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 romantic orientation, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Coming out is a lifelong process that has both intrapersonal and interpersonal components, although most people have an initial phase where they are first coming out to themselves.

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

Cisheterosexism is the societal and institutional privileging of heterosexuality, cisgender identity, and binary sex assignment as the norm. As a result, many people who begin to recognize feelings of attraction or identification that do not align with those expectations experience a sense of dissonance. This recognition of difference of experience is for many people the beginning of their coming out process.

Cisheterosexism functions simultaneously alongside sexism to construct and reinforce the existence of two distinct gender categories (i.e., man and woman) each with specific parameters for "appropriate" enactment or performance of being "male" or "female". Sexism, as a system, privileges cisgender men 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, romantic 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.

Human Rights Campaign has a variety of Coming Out Guides that can be helpful. Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) also has some useful resources regarding coming out.

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