A Model of Coming Out
number of authors have created models of the process of coming out. For example, Vivienne A Cass (1979, 1984) has proposed the following six – stage model of gay and lesbian identity formation. Not all gays and lesbians reach the sixth stage; it depends how comfortable one is at each stage with one’s sexual orientation.
Stage 1: Identity confusion. The individual begins to believe that his or her behavior may be defined as gay or lesbian. There may be a need to redefine one’s own concept of gay and lesbian behavior, with all the biases and misinformation that most people have. The person may accept that role and seek information, may repress it and inhibit all gay and lesbian behaviors (and even perhaps become an antihomosexual crusader), or may deny its relevance at all to his or her identity (like the man who has same-sex behavior in prison but doesn’t believe he is "really" gay).
Stage 2: Identity comparison. The individual accepts potential gay and lesbian identity; he or she rejects the heterosexual model but has no substitute. The person may feel different and even lost. If willing to even consider a gay and lesbian self-definition, he or she may begin to look for appropriate models.
Stage 3: Identity tolerance. Here the person shifts to the belief that he or she is probably gay or lesbian and begins to seek out the homosexual community for social, sex-
ual, and emotional needs. Confusion declines, but selfidentity is still more tolerated than truly accepted. Usually, the person still does not reveal new identity to the heterosexual world but maintains a double lifestyle.
Stage 4: Identity acceptance. A positive view of selfidentity is forged, and a network of gay and lesbian friends is developed. Selective disclosure to friends and family is made, and the person often immerses himself or herself in homosexual culture.
Stage 5: Identity pride. Homosexual pride is developed, and anger over treatment may lead to rejecting heterosexuality as bad. One feels validated in one’s new lifestyle.
Stage 6: Identity synthesis. As the individual truly becomes comfortable with his or her lifestyle and as nonhomosexual contacts increase, the person realizes the inaccuracy of dividing the world into "good gays and lesbians" and "bad heterosexuals." No longer is sexual orientation seen as the sole identity by which an individual can be characterized. The person lives an open, gay lifestyle so that disclosure is no longer an issue and realizes that there are many sides and aspects to personality of which sexual orientation is only one. The process of identity formation is complete.
Source: From Cass, 1979, 1984.
If a woman with all the support and advantages possible experienced such difficulties, imagine how much more difficult it is for youths who think their family and friends will reject them. Some gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths are rejected by friends and family and as a result are forced to run away or live on the streets. Approximately 26% of gay youths are forced to leave home because of their sexual orientation (A. T. Edwards,
1997) , and more than 1 in 4 street youths are gay, lesbian, or bisexual (Kruks, 1991). One 16-year-old writes in her diary:
Please help me. Oh shit, I have to talk to someone. Help me please. My feelings are turning into gnawing monsters trying to clamber out. Oh please, I want to just jump out that window and try to kill myself. Maybe I’ll get some sympathy then. Maybe they’ll try to understand. I have to tell someone, ask someone. Who?!! Dammit all, would someone please help me? Someone, anyone. Help me. I’m going to kill myself if they don’t. (Heron, 1994, p. 10)
This young woman’s threat to kill herself is not an idle one. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that homosexual and bisexual youths are more likely than heterosexual youths to think about and commit suicide (Russell & Joyner, 2001). Between 48% and 76% of homosexual and bisexual youths have thoughts of committing suicide, and 29% to 42% have attempted it (compared to estimated rates of 7% to 13% among high school students in general; Armesto, 2001; Cochran & Mays, 2000; S. L. Nichols, 1999; Russell & Joyner, 2001).
Other homosexual youths have more positive experiences. A 17-year-old male reports: “I like who I am. I have come to accept myself on psychological as well as physical terms. I not only like myself, I like everyone around me” (Heron, 1994, p. 15). Lesbian and gay youths who have a positive coming-out experience also have been found to have a higher self-concept, lower rates of depression, and better psychological adjustment than those who have a negative experience (Ryan & Futterman, 2001).
Parents of a homosexual child also often have a difficult time learning to accept their child’s sexual orientation. Because we tend to think of homosexuality as something one “is,” parents may suddenly feel they do not know the child, that he or she is a stranger, or worry that they did something wrong as a parent (Fields, 2001a; Strommen,
1989) . Many parents of gay, lesbian, or bisexual youths tend to react with disappointment, shame, and shock when they learn about a son or daughter’s sexual orientation (LaSala, 2000).
Parental rejection during the coming-out process is a major health risk for homosexual and bisexual youths (C. M. Mosher, 2001; Savin-Williams & Dube, 1998). Youths who are rejected by their parents have been found to have increased levels of isolation, loneliness, depression, suicide, homelessness, prostitution, and sexually transmitted infections (Armesto, 2001). The family must go through its own “coming out,” as parents and siblings slowly try to accept the idea and then tell their own friends. The importance of positive resolution in the family has prompted the formation of a national organization, the Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), which helps parents learn to accept their children’s sexual orientation and gain support from other families experiencing similar events.
People may come out at different periods in their life, even after they are married. In 2004, New Jersey Governor James McGreevey announced his resignation after revealing that he was gay. McGreevy was married and the father of two children. He is not alone. It is estimated that between 14% and 25% of gay men and about a third of lesbians marry someone of the other sex at some point, either before they recognize that they are gay or lesbian or because they want to try to fit into heterosexual society. Many remain married, either with or without their spouses knowing that they are homosexual (Strommen, 1989).
Coming out to the family is very difficult on the spouse and the children of gay men and lesbians, and divorce is common. In some couples, though, the partners develop a platonic relationship and pursue sexual gratification outside the marriage (Hays & Samuels, 1989).
Question: Is homosexuality natural?
The question itself is biased: is heterosexuality "natural"? Also, the question seems to assume that if it is "natural," then it is okay; yet much that is natural, such as killing, is reprehensible. Some people suggest that a human behavior is "natural" if it is found in animals; other animals do display same-sex behavior, and so perhaps it is natural in that sense. Still, many human qualities—humor, language, religion—are not shared by animals and yet are considered "natural." Humans are so immersed in culture and so lacking in instincts that it is impossible to say what is natural. Perhaps the only measure we can use is to ask whether a behavior is found universally—that is, in all or almost all human cultures. By that measure, homosexuality is quite natural.