Identity Crisis: Understanding Female Same-Sex Attraction

An Imaginary Self

In a previous post I listed 4 categories that were often found to be extremely conflicted in women with SSA

  • attachment
  • formation of self
  • gender identity
  • socialization

This post is going to begin to deal with the topics of the formation of self and gender identity. Identity is an extremely important topic for everyone. We all have a certain way we view or think about ourselves that affects the way we interact and relate with God and other people.

Many women, due to lack of attachment developed with her parents, failed to develop a strong sense of identity. In order to make up for this lack of identity and “in lieu of having an affirmed and loved core self,” many of these women, created and latched onto “an imaginary self or role from which to draw even the most meager sense of identity” (p. 74).

The following three testimonies provide examples of the created selves/worlds that women with SSA develop and use in order to give themselves “a sense of grounding for their existence…a sense of relief from inner pain…a sense of attachment…” or to supply for themselves a method of self-protection (p. 74).

By age 10 I just kind of lived in a fantasy world. I used to listen to all those heroes on the radio, like the Lone Ranger and the Shadows. I used to think I was the hero and would rescue everybody. I took care of my brother and my mom, who was sick a lot. I never felt fear though. I didn’t really feel anything. I just went along with whatever was happening” (p. 75).

 “At age 6, one of my clients entertained fantasies of her parents dying. She methodically mapped out a way to single handedly care for her younger siblings. The fantasy provided her with a sense of power and security” (p. 74).

 I remember as young as 8 years old, as I would fall asleep, I would stroke my arm or hair and pretend that it was another older motherly woman. I found great comfort in this and continued this practice regularly into college. I would often wish or pretend I was in the hospital very sick or dying so that the nurses would take care of me and in the process, touch me affectionately. I would also pretend that I had close friendships with certain girls and women whom I admired and found comfort in those pretend friendships. The real friendships I did have, I would often improve in my mind adding a depth of emotional intimacy to them that was not in reality there. This was a way of coping with the emptiness and loneliness I felt as well as my craving for intimacy and affection. My pretending eventually consumed my life to the point where I felt like nothing in my life was real. I lived in a world of make-believe and I did not know how to function any other way. It took years of taking my thoughts captive and thinking on truth to change my pretending habit. I also had to learn to give my loneliness and pain to Jesus instead of coping through my fantasy world.

These sorts of fantasy worlds left these girls with little formational energy to develop an authentic self and to form a sense of identity (p. 76).

Gender Non-Conformity

 In addition to the struggle of developing an authentic sense of self, many women with SSA also faced another “dimension to their mounting relational and identity issues” (p. 75). As children many of these women also, “displayed what are stereotypically defined as masculine or gender nonconforming behaviors and interests (Bell, Weinberg & Hammersmith, 1981)” (p. 75). Many also showed a dis-interest in stereotypically feminine activities. The gender non-conforming traits that many of these women possessed often led them as adults “into hobbies and careers more culturally identified as masculine (p. 76).

How Does Gender Confusion Often Arise?

There are two questions that gender identity formation arises from: “Who am I as a girl and is it a good thing?”

Women with SSA, as children, knew that they were biological females and usually “appropriately applied sex labels to others and themselves” (p. 77). The next step of gender identification development involves a girl becoming aware of and distinguishing “between the cultural sex roles that discriminate between girls and boys” (p. 77). At this stage in development the problem is not a lack of recognition of stereotypes but rather a lack of interest or even disgust “for the discriminating characteristics and social roles unique to females as portrayed within their families, schools, churches or broader culture” (p. 77).

In order “to become ultimately secure in their girlhood or feminine identity, these girls at least needed to… identify with some desirable…characteristics…within some women or social images of females…and if she receives ongoing acceptance, respect and affirmation as a girl,” (despite her gender nonconforming interests,) “all may be well” (p. 77). Unfortunately many of these girls did not receive this affirmation of their womanhood but rather found themselves in “environments that insisted they mold themselves into a rigid definition of femaleness or were shamed into believing that their interests and abilities made them less of a girl or unacceptably different” (p. 78).

In sixth grade I went to the music teacher and told him I wanted to play the drums. He just laughed at me and said girls don’t play the drums. I didn’t understand why girls couldn’t do the same things boys could. I was very innocent. It wasn’t like I was this feminist at 12 years old. (p. 78)

 If a young girl, (who may already carry negative feelings towards female sex roles caused by other events or relationships in her life) experiences rejection due to her unique non-gender conforming interests, she may begin to wonder whether being a girl is a good thing. “These questions and doubts around whether she is acceptable and valued as a female—not the nonconforming interests themselves—are what may create difficulty in her gender identity formation” (p. 78).

 Let me share a personal note that may help to illustrate the above points:

I grew up in a culture that expected women to act and dress in a very particular way. I did not fit into that mold of what a girl was supposed to look like. I can remember many times being asked if I was a tomboy (or in that culture, a lesbian). I enjoyed wearing my hair short and wearing boy clothes and was often mistaken for a boy. Even though I desired to be a boy I was nevertheless embarrassed and upset each time I was mistaken for a boy or asked if I was a lesbian. These questions, combined with a natural disinterest I had in most feminine things lodged a deep insecurity within my mind concerning whether or not I would make a better boy than a girl. I remember at times making an effort to dress nicely or put on makeup but would quickly become overwhelmed with the pressure of having to try to look as good or as feminine as the other girls around me. It mostly just felt awkward and uncomfortable.

 It wasn’t until college that I began to unpack how the culture I grew up in had affected my view of what it meant to be a female. As a young girl, in my mind, being a woman had everything to do with outward appearance and behavior. Being a real “lady” meant wearing dresses and literally walking a certain way as well as avoiding a list of things that real ladies never did. As I got older I knew there was more to being a woman than what one wears etc. but was nevertheless unable to kick the feeling that I would never really be a “true” feminine woman. The year after college the Lord led me to pick up a book that unpacked for me what true biblical femininity looked like. In my next post I will attempt to share a bit of what I learned and how it began to change the way I viewed myself and what being a female meant. For now hopefully the above example helps bring the more technical points of gender identity to life.


Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at

(Unless otherwise indicated, all of the page references are from Hallman, 2008)

Bell, A. P., Weinberg, M.S. & Hammersmith, S. K. (1981). Sexual preference: Its development in men and women. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Hallman, Janelle. (2008). The heart of female same-sex attraction: A comprehensive counseling resource. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Daddies and Daughters: Understanding Female Same-Sex Attraction

“Susan’s eyes filled with tears as she related to me an incident that occurred many years ago. It was the night of her first school dance and she was excited. She even felt good in the dress she was wearing. It wasn’t as comfortable as the usual jeans and tee-shirt, but, for once, that didn’t matter. Susan looked like a woman, and, more importantly, she felt like one.

Not owning any make-up herself, Susan borrowed her mother’s for the night. Application was difficult. How on earth do women manage to do this every day? She wondered as she fought courageously with the eyeliner pencil. However, her persistence paid off, and she felt transformed into a ‘real’ woman. Checking that no one was watching, Susan twirled like a regular beauty queen in front of the full-length mirror.

Timidly, Susan proceeded down the stairs. ‘Dad,’ she petitioned, ‘how do I look?’

Her father glanced up from the evening newspaper, briefly scanned her, then smirked, ‘Who hit you in the eyes?’

Her dad may have been teasing, but his words sent her reeling—her budding femininity left in tatters.

Susan remembers running to the bathroom, tears streaming down her cheeks. Once inside, she locked the door and scrubbed her face until it was raw. ‘I’ll never do that again,’ she vowed, knowing that her days of trying to be a woman were over.

Fifteen years later, Susan had still not worn any make-up.” (Howard, 2001, p. 107)

The father daughter relationship plays an important role in the life of a young girl and her development. Ideally a girl’s, “father is to move into her world (and the world of the mother), protecting their special mother-daughter relationship by supporting his wife and affirming and calling forth his daughter’s unique self and feminine identity” (Hallman, 2008, p. 67).

Jeanette Howard (2001), in her book, Out of Egypt, writes

“Beside fostering a sense of security, one of the father’s main roles is to affirm his daughter in her femininity. As a representative of the opposite sex, his opinion of his daughter provides affirmation or disapproval in a way that a mother cannot. As the first man a little girl falls in love with, he has the opportunity to nurture her into someone who enjoys her own sexuality. He can allow her to flirt in a safe environment without fear of being rebuffed or taken advantage of” (p. 106).

Two Extremes

Similar to their relationships with mom, the same description of extreme closeness and distance in the father-daughter relationship is reported.


Many women report their dad’s being “warm, kind and fun” and often described themselves as dad’s “special pal.” However, this closeness was only brought about as the girls moved into the world of their father’s “engaging in his interests and activities.” Even when the girls may have genuinely enjoyed these activities, the interactions were “often more about dad than daughter” (p. 68). “Rarely did one of these women experience dad’s devoted attunement to her inner thoughts and feelings or her special interests that fell outside his world. In extreme cases, many of these women knowingly shifted aspects of their identity or became like their dad in order to maintain a sense of closeness” (p. 68).

In some cases daughters felt that their dads were trying to mold them towards self-sufficiency, toughness or scholastic ability, etc. Whatever the goals they felt their fathers had for them, they perceived pressure to please in order to maintain the relationship to the point of giving up their own goals, dreams, opinions and sense of self etc. (p. 68).


While many women report that their fathers were a “lifeline and closest ally,” most also reported “an equally strong sense that their fathers were emotionally absent or unpredictably angry.” Many of these fathers were not necessarily more angry than others fathers, but rather these “relational traits, as perceived by their daughters left an indelible impact” (p. 68). Two seemingly opposite reactions often occur. First, a deep fear is cultivated leading to the belief that “men are not safe.” Second, many align themselves with dad, attempting to “identify and associate with his apparent power and strength” (p. 69).

One woman reports:

Once my dad became really angry with my youngest sister. His face was bright red. I know at that moment I made a vow that I was never going to be like my sister. I was going to be strong like him. And I would never do anything that would make him that mad at me” (p. 69).


The actual or perceived emotional absence of these fathers left their daughters in a place where they were never able to experience a healthy “emotional connecting or interacting with a man.” Rather, men were viewed as undesirable or unknown. Other related perceptions of men that were often developed by these daughters due to their fathers emotional absence were that men were “weak, irrelevant and useless: and consequently ignored.” Many of these women also “developed the belief that they, as females in relationship to a man, didn’t matter” (p. 69).

A dysfunctional relationship with dad has the potential for inhibiting their daughters from relating to a man in an effective way. It can also affect how that woman views and relates to God as her Heavenly Father. “If we have not received from out earthly Dad a sense of specialness and acceptance for who we are, we can find numerous problems in opening ourselves up to our Heavenly Daddy” (Howard, 2001, p. 108).


As these last two posts have illustrated, each parent plays an extremely important role in the development of their daughters. For some, the breakdown of either of these relationships (or the perception of breakdown) can have deep lasting effects in a girl’s perception of herself, her sexuality, and how she relates to each gender. My prayer is that these last several posts will be helpful not just to counselors but to parents like myself who are truly striving to show love and care.

For parents my hope is that these posts do not lead to anxiety that one insensitive comment will doom your daughter to a life of lesbianism. My husband, after reading the opening story, commented on how extreme Susan’s reaction was to her father’s one insensitive comment. If you had the same reaction it would be helpful to keep in mind that these stories are most likely not the whole story. In other words, there are always going to be other factors playing their part in a girl’s life than just one isolated incident or comment.

As parents I hope this post will remind and encourage you to work to be aware of what makes each of your children tick and to seek to know how your children are internally responding to the interactions you have with them and how they perceive their relationship with you. Does your child get your sarcastic sense of humor or are they taking what you say to heart? Do you know how your child best receives and feels love? Is your discipline style working well for one kid while it’s crushing another? How does your child view themselves? Do you know their insecurities? Their fears? Their desires for their life? Work to know these sorts of things and adjust your parenting appropriately.

Finally, when you as a parent do blurt out insensitive comments or become harsh with your children, as every parent on the planet is bound to do at some point no matter how amazing you may be, have the humility to apologize to your kids and reassure them of your love for them and their value to you and God. Doing this kind of damage control will go a long way to keeping your relationship with your kids in good repair.

(Unless otherwise indicated, all of the page references are from Hallman, 2008)

Hallman, Janelle. (2008). The heart of female same-sex attraction: A comprehensive counseling resource. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Howard, Jeanette. (2001). Out of Egypt: One woman’s journey out of lesbianism. Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books.