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Identity Understanding Coming Out Embracing LGBTQIA+ | Chrysalis Mama

July 24, 20234 min read

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Coming out is not a single, one-time event but a complex process that unfolds over time. - Heather Hester

Coming out of the closet, a phrase often heard but seldom understood in its entirety. What does it mean? Who does it involve? And how can we, as a society - as parents, friends, co-workers, and employers - offer our support during this critical process? Today, we delve into the intricate and very personal journey of coming out in the LGBTQIA+ community, offering a hand of understanding and support to those embarking on this path.

Understanding the Coming Out Journey

What Does ‘Coming Out’ Mean?

Coming out of the closet, or simply coming out, is a term used in the LGBTQIA+ community to describe the process of self-disclosure of one's sexual orientation or gender identity. It is an intensely personal and transformative journey that involves self-acceptance, self-expression, and, often, a great deal of courage.

Coming Out: A Multi-Stage Process

Coming out is not a single, one-time event but a complex process that unfolds over time. Understanding the stages of coming out can help us empathize with individuals navigating this journey.

In 1979, clinical psychologist and sex therapist Vivienne Cass stunned the mental health community with her discovery that sexual orientation and gender identity are not mental health issues but rather developmental stages and therefore should be removed from the DSM5 as a mental health diagnosis. Based on her vast research she developed the Cass Identity Model which describes the six stages one experiences when coming out as LGBTQIA+.

Confusion: The individual becomes aware that their sexual orientation and/or gender identity may not line up with what society considers cisgender and heteronormative. As they deny what they are realizing, many thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions create confusion and general emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual instability for them.

Comparison: The denial and avoidance from stage one rolls right into stage two. In this stage the individual feels out of place, perhaps even hiding their true self to avoid judgment or external cruelty. They compare what they are feeling on the inside to what they see as others' experiences on the outside.

Tolerance: The individual acknowledges their feelings and attractions that might not align with societal expectations. They may grapple with internal conflict and confusion during this stage.

Acceptance: In this stage, individuals accept their sexual orientation or gender identity as a part of their identity. They begin to feel more comfortable in their skin.

Pride: This is the stage where individuals start sharing their identity with others. It can start with a close friend or family member and gradually expand to include others.

Synthesis: Here, the individual is comfortable enough to openly identify as LGBTQIA+ in more public settings.

Each stage comes with its own set of emotions and challenges, highlighting the importance of understanding and support from their environment.

Support During the Coming Out Process

A supportive network plays a vital role during the coming out process. So how can we offer our support?

Listen: Allow them to share their experiences without interruption or judgment. This can offer them a safe space to express their feelings.

Empathize: Understand that they might be experiencing a range of emotions. Show empathy rather than sympathy.

Respect their Pace: Remember, it's their journey and they have the right to navigate it at their own pace. Avoid rushing them into any stage.

Educate Yourself: Learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community, their struggles, rights, and terminologies. This can help you offer more informed and sensitive support. Check out HRC.org and ACLU.org to learn more about struggles and rights. Click here to access my Language of LGBTQIA+ ebook.

The Danger Around Coming Out

Unfortunately, not everyone experiences a safe and supportive environment when coming out. Discrimination, rejection, and even violence can be a harsh reality for many. It's crucial to acknowledge these dangers and work towards creating a more accepting and inclusive society.

Coming out is a deeply personal and transformative process for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community. It's a journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and expression that requires courage, patience, and resilience. As allies, our role is to extend our unwavering support, understanding, and respect, fostering an environment that not only accepts but celebrates diversity. Through empathy and education, we can contribute to making the coming out journey less daunting and more empowering for every individual in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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