Stages of Coming Out

Learn more about an updated version of Vivian Cass’ Identity Model.

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This is an updated version of Vivian Cass’ Identity Model. She was the first professional to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community by recognizing the Coming out from closet process as a developmental stage as opposed to a mental illness. While much has been learned since her original work, the stages remain very accurate and she is a pioneer.

The Coming Out Process

Stage 1: Identity / Orientation Confusion

  • Shock / amazement / fear to realize gay / lesbian / bisexual thoughts, feelings, attractions, or recognition that their physical gender does not match their mental / emotional gender
  • As they contemplate “who am I?” they go through rejection, denial, and acceptance – this is all internal work at this point.
Stage 2: Identity / Orientation Tolerance

  • Start to wrap their head around the possibility
  • Feelings of isolation and alienation are common
  • They will wonder it it is just a phase
  • They will look for an explanation.
Stage 3: Identity / Orientation Tolerance

  • They begin to realize that they are not alone and they begin to seek an LGBTQ+ community or social group for support
  • Some may come to terms with parts of their sexual orientation or gender identity but not fully embrace it leading them to live double life
  • Self-loathing and shame are very common overall, but especially in this stage. Parent / Ally / Friend / Professional support is critical to work through their internal struggle.
Stage 4: Identity / Orientation Acceptance

  • Here they begin to accept, not just tolerate
  • They begin to form friendships with other LGBTQ+ people
  • Realize they can have a happy, healthy, fulfilling life -, “I will be okay”
  • Begin coming out to those close to them.
Stage 5: Identity / Orientation Pride

  • They begin to feel a sense of pride around their sexual orientation and / or gender identity
  • Social / political viewpoints become us / them, LGBTQ+ /straight
  • It is very common for anger to be experienced in this stage.
Stage 6: Identity / Orientation Synthesis

  • Integrates sexual orientation and / or gender identity with all other aspects or self – recognizes it is one part of the whole
  • Now they can move fluidly through their life without defining space as LGBTQ+ or straight.

© 2021 Chrysalis Mama
Adapted from Vivian Cass (1979, 1984, 1990). In Ritter and Terndrup (2002) Handbook of Affirmative Psychotherapy with Lesbians and Gay Men


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