The term “coming out” refers to the sequence of events through which individuals recognize their own homosexual or bisexual orientation and disclose it to others (Garnets, Herek & Levy, 1990). Further, coming out helps to solidify the person’s commitment to a homosexual identity. Becoming gay or lesbian or bisexual can be understood as a series of events that starts with developing a social identity of homosexuality or bisexuality (Troiden, 1989) and disclosing this identity to others.
Based on Troiden’s (1989) model, developing a gay identity undergoes sensitization, identity confusion, identity assumption and commitment. The sensitization stage usually begins before puberty and involves the person becoming aware that he or she is different from other boys or girls. Usually, they have this feeling that they are not like their friends and peers and yet they cannot explain why they feel different. It may be awareness or an appreciation of the same sex rather than the opposite sex. They may tend to have interests or preoccupations that are not in accordance with their own sex as what society expects.
As lesbians and gay men continue to experience that they are different from their heterosexual counterparts, they become confused about who they are. Since they feel they are different, they begin to question who they are as a person and what do they want from their life. But since society stigmatize homosexuality, the person is driven to deny and avoid homosexual tendencies. Moreover, part of the confusion of establishing an identity is based on the fact that persons who may be homosexuals have had
experienced becoming attracted and interested both in the opposite and same sex. There are several ways with which to deal with feelings of identity confusion. This may be denying the homosexual thoughts, feelings and fantasies, or the person may seek therapy to change homosexual inclinations, an attempt at conversion. And the person may acknowledge the homosexual feelings but regard them as unacceptable and tries to adopt behaviors similar to a heterosexual person. Avoidance of homosexual individuals may also cause the person to join causes against homosexuals or become involved in gay bashing or resort to alcohol and drugs.
Identity assumption is when the individual come to define themselves as homosexual. Within their selves, they come to acknowledge and identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. At this stage, the individual has a clear idea of his/her beliefs and her homosexual identity, in which case he/she may seek to live the life of gays, lesbians or bisexuals. However, since this assumption of a gay identity is more of personal, it is often not disclosed to family members for fear of rejection. Newly self-identified homosexuals often learn how to live a double life, that of being a gay inside and appearing to be heterosexual to others. The last one is commitment to homosexuality, which involves adopting it as a lifestyle. Homosexuality is a choice and is a sexual orientation rather than being genetically determined, it means that the gay, lesbian or bisexual individual can now manifest his/her true feelings and behaviors even if this will be met by prejudice and discrimination by the public. Internally, this means viewing
homosexuality as a legitimate life-style that is “right” for one’s self. Externally, this means
establishing emotional and sexual relationships with someone of the same sex and disclosing one’s sexuality to others. In this stage, the homosexual person can now begin to actively seek out homosexual relationships and bring these relationships to the open. Persons who are committed to a homosexual identify would not change their sexual orientation even if they could. Troiden (1989) however cautions that not all homosexuals go through the stages in an orderly manner, but rather these stages may be merged, passed or simultaneously experienced.
The second part of developing a homosexual identity is wherein the person discloses to significant others and to society that one is gay. As such, the coming out process can take the form of acknowledging one’s sexuality to oneself, to one’s family of origin, to one’s heterosexual partner or spouse and children and to friends and employers. To come out to oneself is to be aware that one is gay or bisexual and to acknowledge this to oneself. Thus the person finally says, I am gay, lesbian or bisexual and I am going to live with it because I chose to. However, sometimes the initial reaction is of horror and shock but this is a normal reaction given that in our heterosexually dominated society, most looks with disapproval and disdain towards the homosexual or bisexual. More frequently, this social disapproval and disdain may give undue pressure to the individual who is contemplating of coming out publicly and sometimes, societal pressures can lead to suicide attempts and depression. Developing acceptance of one’s self is important for one’s happiness; most gays eventually accept themselves and enjoy their lives
(Adelman, 1990). Accepting one’s self is like freeing the person from a lonely and cold prison cell.
After coming out to one’s self, coming out to ones parents and siblings looms as a major decision. Deciding to tell or not to tell one’s parents is very difficult. Not to do so is to hide one’s true self from parents and to fell alienated, afraid, and alone. To tell them is to risk rejection and disapproval. Some parents of homosexuals suspects that their child is gay, even before they are told (Robinson et al., 1989). Parents may be told face to face, through an intermediary (sibling, other relative, our counselor), or in a letter. Parental reactions to discovery that their child is gay often include shock and anger (Robinson et al., 1989, p 67). It may be particularly difficult for gay youth to come out to their families (Uribe & Harbeck, 1992). Two explanations may account for parents responding so negatively. One, they suddenly feel that all of the negative stereotypes rampant in our heterosexist society are true of their son or daughter (“my child is a pervert,” “child molester,” “has AIDS”). Second, some are overwhelmed with a sense of sadness and depression that their child will no longer fulfill their dreams. When they learn of their child’s homosexuality, they must adjust to the fact that their child is not part of the majority, but is a part of minority (minorities are persecuted). Their dreams that their child will have a satisfying traditional marriage, including children, must die. Instead, they must learn to accept a different kind of identity and behavior for their child (Robinson et al., 1989, p. 59).
The adjustment to the knowledge of their offspring’s homosexuality involved a five-stage
progression of mourning and loss, including, shock, denial, guilt, anger, and acceptance. Acceptance was difficult because they were afraid for the child. Parental adjustment to the
knowledge that their son or daughter is a homosexual takes time. In a study by Robinson et al. (1989) most parents reported that it took them years to work trough their grief and fully accept their child same-sex orientation. Homosexuals usually disclose their sexual orientation to their siblings before they tell their parents. The reactions of siblings influence whether and when parents are told. Sibling reactions are often similar to those of parents. However, unlike parents, siblings do not experience guilt or self-blame (Strommen, 1989).
Gay people become involved in heterosexual relationships and marriages for a variety of reasons (Strommen, 1989), which would include genuine love for a spouse, wanting to have children, family pressure to marry, help in overcoming homosexuality and belief that marriage was the only way to achieve a happy adult life. At times the act of getting married or engaging in heterosexual relationships is a form of denial and avoidance of being gay or lesbian. Many homosexuals in heterosexual relationships do not disclose their homosexuality to their partners out of fear that their partners will reject them and that there may be legal consequences especially if they have children. The fear of rejection is very real, in fact when spouses found that their partners are homosexual they felt deceived, stupid (Hays & Samuels, 1989) and they could not find support from family or friends because of the fear of social disapproval and ostracism. Becoming gay in our society is very difficult and the process of developing a gay
identity is filled with dread and anxiety that at times may also stop the person from coming out. However, since coming out is a necessary step for the homosexual, he/she may do so in many
ways, it could be through a letter, by giving hints or clues, or even deliberately showing the spouse what they are. The emotional hurt and pain caused by the disclosure or the truth of the homosexual’s identity is also felt by the homosexual partner thus it is not fair to say that the homosexual partner is not affected by it. Some gay individuals also confront the issue of coming out to their children, reactions of which are more understanding and tolerance than the spouses. But sons have a more difficulty in accepting their father’s homosexuality than daughters (Bozett, 1989). However, children of gay individuals do experience embarrassing situations because of the reaction of other children in the community. They may be teased, ostracized and stereotypically cast as also being gay because one of their parents is gay.
Disclosing one’s homosexuality to friends produces reactions that vary from acceptance to termination of the relationship. Friends often go past the issue of sexual orientation but some also cannot deal with this honesty and may feel betrayed and hence the friendship ends. Just like family members, friends often feel betrayed and stupid for not knowing the truth; however female friends have difficulty accepting their friend’s being a lesbian just as male friends to gay men. The disclosure of being homosexual to friends may even occur before disclosure to family members, indicating that friends should be able to provide the support needed by the homosexual person and the friend could even help in the coming out process by serving as mediators or
messengers. However, before the homosexual person can to disclose to a friend, he/she has to be someone who is trusted and the individual would at least feel that the friend will accept him/her
for what they are. In regard to employers, homosexual individuals are generally reluctant to disclose their sexuality with employers for fear of discrimination and being labeled as queer in the workplace. Some employers however have policies forbidding discrimination in hiring or advancement based on affectional or sexual orientation. Some homosexuals feel that their choice in coming out to their employer is taken away by the act of “outing”. This refers to strangers publicly exposing homosexuals without their consent, thus taking away from them the right to choose when and to whom to disclose their sexual orientation (Freedman, 1989).
Gay men and lesbian women, and bisexuals may choose to stay in the “closet” or come out to only trusted family members and friends, and thus avoid or reduce social rejection and discrimination. According to McNaught (1983) coming out is an important aspect of self-affirmation for gay individuals, but coming out involves difficult choices, gay people must decide if they want to come out, to whom, when and how. And what will the consequences be of coming out?
The reluctance and fear of the homosexual in coming out is brought about by the way society views and judges homosexuals. We are socialized to think that being a gay or lesbian is morally wrong and that it is by no means an acceptable lifestyle, thus most of us scorn and even are hurtful to homosexuals. Those who are hiding in the closet feels and have observed this happening to other gays that they become more comfortable of existing in two worlds, that is
being gay covertly and being heterosexual overtly. And if they do decide to come out and
embrace their homosexuality, they must deal with the massive social homophobia and rejection of homosexuals. They must cope with social rejection to overcome negative self-concept, but as they say, the truth will set you free and more and more gays believe that their happiness after coming out could not be exchanged for anything.
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