Stages Of Coming Out
Here's a handy reference that examines the common stages that a person typically goes through when coming out as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
It is important to realize that everyone is unique and not everyone will follow these stages exactly how they are presented here. It is perfectly normal for a person to go through these stages in a different order or to even skip entire stages. It is also very common for a person to be going through multiple stages at one time.
Everyone's situation is different and, therefore, everyone's process of coming out will be equally individual. The stages listed here are offered as a guide so that you may know what to expect when coming out of the closet. The trick is to take this guide and apply it to your situation and your life. Again, everyone's coming out process will be different, and you should only do what seems best for you.
Stage One - Identity Question
At the beginning of every person's coming out process is a period where that person begins to question his or hers heterosexual identity. This typically happens when a person realizes that he/she is attracted to members of the same sex. They begin to ask themselves the question, "Am I really straight?" It takes some people years to answer that question, where others take less time. Most people are shocked and scared to think that they are not be straight and, therefore, many people deny that they might be lesbian, gay or bisexual. Some people never move on from this stage and live their lives as heterosexuals.
Most people keep their identity question to themselves during this stage, while some confide in close friends or other people who are out as lesbian or gay. Many look for other resources that might help them determine if they are actually homosexual or bisexual.
Eventually, most people will move from this stage of identity question to a state of internal identity acceptance, which is the next stage.
Stage Two - Internal Identity Acceptance and Education
At some point, anyone moving on from stage 1 will accept the fact that they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. A person in this stage stops asking the question "Am I gay?" and instead accepts the fact that they are gay. This does not mean that a person in this stage is happy or proud of being gay, only that they realize it. Pride will most likely come later. It is common to feel scared or nervous during this stage. Accepting your sexuality is a big step that will most likely mean many changes in your life. Feeling scared of how society, family, friends, co-workers, and members of your religious community will react to your sexuality is a natural reaction. Just remember that coming out of the closet is a process that is not always smooth, but it usually works out to the better.
This stage is also typically where a person in the process of coming out will begin to educate themselves about what it means to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. Many people visiting this website are probably doing just that. There are many excellent resources on the internet and in your local bookstore that can help you learn about lesbian, gay or bisexual life. It is important to educate yourself during this stage so that you know what to expect as you come out further.
Stage Three - Support
Supporting friends are very importing things to have while coming out. Typically people begin to first come out to a very selective group of extremely close friends. It is important to think carefully about who would be best to come out to first. It would probably be a good idea to pick a close friend that you know will be supportive of you. If you do not feel comfortable coming out to any of your close friends at first, another good way to start out is by telling someone you know who is lesbian, gay or bisexual. Their advice and support can really be helpful down the road. In either case, it is extremely important that you build an open relationship with a few individuals. As you begin to come out further, such as to your family, and begin to develop relationships this group of supportive friends will be an invaluable asset to you.
Often people first come out during a verbal fight. If you find yourself in this situation, where you want to use your new sexuality as a weapon in an argument, try your hardest not to. Coming out during high stress situations is definitely not preferable to well-planed scenarios.
If you feel that you are currently in this stage, do not feel obligated to come out to everyone yet. Take your time and think before you tell. Throughout your coming out process some people will take the news well and some will take it harshly. During the first few stages of coming out harsh reactions to your news will hurt worse than if you waited until later. Again, this site is just a set of general guidelines. It is important that you listen to your intuition and only do what feels comfortable to you. Play it safe, but be sure to find support somehow.
Stage Four - Pride
Once you begin to develop an open relationship with a group of supporting friends, you will feel relived. Many people comment that they feel happier than they have ever felt once they have the freedom to talk openly about their sexuality with someone. In stage 2, identity acceptance, a person says to themselves "yes, I am gay." In this stage, pride, a person says to themselves "yes, I am gay, and I like it." It may seem like a small difference between the two stages, but really it is a big step.
Depression, sadness, fear, etc. are common in the earlier stages, however, this is the stage where those feelings start to disappear. Being happy about who you are, sexuality included, is so important in order to lead a happy and fulfilled life. Developing a since of pride in yourself can be so powerful and beneficial to your mental health. Once you feel a since of pride, you will most likely be empowered to continue your coming out process.
Also during the Pride stage, you will most likely be less shy about your sexuality. You will start to notice more clearly how society is programmed to assume everyone is heterosexual. You will begin to feel more comfortable talking about your sexuality and will most likely come out to more of your friends. In this stage you will also begin to meet and become friends with other lesbians, gays and bisexuals. You will most likely begin to explore gay and lesbian culture by visiting bars, clubs and other hangouts.
Stage Five - Relationships
At some point, you will want to begin dating and forming romantic relationships. Many people, when they come out of the closet, experience a type of sexual revolution. After living in the heterosexual closet for so many years sexual tension builds up strongly. Once you feel pride in your sexuality, you may suddenly feel like letting all of those tensions loose. It is not the purpose of this guide to tell you what to do with your love life, but rather to give some incite into what you might go through as you come out. However, it is important that you think clearly before before acting on your sexual desires. Sexual responsibility is so important in today's world, not just for lesbians, gays and bisexuals but for everyone. Again, play it safe and trust your judgment.
Whether or not you go through a sexual exploration phase, you will eventually find yourself in a more purposeful and meaningful relationship. Love between same sex partners is real and just like love between heterosexuals. Same sex couples have the desire for commitment and families, despite what you may have been taught. In today's society, however, you will run into many places where being in a same sex relationship is made difficult by a patriarchal and heterosexist society. Visit the "Other Resources" section of this site for more information.
Stage Six - Telling the Family
Coming out to your family may be the hardest thing for you to do in your coming out process. Your parents most likely raised you assuming that you would be heterosexual. They probably have given some thought to you getting married and having children. When parents first learn of a child's homosexuality they often feel a loss. It generally takes some time for them to realize that they haven't lost anything and that things like marriage and children are all still possible.
If you have not yet come out to your parents, you probably feel distanced from them. A large part of your life does, or will, relate to you identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual. You most likely miss having an open relationship with your family and are tired of keeping secrets from them. If you are in a serious romantic relationship, you probably feel even more distanced from your family. Holidays and family events are probably rough because you either can not spend those events with your partner or your partner is forced to masquerade as your "roommate".
Plan carefully how you are going to come out to your parents and prepare yourself any reaction they might have. All parents react differently to their child's sexuality. Some react harshly by cutting off communication and support between themselves and their children, while other parents are understanding and supportive. In most cases, parents need time to deal with the news. It may take them days, weeks or years to come to terms with your sexuality. During that time, some refuse to talk to their children, while others just want to ignore the sexuality issue hoping that it will go away. Before you come out to your parents, carefully consider any reaction they might have. If you are financially dependant on your parents, be prepared to support yourself for a while. In any case, remember that your first priority should always be protecting yourself.
Timing and they way in which you tell your parents and family are extremely important things to consider. It is a good idea not to come out when the family is gathered for a holiday or a death. Remember that you want your parents to respect you for who you are. Therefore, the way in which you come out should be respectable. E-mails, postcards, telephone calls, and surprising your parents on television are generally not the best way to go.
Trusting your judgment is so important when coming out to your parents. You know you parents better than almost anyone. Like anything related to coming out, listen to your intuition and play it safe. It is a good idea to educate yourself about how your parents might react to your sexuality and to prepare yourself for any questions they might have. There are a number of good books related to this issue. Check out the 'Parental Stages of Grief' article here for more information on how parents and family may react.
Stage Seven - Balance
The last stage of coming out that most people experience is a final state of life balance. In this stage, being lesbian, gay or bisexual becomes just another part of who you are. There will always be new people in your life that you will have to come out to, so in a since the process of coming out never really ends. However, in this final stage coming out becomes less of an issue and more of a part of life.
Previously posted by Seth in the Empty Closets forum. Original source unknown.