Antecedents and Consequences of Managing a Concealable Stigma
Concealable stigmas are personal characteristics that are socially devalued but often not readily apparent to others, such as mental illness, transgender identity, sexually transmitted infections, and the experience of intimate partner violence. People with stigmatized attributes face prejudice and discrimination, which, in turn, has been linked with reduced social, emotional, and physical well-being. To avoid such negative experiences, people with concealable stigmas often have the option of hiding their stigmatized status. The Social Identity Lab, directed by Dr. Jonathan Mohr, has examined questions about the ongoing decisions people make about concealing and revealing a stigmatized identity—with a focus on lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) populations.
Dr. Mohr’s research has indicated that LGB people who have recently concealed their sexual orientation from others are more likely than others to be depressed and less likely to be satisfied with life—even after taking into consideration the extent to which they have disclosed their identity to people in their everyday lives. The negative impact of actively concealing one’s sexual orientation was also observed in a study of LGB workers, who were asked to record information about all workplace experiences involving revealing and concealing decisions as they occurred over a three-week period. Workers experienced sharp increases in negative mood immediately after concealing their sexual orientation, and this spike in negative mood persisted into the next workday.
Studies suggest that bisexual people may differ from their lesbian and gay peers in decisions related to managing sexual orientation stigma. These differences likely are rooted in unique forms of bias bisexual people face that are rooted in inaccurate beliefs about bisexuality. Dr. Mohr’s research has indicated that both heterosexuals and lesbian/gay people who hold these inaccurate beliefs are less willing than others to consider having a close relationship with a bisexual person. Moreover, experimental research has shown that such beliefs can even influence psychotherapists’ understanding of their bisexual clients’ problems. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that bisexual people have been found to be more likely than others to present their sexual orientation in complex ways—sometimes as bisexual, sometimes as heterosexual, and sometimes as lesbian/gay. Exactly how bisexual people present their sexual orientation to others is related to a number of factors, including the gender of their romantic partners, their general openness about being a sexual minority person, and their degree of certainty about their own sexual orientation.