Santa Clara University

Wellness Center

Coming Out

What Does it Mean to Come Out?

  • The term “coming out” (of the closet) refers to the life-long process of the development of a positive Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, or Ally (GLBTQQA) identity. Click here to see definitions of these terms.
  • Long and difficult struggle for many GLBTQQA individuals because they often have to confront many homophobic attitudes and discriminatory practices.
  • Many GLBTQQA individuals first need to struggle with their own negative stereotypes and feelings of homophobia they learned when they were growing up.
  • It often takes years of painful work to develop a positive GLBTQQA identity. Then, many GLBTQQA individuals begin to make decisions about to whom they should “come out”. Many GLBTQQA individuals are afraid to “come out” to their friends and family.
  • Coming out always has risks involved, so when a GLBTQQA person comes out, s/he is entrusting us with that valuable information.
  • Because GLBTQQA people are often in different stages of being out and are not always out to everyone, it is the responsibility of those who have been trusted with the information that someone is GLBTQQA not to “out” that person.
  • Coming out is a necessary part of developing a healthy and positive identity as a GLBTQQA individual. It reduces isolation and alienation and allows for increased support from other GLBTQQA people.
  • There have been many theories that attempt to outline stages of coming out. The stages of the following process, provided by PsychPage, are not meant to show a linear progression or be definite categories. It is very common for individuals to move from one stage to another out of the listed order or even be in more than one stage simultaneously. Individuals often move back and forth between stages and are sometimes at a midway point between stages. The model should be thought of more as a continuum that people can move about freely upon:

Stages of the Coming Out Process

1.  Self-Recognition as Gay

More than just an awareness of attraction to members of the same sex, it involves confusion, some attempt at denial and repression of feelings, anxiety, trying to “pass,” counseling, and often religious commitment to “ overcome” sexuality. Eventually, acknowledgement and acceptance of one’s sexual identity develops. There may be some grief over “the fall from paradise” and feelings of loss of a mainstream heterosexual life. Queer people may be fairly closeted at this point. However, most seek out information about being gay.


2.  Disclosure to Others

Sharing one’s sexual orientation with a close friend or family member is the first step in this stage. Rejection may cause a return to the Self-Recognition stage, but positive acceptance can lead to better feelings of self-esteem. Usually disclosure is a slow process. Some queer people come out in “gentle” ways, affirming they are gay if asked but not volunteering it. Others do it in “loud” ways, proclaiming their sexuality to others to end the invisibility of being gay. As this stage progresses, a self-image of what it means to be gay develops, and the individual studies stereotypes, incorporates some information about gays while rejecting other information.


3.  Socialization with Other Gays

Socializing with other queer individuals provides the experience that the person is not alone in the world, and there are other people like him or her. A positive sense of self, indeed pride develops, and is strengthened by acceptance, validation, and support. Contact with positive queer role models can play a big role in this stage.


4.  Positive Self-Identification

This stage entails feeling good about oneself, seeking out positive relationships with other queer individuals, and feeling satisfied and fulfilled.


5.  Integration and Acceptance

Entails an openness and non-defensiveness about one’s sexual orientation. One may be quietly open, not announcing their sexual orientation, but available for support to others nonetheless. Couples live a comfortable life together and generally seek out others couples.


Perhaps your most difficult step in coming out will be to reveal yourself to other people. It is at this step that you may feel most likely to encounter negative consequences. Thus, it is particularly important to go into this part of the coming out process with open eyes. For example, it will help to understand that some heterosexuals will be shocked or confused initially, and that they may need some time to get used to the idea that you are queer. Also, it is possible that some heterosexual family members or friends may reject you initially; however, do not consider them as hopeless…many people come around in their own time.


Coming out to others is likely to be a more positive experience when you are more secure with your sexuality and less reliant on others for your positive self-concept. The necessary clarification of feelings is a process that usually takes place over time. It may be a good idea to work through that process before you take the actual steps. Usually it is not a good idea to come out on the spur of the moment. Make coming out an action, not a reaction.


In coming out to others, consider the following:

  • Think about what you want to say and choose the time and place carefully
  • Be aware of what the other person is going through. The best time for you might not be the best time for someone else
  • Present yourself honestly and remind the other person that you are the same individual you were yesterday
  • Be prepared for an initially negative reaction from some people. Do not forget that it took time for you to come to terms with your sexuality, and that it is important to give others the time they need
  • Have friends lined up to talk with you later about what happened
  • Don’t give up hope if you don’t initially get the reaction you wanted. Due to inculcated societal prejudices mentioned earlier, some people need more time than others to come to terms with what they have heard.

Above all, be careful no to let your self-esteem depend entirely on the approval of others. If a person rejects you and refuses to try to work on acceptance, that’s not your fault. Keep in mind that this initial refusal may get reversed once the individual gets used to the idea that you are queer. If time does not seem to change the individual’s attitude toward you, then you may want to re-evaluate your relationship and its importance to you. Remember that you have the right to be who you are, you have the right to be out and open about all important aspects of your identity including your sexual orientation, and in no case is another person’s rejection evidence of your lack of worth or value.


What to do When Someone Comes Out to You. . .

  • Remember that the queer person is apt to have spent many hours in thoughtful preparation and shares the information with keen awareness of the possible risks.
  • There is no way for the queer person to predict your reaction accurately.
  • It is important to understand that the person has not changed. You may be shocked by their revelation, but remember this is still the same person as before. Don’t let the shock lead you to view the newly outted person as suddenly different or bad.
  • Don’t ask questions that would have been considered rude within the relationship before this disclosure. This person has the same sensibilities as before; however, you may well need to do some “catching up.”

Some questions you can ask:

  • How long have you known you were gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer?
  • Is there someone special?
  • Has it been hard for you carrying this secret?
  • Is there some way I can help?
  • Have I ever offended you unknowingly?

Be honest and open about your feelings. It makes the sharing more complete and makes change possible.


If you know or suspect that someone you know is gender or sexually queer and have not yet been told, appreciate the fear and anxiety that inhabits the disclosure. All you can do, usually, is to make it openly known that you appreciate and support GLBTQQA people.

Suggested Readings

  • Resource Guide to Coming Out (PDF File); by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation
  • Now That You Know.  Betty Fairchild & Robert Leighton.   New York, NY.  Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1989.
  • Beyond Acceptance.  Carolyn Welch Griffin, Marina J. Wirth & Arthur G. Wirth.   New York, NY.   St. Martin's Press, 1997.
  • Straight Parents/Gay Children.  Robert A. Bernstein.   New York, NY.  Thunder's Mouth Press, 1995.

On Campus Resources:

  • GALA: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, & Questioning support group.
  • GASPED: Gay & Straight People for the Education of Diversity.
  • Safe Space Program: SCU's educational commitment to providing a safe environment for LGBTQ students.
  • OOWO: On Our Way Out, Faculty and Staff LGBTQ group.
  • Counseling Center: 554-4172 (free and confidential sessions)
  • Wellness Center:  554-4409


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