by Micky O’Leary, PhD
The coming out process is best described as the internal and external experiences which accompany a person’s recognition of, or shift in, their sexual orientation.
Researchers who have studied the coming out process have identified stages that most people go through as they recognize, accept and embrace a non-heterosexual identity. While some have described the process as sequential, i.e., one stage must be “completed” before the next stage can begin, many now see coming out as an interactive experience which is connected to the environmental/cultural context.
Most theories of coming out include four important aspects:
An initial awareness of being different, or non-heterosexual;
Labeling oneself as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; Becoming connected and self-disclosing with other GLBT persons;
Integrating a GLBT identity into their overall self-concept.
These are only guidelines for how some researchers have tried to describe the awareness, acceptance and integration of a non-heterosexual identity. Obviously,
the path is different for each person and there are many small stages within each larger stage. If you are in this process, be patient with yourself. It is an ongoing and deepening experience — one which never completely ends.
Micky O’Leary, Ph.D. is a member of the Georgia Psychological Association’s Division H, Sexual Orientation Issues. She has helped scores of men and women with their concerns about coming out.