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Gay and Straight Possible Selves: Goals, Identity, Subjective Well-Being, and Personality Development


  • This research was supported by NIMH Grant MH54142. Portions of this study appeared in an undergraduate honors thesis by Nathan Smith under the direction of Laura King. We thank Camille Patterson, Sonia Sethi, Jeff White, Tom Kennedy, Erik Day, Summer Noelle Smith, and Kelly Ruff for their assistance in transcription, content analysis, and coding. We thank Angie Simon for her assistance in data collection for the pilot study of 15 lesbians who provided invaluable feedback on earlier versions of the questionnaire packet. Finally, we express our gratitude to the participants in this study, who completed these questionnaire packets in the sometimes hostile contexts of their lives. We thank them for their amazing candor in sharing their life dreams in the service of this study.

concerning this article should be addressed to Laura A. King, Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, 211 McAlester Hall, Columbia, MO 65203. Electronic mail may be sent to Laura A. King at


Abstract This study examined the relations of the salience and elaboration of gay and straight possible selves to subjective well-being (SWB) and ego development (ED) in a sample of 107 gay men and lesbians, who wrote narrative descriptions of their straight and gay best possible selves and rated the salience of these narratives (i.e., the clarity of the mental image, how easy it was to imagine). Independent raters coded the narratives for amount of elaboration (i.e., vivid detail). The salience of the gay possible self was positively related to SWB and outness, while the salience of the straight possible self was negatively related to SWB and being out. Furthermore, the possible self variables mediated the relationship of outness to well-being. Straight self-elaboration predicted personality development concurrently and prospectively, over 2 years. Results are interpreted as indicating that, while happiness may require us to focus upon our current life goals, personality development might require an exploration of the potential sacrifices of identity.