What It’s Like To Come Out As Gay

Home  >>  What It’s Like To Come Out As Gay

What It’s Like To Come Out As Gay

Kristen Martinez, a therapist at Pacific NorthWell who specializes in LGBT+ issues, interviewed five men about their experiences of coming out and staying out in the following research study. You can also download a PDF version.

 


 

“I’m Not Gonna Go Tell the Cashier at Publix, ‘Oh, I’m Gay!’”: Social Dimensions of Gay Men Through the Life Course

“As my partner would say, ‘Everyone loves a good coming out story!’” – Hans

Introduction

As societal changes continue to shape and shift American cultural norms, the realms of sexuality and sexual orientation are beginning to become more understood as variable and are thus gaining greater acceptance. Underscoring this progress, however, is the need for people who are not heterosexual or ‘straight’ in their sexual orientations to announce this sexual minority identity to the important others in their lives. This process of coming out is unique to persons with sexual minority identities since the American world of patriarchal hegemonic heteronormativity purports, similar to the legal phrase that people are ‘innocent until proven guilty’, that people are straight until proven otherwise. Though there is still conflict as to where and how nontraditional or alternative sexual identities come about, it is becoming more commonplace for sexual minority persons to come out. One of these sexual minority groups is men who self-identify as gay.

Gay boys and men are finding it easier to come out in the modern world, which is becoming more tolerant or even accepting or embracing of diversity within sexual orientations and gender identities. The gay rights movement has made grand progress in the cultural landscape for gay people. However, there is much more work yet to be done, and in the lives of gay boys and men, who still are not guaranteed rights in certain fundamental areas of their lives, certain situations can get tricky. Family isn’t always accepting of a gay member (Armesto & Weisman, 2001) and friends aren’t, either. Schools and workplaces can be hostile and treacherous arenas for gay boys and men.

The situation for gay men can become even more interesting and intriguing when it is understood that American culture is founded on patriarchal norms. In this way, though gay men may possess a stigmatized sexual orientation identity, they still reap the benefits of a patriarchal society in that they possess masculine capital and male privilege. Furthermore, coming out as a gay man can be seen as beneficial or harmful depending on the context and position of prestige specific to that context. For example, a gay man may be willing and able to ‘pass’ as straight in order to gain the reward of straight privilege. In a different context, though, his sexual orientation may not be salient at all and so it may make no difference at all. In yet another context, though, a gay man’s sexual orientation identity salience may actually prove to be beneficial to him.

Coming out is not all there is to the life of a gay man. Once he has come out, he needs to maintain and negotiate that identity within every context of his life as he engages in being out, going back in the closet, or some other facet of the continuum of the social identities he will possess throughout his life.

Literature Review

A review of the literature highlights important understandings of gay male identity and the sociological life course perspective. Since gay identity implies a different trajectory from the normative straight identity within a sociocultural context, many typical identity models that may explain the experiences of straight men do not fit the experiences of gay men. Floyd and Bakeman (2006) emphasize that “[t]he life course perspective has focused attention on both maturational and historical circumstances that influence the process of sexual orientation identity development for gays … and cause wide variations in the content, timing, and sequencing of relevant milestone events” (p. 288). Peacock (2000) underscores this point, stating that “a gay life course will start at different ages for different people, based on when identity acceptance begins” (p. 14). This diversity of the experience of being a gay male, when viewed through the life course perspective, implies a respect for “multiplicity in human development, whether that multiplicity emerges between or within cohorts” (Cohler & Hammack, 2007, p. 56). Thus, the experiences of gay men can have differential impacts on, within, and throughout their specific life courses. Further, it is useful and important not to generalize a specific lifeway, as this ignores the diversity of experiences inherent to the process.

Pages: 1 2 3 4