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What Does it Mean to Come Out?
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:
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. . .
Some questions you can ask:
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.
On Campus Resources: