your journey to discover your true identity.

If you’d like some support along the way, contact us at 1300 784 184 or to find out how our LGBTQIA+ informed psychologists can help.



1 Cass, V. C. (1979). Homosexuality identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality4(3), 219-235.