Coming Out Purdue University Calumet Counseling Center
Awareness • Sexual identity awareness happens in different ways and at different ages for different people • Some people are aware of being different from an early age, while others only arrive there at a later age • Coming out is an ongoing, lifelong process Cass, V. (1979). • Positive role models can be difficult to find for sexual minorities • Many feel alone and unsure of their identity due to the lack of reflective role models
Awareness • Recognizing one’s own sexual identity and working towards self-acceptance are often the first steps • Sexual orientation is understood on a continuum. Sell, Randall L. (1997). • exclusive same sex attraction on one end of continuum to exclusive opposite sex attraction on the other, with many variations between
Coming out to others • Generally it is a good idea to first come out to those most likely to be supportive • Others chose to first come out to other sexual minority people • By coming out to other sexual minorities, one can build a supportive network of individuals who have come out themselves • This supportive network can help you to talk to other important people in your life about coming out
Coming out to others • Trust your own instincts and feelings by choosing to come out at a time that is appropriate for you • It is important to proceed at your own pace, to be honest with yourself, and to spend some time reflecting within
Coming out to others • Coming out to heterosexual people may be very difficult • Negative reactions may include shock, confusion, judgment and rejection • Even if some friends or family members initially reject you, remain available to them, provide them with information and respond to questions that you are comfortable answering as they may come to fully accept you with time
Complications of Coming out to others Keep in mind that the following are possible consequences of coming out so think carefully about whom you want to come out to and when you come out to them: • Loss of housing • Loss of financial support • Loss of safety and security • Loss of employment
Strategies for coming out • Write a letter • Take your time and ensure that you fully explain everything the way you want to • Writing a letter allows the other person the space and time to adjust • Conversations • Open and honest communication is generally necessary at some point in the process • Allows the development of a relationship that has mutual understanding and trust • Choose a time when neither person will feel rushed or distracted • Multiple conversations will likely be needed: do not have unrealistic expectations • Encourage questions in order to bridge misunderstandings
Strategies for coming out • Role Playing • Anticipate different outcomes and reactions that may occur when you decide to disclose your sexual orientation to others. • Find ways to cope with the possibilities of either positive or negative reactions by others. Seek personal counseling prior to coming out, if possible. • This may help reduce anxiety that you may currently be experiencing in anticipation of coming out. Dunne, E. J. (1987).
Possible Risks of Coming Out • Risks • Job loss • Family support and/or peer group loss • Decrease in safety and security • People may feel uncomfortable and unsure as to how to respond • Some individuals may never accept your sexuality • Generally, even if family and friends react positively, relationships will likely be altered
Possible Positive Outcomes of Coming Out • Stress relief • Improved self-esteem • Improved relationships • Greater feeling of honesty in one’s life • Feeling greater personal integrity Vaughan, M. D. & Waehler, C. A. (2010). • Some people may feel honored that you trusted them enough to share something so important with them
Identity Integration • There can often be feelings of relief and a sense of personal integration by not keeping such an important part of one’s identity a secret any longer. • Accepting your personal sexual preferences will help you to feel a greater sense of identity development Konik, J. & Stewart, A. (2004).
Reactions • It’s important to continue to come out to others even after negative reactions, as everyone will react differently • Reminding yourself why you originally decided to come out can help you to stand by that decision, even in difficult times
Summary • Think about what you want to say beforehand • Choose the time and place carefully • Be aware of the other person’s needs, the best time for you may not be for them. • Present yourself honestly and remind the other person that you’re still the same person you were yesterday
Summary • Be prepared for an initially negative reaction from some people. • Remember that it took you some time to come to terms with your sexuality and it’s important to give other people time as well • Seek friends’ support in the process
Summary • Don’t let your self-esteem depend entirely on the approval of others • If someone rejects you and refuses to work on accepting you, that’s not your fault. • If the other person’s view doesn’t change with time, you might want to reevaluate your relationship with that person and their importance to you. • You have the right to be who you are, to be out and open with all important aspects of your identity, including sexual orientation, and another person’s rejection in no way diminishes your worth as a person.
Helpful Websites • It Gets Better • Provides information, resources and support for those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. • Human Rights Campaign • With more than one million members and supporters, the Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBT civil rights organization in America.
References • http://www.avert.org/coming-out.htm • http://www.counselingcenter.illinois.edu/?page_id=150 • Cass, V. C. (1979). Homosexual identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4, 219-235. • Dunne, E. J. (1987). Helping gay fathers come out to their children. Journal of Homosexuality, 14(1/2), 213-222. • Konik, J. & Stewart, A. (2004). Sexual identity development in the context of compulsory heterosexuality. Journal of Personality, 72(4), 815-844.
References cont. • McCarn, S. R. & Fassinger, R. E. (1996). Revisioning sexual minority identity formation. The Counseling Psychologist, 24(3), 508-534. • Sell, Randall L. (1997). Defining and measuring sexual orientation: A review. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26(6), 643-658. [Outlines Kinsey Scale, Klein Scale, and Shively/DeCecco Scale.] • Vaughan, M. D. & Waehler, C. A. (2010). Coming out growth: conceptualizing and measuring stress-related growth associated with coming out to others as a sexual minority. Journal of Adult Development, 17(2), 94-109.