What is “Coming Out?”
Coming out is a life-long process that begins when a lesbian, gay, bisexual trans intersex or questioning person recognizes his/her own same-sex feelings and shares these feelings with another person. Many people in this society assume that everyone is straight and cisgender, so LGBTIQ people must decide with whom they would like to share this information.
Why come out?
Coming out allows the person to develop as a whole individual, allows for greater empowerment, and makes it easier for an individual to develop a positive self-image. Once “out,” the person is more able to share with others who they are and what is important to them, as well as to develop close and mutually satisfying relationships. Coming out frees the person of the fear of being “found out” and helps them avoid living a double life. Finally, it facilitates interaction with other LGBTIQ people, giving a sense of community.
What does coming out entail?
The coming out process varies from person to person depending on numerous factors. There are three commonly used descriptive models of the coming out process. The first is the Coleman Model, developed by Eli Coleman, and contains a five-step generalization of an individual’s progress. The second is a six-step model developed by Vivienne Cass, and is called the Cass Model. The third is a model of transgender identity development by Aaron Devor and is called Witnessing and Mirroring.
1. Pre-coming out – The individual is not conscious of same-sex feelings because of strong-defenses built up to defend against these feelings. Person does feel somewhat different, but does not understand the reason.
2. Coming out – Acknowledgement of feelings. Limited disclosure for external validation. May make contact with other gays and lesbians, but avoids telling family and friends.
3. Exploration – More interactions with gays and lesbians, adds “experimentation” with new sexual identity. Improved interpersonal skills to make up for “developmental lag” if coming out occurs after adolescence.
4. First Relationship – Desire for more stable and committed relationship and less experimentation. Combines emotional and physical attraction.
5. Integration – Public and private identities merge into one unified self-concept. Relationships are more mature and the person is better able to meet everyday problems and pressures.
Stage 1 – Identity Confusion
• “Who am I?”
• Feeling one is different from peers
• Sense of personal alienation
• Beginning consciousness of same-sex feelings or behavior
• No sharing of inner turmoil
Stage 2 – Identity Comparison
• Rationalization or bargaining stage: maybe this is just temporary, just a phase
• Sense of not belonging anywhere
• “I am the only one in the world”
Stage 3 – Identity Tolerance
• “I probably am gay/lesbian”
• Beginning contact with other gay/lesbian people
• Barely tolerates own gay/lesbian identity
• Feelings of not belonging with heterosexuals
Stage 4 – Identity Acceptance
• Continued and increased contact with other gay/lesbian people
• Forming friendships
• Beginning to accept a more positive self-image
• Beginning to feel a sense of belonging
Stage 5 – Identity Pride
• “These are my people”
• Increasing awareness of gap between gay/lesbian and non-gay worlds
• Anger towards non-gay people; rejection of their values and institutions
• Discloses gay/lesbian identity to more people
• Desires to immerse self in gay/lesbian subculture
Stage 6 – Identity Synthesis
• Anger toward non-gay world mellows
• Realization that some non-gay people are friends, allies, supporters
• Some continuing anger at injustice of society’s attitudes/treatment
• Gay/lesbian identity becomes integrated into personality
Witnessing and Mirroring
|#||Stage||Some Characteristics||Some Actions|
|1||Abiding Anxiety||Unfocussed gender and sex discomfort.||Preference for other gender activities and companionship.|
|2||Identity Confusion About
Gender and Sex
|First doubts about
suitability of originally assigned gender and sex.
|Reactive gender and
sex conforming activities.
|3||Identity Comparisons About
Gender and Sex
|Seeking and weighing
alternative gender identities.
alternative gender consistent identities.
|4||Discovery of Transsexualism or Transgenderism||Learning that transsexualism exists.||Accidental contact with
information about transsexualism.
|5||Identity Confusion About
|First doubts about the
authenticity of own transsexualism.
information about transsexualism.
|6||Identity Comparisons About
|Testing transsexual identity using transsexual reference group.||Start to disidentify with
women & females. Start to identify as
|7||Identity Tolerance of
Transsexual or Transgender
|Identify as probably transsexual.||Increasingly disidentify
as originally assigned gender and sex.
|8||Delay Before Acceptance of Transsexual or Transgender Identity||Waiting for changed circumstances.
Looking for confirmation of transsexual identity.
information about transsexualism. Reality testing in intimate relationships and against further information about transsexualism.
|9||Acceptance of Transsexual
or Transgender Identity
|Tell others about
|10||Delay Before Transition||Transsexual identity
deepens. Final disidentity as original gender and sex. Anticipatory
|Learning how to do transition. Saving money. Organizing support systems.|
|11||Transition||Changing genders and
|Gender and sex
|12||Acceptance of Post-
Transition Gender and Sex
|Post-transition identity established.||Successful post- transition living.|
|14||Pride||Openly transsexed.||Transsexual advocacy.|