Some of the traits we possess are actually stigmas. According to Goffman, a stigma is a trait or characteristic we possess that causes us to lose prestige in the eyes of others. A disfigured face might be a stigma, as someone whose face is severely disfigured is likely to have lost prestige among his or her peers and coworkers. Many would also consider homosexuality to be a stigmatizing characteristic. Because of widespread homophobia, many people would think less of a person they knew to be homosexual.
Goffman believed that a stigma that is permanent, severe, or both can cause an individual to have a spoiled identity, and others will always cast them in a negative light.
Example: Convicted felons have a spoiled identity. Not only is their status as felons their master status, but it is a stigma so negative that it is likely that society will always think of them as convicted felons. Being a convicted felon is so stigmatizing that individuals will always be thought of as criminals even if they’ve served time and have been rehabilitated.
If an individual’s identity is spoiled beyond redemption, sometimes the groups to which he or she belongs must decide how to handle his or her new identity. One way to deal with individuals whose identities have been spoiled is through a degradation ceremony. According to Harold Garfinkel, a degradation ceremony is a ritual designed to expel a person from a group and to strip this person of his or her identity as a group member.