Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Shannon K. McCoy

Second Committee Member

Thane E. Fremouw

Third Committee Member

Shawn Ell


Lesbians can be extremely protective of their ingroup boundaries. This may stem from the knowledge that many women adopt more than one sexual identity over time, leading lesbians to worry about imposters within the ingroup. Within this dissertation I proposed that some lesbian women feel they have to achieve their identity as a "true" lesbian woman. I predicted that perceiving identity as achieved can have negative implications for perceptions of acceptance within the ingroup. Furthermore, I predicted that ingroup members can perceive that other lesbians have "precarious" identities that will change overtime.

Across five studies, the impact of perceiving that identity is achieved was examined. In Study 1, feeling like identity is achieved to the ingroup was negatively related to feeling accepted by the ingroup among lesbian women. This pattern was not consistently seen for heterosexual men, women or gay men. These data indicated that it may be members of both an achieved identity and socially devalued group who are likely to perceive that they are not included ingroup members when they feel identity needs to be achieved. Further, lesbian women in Study 2 reported lower well-being when they perceived their identity needed to be achieved to ingroup members. This effect was significantly mediated by feeling excluded from the ingroup. In Study 3, affirmation of the ingroup was presented as a strategy that could be used to achieve identity, and increase acceptance by ingroup members. Contrary to predictions, this strategy had no impact on acceptance of ingroup members. Study 3 did provide evidence, however, that lesbian women are more likely to perceive a young, possibly "precarious", ingroup member as an outgroup member, and report increased desire for social distance from the young lesbian when compared to gay men. Thus, these data provide evidence that some lesbian women do feel their identity is achieved, and experience corresponding feelings of exclusion and negative impacts on well-being. Furthermore, among lesbian women, being perceived as a "precarious" ingroup member leads to increased rejection from ingroup members when compared to gay men. The possibility of additional socially devalued, achieved identity groups is discussed.