Coming Out Of Gay Men And Lesbians “Coming Out” of Gay Men and Lesbians “Coming out” is a means of identifying one’s sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. At its most basic, “coming out of the closet,” means being honest with those around you – friends, family, colleagues, and so forth – about your sexual orientation, about whom you are. It also means acknowledging one’s sexual orientation to self. Such disclosure is an ongoing, lifelong process rather than a one-time event. New personal, social, and professional situations require gay men and lesbians to make decisions about the degree to which they can be open about their sexual orientation (Morrow, 1996).
Sexual orientation is one of the four components of sexuality and is distinguished by an enduring, emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectionate attraction to individuals of a particular gender (Bailey and Bobrow, 1995). According to Bohan (1996), the other components of sexuality are biological sex, gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female) and social sex role (adherence to cultural norms for feminine and masculine behavior). There are three sexual orientations that are commonly recognized: homosexual, attraction to individuals of one’s own gender; heterosexual, attraction to individuals of the other gender; or bisexual, attractions to members of either gender. Persons with homosexual orientation are referred to as gay (men or women) or lesbians (women only). At the start of the 1960s homosexuality was referred to as primarily a private affair, supported by the universal belief that homosexuality was a disease or a sin. The majority of Americans indicated that homosexuals were considered harmful to American life.
A fear, dislike, hatred, or prejudice of gay men and lesbians, known as homophobia, became widespread. Americans found that their homophobic attitudes surfaced in the following irrational fears: a fear of homosexual tendencies in oneself; the fear that heterosexuals would be converted to the homosexual lifestyle; and fear that if they are accepted, procreation and the human race would be altered or extinct. The climate of the 1960s was turbulent. This decade was marked by many political movements, which reflected support for non-establishment themes. During this time the “sexual liberation movement” became a popular cause. This intensified social and political interest helped many disadvantaged groups to receive support and attention that previously had never been received. As part of the nation’s desire for sexual political liberation, gay liberation became visible.
The gay liberation movement occurred in Greenwich Village, New York. In June 1969, police invaded the Stone Wall Inn, a bar for gays. The gay people at the club became angered by the police actions, because they felt that it was unprovoked harassment. They fought for several nights, refusing to have the bar closed. This incident, generally referred to as Stonewall, has been noted as the beginning of the awakening of gays into personal and sexual liberation. After this rebellion, homosexual individuals began to openly express their non-heterosexual preference or “closet experience” and the term “coming out” was coined. Substantial differences existed between how gay men and lesbians reacted to there coming out of the 60s.
For lesbians, it was more of a political battle and the patriarchal approaches to sexual activity were frowned upon, in many cases leading to sexual avoidance. For gay men, on the other hand, sexual freedom was often linked to frequent casual sex. In support of this mind set, bathhouses and sex clubs became popular. Unfortunately these facilities led to the rapid spread of venereal diseases, hepatitis, and enteric disorders. It is also believed that the sexual “coming out” during this time contributed to the rapid spread of the HIV virus among the gay community, although it took years for scientists to make the connection to the disease and how it was being spread (Harrison, Thyer, and Wodarski, 1996). It is apparent that homosexual behavior existed in all societies throughout history. Sometimes, it has been accepted and encouraged, and at other times it has been condemned or punished.
For this reason persons may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors. But rules and sanctions in society have some affect on the degree of visibility and openness of behavior. Some portions of society have shown increased tolerance of or support toward homosexuals, but this is a slow and painful process. But keep in mind that tolerance does not mean acceptance (Cole, 1996). Many people in society just prefer to ignore the influence that these forms of alternate relationships can have on a gay or lesbian’s life.
Many individuals continue to deny the awareness and support of the individual who chose an alternative life-style. For many people, this make the “coming out” process very difficult. But most people come out because, sooner or later, they can not stand hiding who they are any more. Once they come out, most gay and lesbians admit that it feels much better to be open and honest than to lie and hide. But the first and toughest person you have to reveal your true identity to is yourself (Gelberg, 1996). Then you can deal with friends and family. “Coming out” to yourself means recognizing and accepting that you are primarily attracted to the same sex. Sharing that aspect of themselves with others is important to their mental health.
The process of identity development for lesbians and gay men, usually called “coming out” has been found to be strongly related to psychological adjustment – the more positive the gay male or lesbian identity, the better one’s mental health and the higher one’s self-esteem. Although it helps mental health and self-esteem, the “coming out” process is difficult for some gays and lesbians. Because of false stereotypes and unwarranted prejudice toward them, this process can be a very challenging process, which may cause emotional pain. Lesbian and gay people often feel “different” and alone when they first become aware of same-sex attractions. They may also fear being rejected by family, friends, co-workers, and religious institutions if they do “come out” (Barret and Borzan, 1996).
In addition, homosexuals are frequently the targets of homophobia and heterosexism. These oppressive social forces serve as social silencing mechanisms. Homophobia is the fear and hatred of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, and heterosexism is the perceived superiority of heterosexuality over non-heterosexuality. Those who keep their sexual orientation a secret expend significant emotional energy to hide a central aspect of their identity. The emotional toll of secrecy can result in internalized shame and self-doubt.
To be “out” in a heterosexist culture requires courage (Morrow, 1996). But the price of keeping the secret can be high, whether the price is counted in the stunning number of teens who kill themselves or in the high rate of alcoholism and drug abuse among homosexuals. There are also, many that are comfortable with keeping their homosexuality hidden, and they do whatever they have to do in order to conceal their sexual orientation. Society looks down on homosexuals for seeking …