Student Affairs - Fostering Student Learning and Success

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Coming Out

Many people use the term "coming out" to refer to the process of telling someone else how they identify in terms of their sexual orientation or (less frequently) gender identity. In reality, coming out is a lifelong, continuous process that has both intrapersonal and interpersonal components. The intrapersonal component involves:

  • recognizing a dissonance between one's internal experiences, desires, or feelings as compared to societal norms
  • making meaning of this dissonance through exploration and information gathering
  • formulating a way of describing or understanding one's experiences, desires, or feelings
  • making choices about affirming, embracing, denying, repressing one's experiences, desires, or feelings

The interpersonal component involves:

  • discussing one's experiences, desires, or feelings with others as part of the exploration or information gathering
  • seeking out a community of people with similar experiences, desires, or feelings
  • disclosure of identity or meaning made about one's experiences, desires, or feelings to others

Heterosexism is the societal and institutional privileging of heterosexuality as the norm. As a result, many people who begin to recognize feelings of attraction or sexual desire toward someone who, at birth, was assigned a sex that is the same as theirs, experience a sense of dissonance. There is on some level a recognition that their feelings are not aligned with societal expectations about the appropriate targets for sexual desire or attraction. This recognition of difference of experience is for many people the beginning of their coming out process.

Heterosexism also functions simultaneously alongside sexism to construct and reinforce the existence of two distinct gender categories (i.e., male and female) each with specific parameters for "appropriate" enactment or performance of being "male" or "female". Sexism as a system privileges cisgender males and masculinity. As a result of these systems, there is a similar but distinct process of coming out with respect to gender identity and gender expression.

We have provided a number of resources that may be of use whether you are questioning your own sexual desires, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression or you know someone who has disclosed to you their questioning or the meaning they have made about their experiences, desires, or feelings.