“Coming out” or “coming out of the closet” is the act of gay men disclosing their sexual identity. For some guys, the motivation to come out is about finding relationships, while for others, it’s about claiming an identity that matches your values.
Being out is not the same for everyone and no coming out story is the same.
In some cultures, coming out can create significant risk to life and well-being. In other communities and traditions, it’s more about re-claiming traditional roles within your community. Whether you come out to yourself, to a few friends, to your family, or to your entire social media circle; your coming our journey is your own.
Coming out is a milestone in many gay men’s lives because it paves the way for them to realign their relationships and lives more in sync with who they truly are. Coming out can seem daunting because it makes you a possible direct target for anti-gay stigma, discrimination, prejudice, and violence. Coming out nonetheless can be exhilarating because it gives you new possibilities for living more at one with oneself, new opportunities for meeting others with similar interests and experiences, and new opportunities for receiving and providing support relevant to your identity as a gay man. Being out is not a one-time thing but, rather, an ongoing process, constantly navigating when and how to reveal your sexual identity to others.
Research shows that gay men’s mental health faces different challenges before, during, and after coming out. Gay men typically are at highest risk for experiencing generalized anxiety disorder (i.e., persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things) when they come out and for several years thereafter. When gay men have recently come out, they are especially sensitive to noticing anti-gay discrimination. This compels them to be vigilant watching for and avoiding that discrimination. The stressfulness of this vigilance can promote anxiety. After gay men have been out for several years, their risk for experiencing generalized anxiety disorder drops. This happens after several years of being out because generally that’s how long it can take to fine-tune the integration of sexual identity into overall identity; explore and develop relationship to the gay community; and commit to being a part of the gay community.
WHEN YOU COME OUT
When to come out depends on beliefs, attitudes, balance of pros and cons, and other factors:
Gay and bi men who strongly believe that people eventually get what they deserve (i.e., a just world) come out sooner than those who don’t believe things work that way.
Gay and bi men who rate their physical attractiveness high come out sooner than those who rate their physical attractiveness low. Self-perception of high physical attractiveness possibly facilitates the development of social skills, boosts confidence, and leads to the belief that there is much to be gained socially and sexually by coming out sooner than later.
Anti-gay stigma can induce gay men to internalize shame (i.e., devaluation of self) and guilt (i.e., feeling you’re doing something wrong) regarding their sexual identities. Gay men having low levels of shame and guilt are more likely to come out sooner than those having high levels of shame and guilt.
WHERE YOU COME OUT
In school, fear of victimization is the biggest barrier to coming out (Russell et al., 2014). Gay-straight alliances and Out in Schools
At the doctor’s office, bi men are less likely than gay men to come out to healthcare providers. Less outness of gay and bi men amounts to their using healthcare less.
Within families, general experience-based advice for fathers coming out to their children includes considering the children’s perspective and level of maturity; the children’s comfort with their own sexual orientation; their open-ness to difference; and, proactively, not waiting for the children to ask first.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
You come out when it’s right for you. To whom, when, where, how, and why you come out are based in part on how you assess the pros and the cons of coming out. Consider whether you can turn to particular friends to talk things through, or community organizations that provide support for big moments such as this. If you’re already out and know first-hand the good and any bad that comes with it, consider keeping an eye for others for whom it’s now their turn and for whom you can offer any form of support.
Also remember that not everyone can or wants to be out. Respect and make space for community members who are on a different end of the out spectrum from you.