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Coming Out in Interpersonal and Relational Perspectives  

Yachao Li

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.