In a heteronormative society, coming out to others, or sexual orientation disclosure, is a unique and crucial experience for many sexual minority individuals. Past theoretical models of sexual identity development often view coming out as a milestone that profoundly influences sexual minority people. Existing studies related to sexual orientation disclosure have mainly explored the processes and outcomes of people’s coming-out decisions or outness levels. However, coming out is inherently a communication behavior. The message content and processes of coming out remain understudied. Emerging studies have attempted to address the research void. Scholars have examined different types of coming-out conversations and patterns of those interactions. They also explored the contents and disclosure strategies of coming out, as well as motivations and antecedents to varying levels of sexual orientation disclosure. Results indicate that while coming-out conversations may unfold differently, explicit disclosure is the mostly used coming-out strategy. In addition, disclosure goals, coupled with personal factors such as internalized homophobia and relational factors like relational power, predict disclosure message contents (what people say) and features (how people say it), which in turn predict disclosure receivers’ reactions and disclosers’ personal and relational outcomes. Future studies should continue investigating the message contents, features, and outcomes of coming out. Researchers should also focus more on marginalized members’ coming-out experiences, and conduct longitudinal and experimental studies to understand the long-term effects of different coming-out messages and experiences.
Pamela J. Lannutti and Maria Butauski
Over recent decades, a growing body of research has consistently emphasized the importance of parental support of one’s queer (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, etc.) identity to their mental health and overall well-being. Parent–queer child relationships have increasingly drawn scholarly attention, with particular interest in children’s coming out (i.e., disclosing their queer identity) to their parents. Scholars have also focused on understanding parents’ experiences. Although researchers emphasize the importance of parents’ responses to their children coming out, as well as the importance of how people communicate and make sense of queer identities, the nature of parent–child communication beyond the initial coming out event is also central to the personal and relational well-being of parents and their queer children.
Cimmiaron Alvarez and Kristina M. Scharp
Communicating with one’s family of origin requires considerable effort for queer people (e.g., LGBTQ+; queer is used as an encompassing term to include all gender and sexual identities that are not both cis and heterosexual). Queer people must decide if they want to disclose their gender and/or sexual identities, to whom they want to disclose, how they want to communicate, and anticipate the ways their family members may react. Immediate family members, such as parents and siblings, typically play an important role in queer people’s lives and are consequently some of the first people to whom queer people talk about their gender and/or sexual identities. Yet not all these disclosures are met with positive reactions from family members. Research suggests that queer people perceive their families’ reactions range from complete acceptance to total rejection. Thus, it is often the case that queer people must cope with multiple sources of stigma. From the family members’ perspective, parents and siblings also report having varied reactions to the queer person’s initial disclosure that require them to engage in sense-making. Thus, in addition to the communicative burden of queer people, their families may also have to share in the communicative work to communicate with people outside the family or (re)construct their family identity. All this communicative labor simultaneously reflects and constructs larger overarching ideologies surrounding gender and sexuality.
The discourse of coming out has historically served as an effective vehicle to build and sustain the LGBTQ movement in the United States. It has also been utilized as an empowering resource that enables queer people to establish a queer identity organized around self-awareness and self-expression. However, queer of color critique and transnational queer theory argue that the prevalent discourse of coming out is built on a particular kind of queer experience and geography, which is usually from the standpoint of White, middle-class men of urban U.S. citizenship and is rarely derived from the experience of queer people of color and non-Western queer subjects. Taking an intersectional perspective, Snorton interrogates the racialization of the closet and proposes a sexual politics of ignorance—opposed to the disclosure imperative in coming out discourse—as a tactic of ungovernability. Centering the experience of Russian American immigrants who are queer-identified, Fisher proposes a fluid and productive relationship between the “closeted” and the “out” sexuality that resists any fixed categorization. Focusing on the masking tactic deployed by local queer activists, Martin theorizes the model of xianshen, a local identity politics in Taiwan that questions the very conditions of visibility in dominant coming out discourse. As a decolonial response to the transnational circulation of coming out discourse, Chou delineates a “coming home” approach that emphasizes familial piety and harmony by reining in and concealing queer desires. Being cautious against the nationalist impulse in Chou’s works, Huang and Brouwer propose a “coming with” model to capture the struggles among Chinese queers to disidentify with the family institution. These alternative paradigms serve as epistemic tools that aim to revise understanding of queer resistance and queer relationality and help people to go beyond the imagination of coming out for a livable queer future.
Paris S. Cameron-Gardos
The rejection of coming out as a linear narrative must be accompanied by an alternative to the formulas of confession, disclosure, and identity adoption that have pervaded the current representations of coming out in the West. The appearance of coming out in film narratives provides important opportunities to observe how elements such as repetition, rehearsal, and, above all, contrasts are incorporated into the stories that are recounted. Conventional coming-out films have relied so heavily on the restrictive nature of the genre’s narrative structure that the potential for alternative, or queered, realities of coming out is erased. The continual reappearance and adaptations of coming out will enable a better understanding of the ways in which the act is presented as a moment that is never finished and that often evades a final, perfected, and polished performance. Four specific narratives from queer film—Beautiful Thing (1996), Summer Storm(2004), Brotherhood (2009), and North Sea Texas (2011)—will be presented to offer counter models for coming out. In Beautiful Thing, the visual narrative demonstrates the importance of the reiterative, adaptable, and unanticipated representation of the act in visual media. In Summer Storm, the audience witnesses how coming out occurs in a world of competitive sports and where the teenage athletes reveal secrets that everyone already knows. In Brotherhood, the act of coming out is transformed into a moment when identities are instantaneously accepted and rejected within a homophobic, neo-Nazi subculture. In North Sea Texas, the script of coming out is reimagined by two characters who ambiguously decline any opportunity to define their identities. Coming out in visual narratives must be understood through an elaboration of Janet Harbord’s belief that the audience gravitates toward particular visual narratives where a comfort zone is created. These films have authored reiterative and adaptable approaches to the act of coming out that both comfort and challenge the audience.