‘coming out’ helps improve health
Framed and debated as a privacy issue, coming out of the closet is described and experienced variously as a psychological process or journey; decision-making or risk-taking; a strategy or plan; a mass or public event; a speech act and a matter of personal identity; a rite of passage; liberation or emancipation from oppression; an ordeal; a means toward feeling gay pride instead of shame and social stigma; or even career suicide. Author Steven Seidman writes that “it is the power of the closet to shape the core of an individual’s life that has made homosexuality into a significant personal, social, and political drama in twentieth-century America.”
Coming out of the closet is the source of other gay slang expressions related to voluntary disclosure or lack thereof. LGBT people who have already revealed or no longer conceal their sexual orientation and/or gender identity are out, i.e. openly LGBT. Oppositely, LGBT people who have yet to come out or have opted not to do so are labelled as closeted or being in the closet. Outing is the deliberate or accidental disclosure of an LGBT person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, without his or her consent. By extension, outing oneself is unintentional LGBT self-disclosure. Lastly, the glass closet means the open secret of when public figures’ being LGBT is considered a widely accepted fact even though they have not “officially” come out.
National Coming Out Day
National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is an internationally observed civil awareness day celebrating individuals who publicly identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender—coming out regarding one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity being akin to a cultural rite of passage for LGBT people. The holiday is observed annually by members of the LGBT community on October 11.
When coming out is described as a gradual process or a journey, it is meant to include becoming aware of and acknowledging one’s same-sex desires or gender identity. This preliminary stage, which involves soul-searching or a personal epiphany, is often called “coming out to oneself” and constitutes the start of self-acceptance.
Many LGBT people say that this stage began for them during adolescence or childhood, when they first became aware of their sexual orientation toward members of the same sex. Coming out has also been described as a process because of a recurring need or desire to come out in new situations in which LGBT people are assumed to be heterosexual or cisgender, such as at a new job or with new acquaintances. As Diana Fuss (1991) explains, “the problem of course with the inside/outside rhetoric…is that such polemics disguise the fact that most of us are both inside and outside at the same time.”
LGBT identity development
Every coming out story is the person trying to come to terms with who they are and their sexual orientation.  Several models have been created to describe coming out as a process for gay and lesbian identity development, e.g. Dank, 1971; Cass, 1984; Coleman, 1989; Troiden, 1989. Of these models, the most widely accepted is the Cass identity model established by Vivienne Cass. This model outlines six discrete stages transited by individuals who successfully come out: identity confusion, identity comparison, identity tolerance, identity acceptance, identity pride, and identity synthesis. However, not every LGBT person follows such a model. For example, some LGBT youth become aware of and accept their same-sex desires or gender identity at puberty in a way similar to which heterosexual teens become aware of their sexuality, i.e. free of any notion of difference, stigma or shame in terms of the gender of the people to whom they are attracted. Regardless of whether LGBT youth develop their identity based on a model, the typical age at which youth in the United States come out has been dropping. High school students and even middle school students are coming out.
Transgender, transsexual, and intersex communities
- By coming out, trans and intersex people disclose their gender identity and, if applicable, their decision to transition to the gender role with which they more closely identify. However, in many cases, coming out for intersex people does not involve gender identity. For trans people, the transition is to the gender opposite their biological sex and for intersex people, to the fact that they were born intersex.
- Coming out is a pre-requisite to transitioning particularly if the transition later includes undergoing sex-reassignment surgery.
- For some trans people who pass and are mistaken for being cisgender, coming out occults important parts of their full sense of identity or their complete gender history.
- Conversely, coming out can be viewed as inauthentic or as a self-betrayal for some trans and intersex people who have chosen to live in stealth because the disclosure is at odds with their true gender or in the case of being intersex, the fact they were born intersex.
- When trans or intersex people come out, it impacts how they label their sexual orientation and how they interact with communities to which they feel they belong or in the case of intersex, the label other communities attach to them.
- Backlashes or other negative reactions to a trans person’s coming out are caused by transphobia and sexism, with additional homophobia and heterosexism in some cases.
- Backlashes or other negative reactions to an intersex person’s coming out are caused by internalized hatreds that threaten people’s sense of self, identity, and worldview. Denial that some people were born with a mix of female and male anatomy and/or chromosomes is also a factor.
“Coming out” may be good for your health, particularity when your parents support the decision, according to a new study published in the Journal of Homosexuality.
A comprehensive new study led by BUSPH researcher Emily Rothman shows that two-thirds of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults in a representative Massachusetts sample reported receiving positive support from their parents after coming out to them.
n the study, published in the Journal of Homosexuality, Rothman and colleagues surveyed 5,658 adults ages 18-64 years old in Massachusetts using a statewide surveillance system. They explored whether coming outâand the reaction that it received âwas associated with better or worse adult health. The authors controlled for factors including age, race, education level and health insurance status, in order to focus as narrowly as possible on the association between coming out and adult health status.
“These results do not surprise me at all,” said Nicole Sullivan, a 22-year-old student at Bunker Hill Community College who came out as bisexual when she was 19 years old. “I struggled with mental health and drug problems during my adolescence, and I know that some of it is because I didn’t feel accepted at home. I am really grateful that I had cousins who supported me, and it’s because of them that I was able to get healthy.”
The authors found that the act of coming out (instead of remaining “closeted”) was generally associated with better health for lesbian and bisexual women, but that this was not similarly true for gay and bisexual men.
“It’s possible that the stress of not disclosing your sexuality to your parents affects men and women differently,” explained Rothman, an associate professor of community health sciences. “In general, gay and bisexual men may be able to conduct their sexual lives apart from their parents with less stress. On the other hand, it’s also possible that this was an artifact of our particular sample.”
Rothman added: “Given the high rates of suicide and self-harm among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth — and the high costs of treating mental-health and substance-abuse disorders â it’s critical that we understand what we can do to promote better health for LGB kids.”
In the study, the authors propose that a low-cost but potentially far-reaching strategy to improve LGB youth health would be for national academies of pediatric medicine to develop and disseminate guidelines or recommendations to members. These guidelines would encourage pediatricians to provide all parents of adolescents with tips for supporting children if they come out as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
“The way that parents treat their LGB children when they come out is an important public health topic that has received too little attention to date,” Rothman said. “Our message is that parents should take note: The way we treat our LGB children, even from before the time they disclose their sexual orientation status, may have a long-term, significant impact on their health and ability to handle life’s challenges.”
Besides Rothman, researchers on the study were: Mairead Sullivan, of Emory University; and Ulrike Boehmer, associate professor of community health sciences at BUSPH.
The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
so the message is very clear that the better we treat our LGB children the more heather they grow up to be and in such cases we should pay more attention to that.
The full study is available here:
submitted by: Lisa Chedekel