Is it better for Individuals to “Come Out” Sooner or Later?

Many young people are revealing their minority sexual identities in their teens rather than waiting until early and middle adulthood like the generation before them. “Both trends, if true, have important social, psychological, and health implications,” said Jerel P. Calzo of the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study examining the age at which young, middle and older American gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) adults reveal their sexual identity. “With greater perceived acceptance, sexual minority youth may be less likely to question or experience internal conflict regarding same-sex-oriented feelings and attractions.” There is evidence that having a secure sexual identity decreases risky sexual behavior and homophobic fears. But research also indicates that revealing a minority sexual identity in childhood can set an individual up for a lifetime of harassment, victimization and ridicule. “Such experiences may lead to suboptimal developmental outcomes, including decrements in school performance, self-esteem, and physical and mental health,” said Calzo.

In order to identify what ages were most common for gay, lesbian and bisexual adults to reveal their sexual orientation, Calzo and a team of researchers conducted a latent profile analysis (LPA) of 1,260 GLB California adults who were part of a larger survey. The participants were between the ages of 18 and 84 and were categorized into three coming out age groups: early age 12-20, middle 18-31, and late 32-43.They found that the lesbian women tended to reveal their sexual orientation earlier in life than did the bisexual or gay men. However, the women engaged in their first same-sex experience later than the other participants. “Overall, the results provide partial support for the hypothesis that women experience milestones later than men,” said the team of the results. “However, there is also evidence that among participants who come out later in life, women may come out earlier than men.” They added, “Such diversity indicates that GLB individuals may vary in levels of maturity, coping capacity, and availability of social support while traversing milestones. Given the elevated prevalence of physical and mental health problems among some sexual minorities, it is imperative that health providers, researchers, parents, and policy makers work together to ensure that resources are available to encourage positive identity development at all stages of the life span.”

Reference:
Calzo, J. P., Antonucci, T. C., Mays, V. M., & Cochran, S. D. (2011, September 26). Retrospective Recall of Sexual Orientation Identity Development Among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adults. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025508

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jed

    Jed

    October 13th, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    Well, I guess I can see the pros and the cons of either situation. If you come out early on, then you are being truer to your authentic self, being the person that you know that you are. This probably gives you the freedom yo more readily explore your options and not feel like you are hiding an essential part of your being. On the other hand, that could make for a pretty tough life, especially if your family or the community in which you live is intolerant of homosexuality and there is not support there and available for you. I guess though in my heart I would have to think that if this is who you are, then it is better to be open and try to gain understanding instead of always being made to feel that there is a part of you that you are always having to hide.

  • Hannah

    Hannah

    October 15th, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    My brother just recently officially came out to me and my parents but I think that all of us have known for a long time now that he is gay. Maybe none of us wanted to accept that but now that he has openly declared that we are forced to make acceptance a part of our family. It is hard because we live in a small town and I hate to say it but I guess all of us have been judgemental. I think that is why he waited so long to come out. It does make me sad to think of everything that he has felt over the years that he had to hide from us, but it makes me sad too to think of the things that he will not have in life because he is openly gay. I am working on moving forward but I know that this will take time for me and for my parents. We still love him just the same but it is hard.

  • josh

    josh

    October 16th, 2011 at 4:46 AM

    coming out with your identity, and more so when you do come out is not a very important thing if you ask me.what is important for an individual is to realize his/her true identity and be comfortable with it.whether you tell the world or not and when you do tell is not as important as being content with yourself and being happy with what you are.its not like you are going to gain something by telling everybody that you are gay or bisexual.in fact, you may be subjected to harassment and homophobic behavior.

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