Coming out as gay: 6 stages for understanding the emotional process

After years of fighting off rumors about his sexuality, Latin singer Ricky Martin has finally just posted the following message on his official Web site, coming out and telling the world he is gay.

“Today is my day, this is my time, and this is my moment. These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn’t even know existed … I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am,” he wrote.

Coming out as gay, lesbian bisexual or transgendered is a process that for many, is experienced in stages of change. While there are different models and theories about coming out, the six-step process (The Model of Homosexuality Identity Formation) was created by psychological theorist Vivienne Cass in 1979 and is still an accepted model for understanding the experience. While many will not experience these steps in a linear course, the following steps capture essential components of the coming out process. These steps are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and can be experienced simultaneously. For example other theorists have said that it is not uncommon for people go back and forth in their sexual identity development.

Step One: Identity Confusion

“Who am I?” is the major question in this step. People in this stage of the coming out process start to notice their attraction to same-sex people and really question what it means. Am I gay? Am I a lesbian? Am I transgender? Am I bisexual? Within this stage there may be a denial of inner feelings as a person continues to see themselves as a member of the mainstream, heterosexual population. Some may consider their behavior as ‘just experimenting’. Some people in this stage might keep emotional involvement separate from their sexual activity; others may choose to have deeply emotional relationships that are non-sexual.

Step Two: Identity Comparison

At this stage, a person may try to find an explanation for why they are having the feelings they are experiencing. “Maybe I am gay. Or maybe I’m bisexual.” Feelings of isolation & alienation are common in this stage. A person might wonder “Is this a phase?” “Am I only attracted to this one same sex person, or is this going to be a permanent trend?”

Step Three: Identity Tolerance

In this stage, a person might begin to accept identifying as gay, lesbian or transgender or bisexual. Some might come to terms with some parts of being a gay, but not fully embrace it. One might accept participating in sexual activity with woman and consider it okay, but may not be ready to identity as lesbian or bisexual for example, in public- thus, leading a ‘double life.’ Or a man may come to accept that he has fallen in love with another man, but considers this an isolated situation. At this stage, it is common for people to seek out a gay/lesbian/bi-sexual community or social group as a way to explore or experience identifying with other people of the same sexual orientation as a means for support.

Step Four: Identity Acceptance
In this stage a person has begun to accept, rather than just tolerate their sexual identity. People often begin forming friendships with other gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual people. Many begin to realize that being lesbian or bisexual is acceptable, and that their life can and will be happy and fulfilling. At this stage, it is common to begin coming out to a few trusted individuals.

Step Five: Identity Pride
People who are in this stage feel a sense of pride of their sexual orientation, and feel comfortable interacting in gay communities. They start coming out to others in their lives, by making their sexual orientation publicly known. It’s also common for people to feel angry and resentful because of the lack of legal and social rights that gay and lesbian people are not afforded by the majority culture. Some people may get involved in gay and lesbian activism. Others may feel the need to isolate.

Step Six: Identity Synthesis

In this stage, a person’s sexual orientation is integrated into their whole identity. For many, this includes a holistic view of the self and people often feel equally comfortable in straight and gay, lesbian, transgender or bi-sexual environments.

4 thoughts on “Coming out as gay: 6 stages for understanding the emotional process

  1. adridrope

    hello!

    lovely article, i just wanted to point out that the term “transgendered” is not the appropriate one, for some members of the trans community may feel comfortable without transitioning, or might find it offensive since transgender people are trans wether or not they have transitioned…

    you may replace it with “transgender” (i. e. “Am I gay? Am I a lesbian? Am I transgender? Am I bisexual? “)

    thank you for reading i hope this is a helpful comment, i’ve taken the time because this might all feel new! and this article is 11 years old, wow. And progress and growth are continuous 🙂

  2. David Hair

    Growing up I always had only a few close friends and they were all guys. I never thought anything about it there wasn’t any sex involved just close bonds that last til this day. I married and have two grown children but never really felt that same connection I have with my boyfriends. I am now divorced and and started having strong feelings of being sexually involved with other men. I have since acted on these feelings. I have come out to my kids as being GAY and they love and accept their dad as he is.I hope all guys or gals can have the same acceptance. Coming out was the best thing I ever did’ Almost all my friends and family are supportive and the few that have a problem with my sexual identity I don’t need in my life anyway

  3. Pingback: The Stages of Coming Out | Yeah, I Like Girls

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