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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

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 transgendered? 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 behaviors 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 transgendered 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, transgendered 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, transgendered or bi-sexual environments.

This article was composed by Dr. Christina Villarreal, Clinical Psychologist in Oakland, CA

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