Stage Four: Identity Acceptance

The Identity Acceptance stage is characterized by increasing contacts with other gay and lesbian individuals. It also involves experiences that help “normalize” a gay or lesbian identity and way of life, and this stage can introduce new opportunities for drinking. Consider the experiences of “Veronica” and “John.” Veronica told her counselor that when she began to come out, her drinking “just took off and went through the roof!” She spent much of her time in gay bars and drank heavily at every opportunity to socialize and be sexual.

John had been quite close to his family, but he believed family members would reject him if they found out he was gay. While he was enjoying his new gay and lesbian friends and his activities in the gay community, he used marijuana and drank heavily every day to medicate his anger and sadness about the loss of his family. Thus, as people increasingly become able to accept rather than tolerate their homosexual self-image, their substance abuse problems may, in some cases, become more severe.

People in the early stages often have fragile identities and find it difficult to cope with non-LGBT people who do not understand the need to be with people similar to them. They may disclose their identities to intolerant people in unsafe situations. For example, “Ed” felt so good about being gay and falling in love with “Jorge” when he got sober that he wanted to tell his boss and coworkers his happy news. His counselor was able to help him exercise some restraint. “Jan,” for instance, was happy about coming out as a radical lesbian feminist separatist and claimed her identity with a great deal of enthusiasm. However, she refused to enter a rehabilitation facility that treated men and would go only to a women’s program that she felt would be sensitive to her needs as a lesbian. There her counselor could respect her political or emotional position while helping her recover.