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Socw 6210 -5 | SOCW 6210 – Human Behavior and the Social Environment II | Walden University


Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Gender identity and sexual orientation are critical issues that affect an individual’s development from childhood or adulthood through the life span. As more individuals from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community feel comfortable sharing their identities, social workers and other helping professionals may wish to further develop strategies for serving those populations.

This week, you explore issues related to gender identity and sexual orientation and consider their impact on social work practice. You also evaluate empirical research that addresses sexual orientation development.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • Analyze the impact of gender identity on development in young and middle adulthood
  • Apply understanding of gender identity development to social work practice
  • Analyze evidence-based research on sexual orientation across the life span
  • Apply evidence-based research on sexual orientation to social work practice

Photo Credit: [Petar Chernaev]/[E+]/Getty Images

Learning Resources

Note: To access this week’s required library resources, please click on the link to the Course Readings List, found in the Course Materials section of your Syllabus.

Required Readings

Brewster, M. E., & Moradi, B. (2010). Personal, relational and community aspects of bisexual identity in emerging, early and middle adult cohorts. Journal of Bisexuality, 10(4), 404–428.
Note: Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Burri, A., Cherkas, L., Spector, T., & Rahman, Q. (2011). Genetic and environmental influences on female sexual orientation, childhood gender typicality and adult gender identity. PloS ONE, 6(7), 1–8
Note: Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Ferguson, A. D., & Miville, M. L. (2017). It’s complicated: Navigating multiple identities in small town America. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73(8), 975–984.
Note: Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Maylor, E. A., Reimers, S., Choi, J., Collaer, M. L., Peters, M., & Silverman, I. (2007). Gender and sexual orientationdifferences in cognition across adulthood: Age is kinder to women than to men regardless of sexualorientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(2), 235–249.
Note: Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Nuttbrock, L. A., Bockting, W. O., Hwahng, S., Rosenblum, A., Mason, M., Macri, M., & Becker, J. (2009). Gender identity affirmation among male-to-female transgender persons: A life course analysis across types of relationships and cultural/lifestyle factors. Sexual & Relationship Therapy, 24(2), 108–125
Note: Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Pleak, R. R. (2009). Formation of transgender Identities in adolescence. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 13(4), 282–291.
Note: Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., & Hunter, J. (2011). Different patterns of sexual identity development over time: Implications for the psychological adjustment of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths. Journal of Sex Research, 48(1), 3–15.
Note: Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Optional Resources

Use the link below to access the MSW home page, which provides resources for your social work program.
MSW home page


Discussion: Gender Identity in Life-Span Development

Gender identity—identifying oneself as male or female—is a critical component of an individual’s life-span development. Misconceptions and stereotypes abound with regard to gender, and you may bring personal misconceptions and stereotypes to your work with clients.

As you read the resources this week, what concepts seem especially relevant to you as a social worker? Are you able to identify any personal misunderstandings about the formation of gender identity? What strategies might you use to apply your new understanding to social work practice?

By Day 3

Post a Discussion that includes the following:

  • A new understanding you have gained in the resources about gender identity
  • An explanation of how individuals’ gender identity affects their development through young and middle adulthood
  • A strategy you might use to apply your understanding of gender identity development to social work practice
By Day 5

Read a selection of your colleagues’ posts.

Respond in one or more of the following ways:

  • Add to your colleague’s explanation of how gender identity affects an individual’s life-span development.
  • Explain whether you might use your colleague’s strategy for applying the concept of gender identity to social work practice. Provide support for your position.


Assignment: Empirical Research and Developmental Theory

What does evidence-based research say about the development of sexual orientation in young and middle adulthood? Though the body of literature addressing sexual orientation, including heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, is far from complete, the literature continues to grow. Your awareness of this literature helps inform your social work practice as you address the needs of clients with a variety of sexual orientations.

For this Assignment, conduct your own research to identify at least one journal article that addresses sexual orientation. Select an article that you find especially relevant to you in your role as a social worker.

By Day 7

Submit a 2- to 4-page paper that includes the following:

  • A summary of your findings regarding sexual orientation and its impact on life-span development, including findings from the resources and from the journal article(s) you selected during your research
  • An explanation of how you might apply your findings to social work practice



Let me ask you, what’s the general thought, perception, and/or belief regarding gender identity and sexual orientation in your native country? If you were taught these same beliefs as a child, how do you put them aside to assist clients who are transgender, pangender, LGBTQ, etc?

TambraAnn Sanders 

Gender Identity in Life-Span Development

            Gender identity is an individual’s internal psychological self-concept of being either male or female, or a combination of both (Gilbert, 2008). Similarly, Pleak (2009) describes gender identity as the sense inside oneself of their masculinity, femininity, or anything in between. With gender identity, or more specifically, gender diversity currently the norm, effective social workers should have a solid understanding of gender regarding life-span development.

My Enhanced Understanding

            My understanding of gender identity has significantly changed. To best describe the reason for this transformation, I will share a portion of my childhood that clearly formed by perception of gender identity. Blatant gender identities were instilled within my family. I was raised in a traditional Italian-Catholic family, where the roles of women were subservient.  For example, the women in my family could be found cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, taking care of their husbands, sewing, doing laundry. This life did not include making any household decisions such as automobile purchases or home improvements. My dad was the bread-winner who controlled the finances and was often feared by the rest of the family. As a child, the role of a man would almost equate with the term “tyrant” while the role of a woman would equate with “ultimate nurturer.”

            Witnessing these roles while growing up influenced my experience with gender, including who I chose to marry and the constructs within my marriage. When I met my soon-to-be husband, he appeared to be fun, giving, comforting, and financially giving-something I was not familiar with, with men. This was, to say the least, a culture shock. Who was this man? He is not “normal.” However, within a few weeks of dating him, I began to adore these qualities about him, and I realized that there are men who include, to what I only knew as, feminine characteristics. Moreover, our married life found me controlling the finances and making the major decisions for our family; a role in women I never witnessed as a child, but was very comfortable with as an adult, married woman. The messages regarding gender did influence me; to go in an opposite direction. Secondly, and later in life, my understanding of gender identity was further broadened. Attending college as an adult, and now at Walden, created a more well-rounded, open-minded perspective of gender identity. I have had the privilege of reading a substantial amount of professional journal articles pertaining to gender. I’ve had life experiences and formal education experience that has prepared me for understanding a client’s gender identity.

Applying My Understanding of Gender Identity Development

                        Personally, and professionally, one of my objectives is to raise an awareness of the gender stereotyping that remains in our society. As a mom, purely by witnessing the role I play as a woman, my daughters have a more well-rounded idea of the roles of women in society. They are almost unaware of any inequalities within a household. As a professional, my aim is to recognize and spread awareness of gender differences. My goal as a social worker would be to diminish the confusion and controversy that surrounds adolescents when they have chosen to be gay, lesbian, or transgendered.


Gilbert, M. (2008). Transgender people.In T. Mizrahi & L.E. Davis. (eds.). Encyclopedia of

            Social Work (4 ed., pp. 238-241). Washington, DC: NASW Press.

Pleak, R. (2009). Formation of transgender identities in adolescence. Journal of Gay &

            Lesbian Mental Health, 13(4), 282-291.


Kate Fullmer 

A new understanding gained regarding gender identity:

According to Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, “Gender Identity can be defined as an individual’s internal psychological concept of self as either male or female or perhaps a mixture of both.” (P. 425). Gender Identity can also be confused with similar terms such as Gender expression and Gender roles. These are very different from Gender Identity. According to Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, “Gender Expression refers to how we express ourselves to others with behavior and personality traits related to gender. Gender Roles refer to society’s association of behaviors and attitudes related to being female or male.” (P. 425). 

How an Individual’s gender identity affects their development through young and middle adulthood: 

As we all know, Adolescence is a confusing time in a person’s life. This is a time when the human body is changing and thoughts of sexuality are beginning. This is also a time where an individual is struggling to identify themselves as a person and can fall victim to peer pressure. According to Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, “Adolescents are prone to encounter strong pressures to conform to gender stereotypes from the media, their peers, parents, as well as teachers.” (P.31). These pressures to conform may impact an individual by making them feel they can’t be their true selves out of fear of rejection or mistreatment. These pressures can follow into adulthood which will continue the process of an individual not feeling they are free to be themselves and may cause many barriers in allowing this person to thrive in all aspects of life. 

A strategy to utilize when applying the understanding of gender identity development to social work practice: 

A strategy to utilize regarding gender identity in social work practice is mindfulness. This is essential to effective work with a client. The professional needs to be aware of the types of pressures one may feel to conform and how this may suppress the individual’s true identity. It is also imperative that mindfulness be utilized regarding this subject when interacting with the client and their sex. It needs to be recognized that although you may be interacting with a client that appears female or male, they might not identify as what their physical appearance is. As the social worker I would focus on strengths to enhance the self-concept and identity of the client. 


Kirst-Ashman, K. & Zastrow, C. (2016). Understanding Human Behavior & the Social Environment. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. 

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