The Stages of Coming Out
Many authors and theorists have written about the Coming Out process. There are many models and many different stages proposed. What follows is a good basic model for this process.
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, acknowledgment and acceptance of one’s sexual orientation develops. There may be some grief over “the fall from paradise” and feelings of loss of a traditional heterosexual life.
Gay and lesbian people may be fairly closeted at this point. However, most seek out information about being gay.
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 gays and lesbians come out in “gentle” ways, admitting 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.
Socialization with Other Gays
Socializing with other gays and lesbians 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 gay or lesbian role models can play a big role in this stage.
This stage entails feeling good about oneself, seeking out positive relationships with other gays or lesbians, and feeling satisfied and fulfilled.
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 other couples.
Openness is often mitigated by age. Older men may be less open in their lives, and may see no need to change. Younger men may be more open, politically active, and visible in the gay community.
Credit: Richard Niolon, Ph.D.