What are the six stages of coming out?
Coming out is a process, and processes have steps. I don’t think the stages of coming out are easy to name without learning about them, yet they make lots of sense once you’re familiar. Whether you’re wanting to understand yourself in your coming out process or better understand someone you love, I think there’s a universal benefit in learning Cass’ stages of coming out.
Things to keep in mind: these stages are not necessarily linear, and they exist to help
people understand what they’re going through. They aren’t diagnostic tools, and it’s probably rude to call somebody out as “being in stage five of coming out,” seeing as the coming out journey is personal. Finally, this model is from 1979 and was solely looking at gay identity formation. Please take that into consideration. Let’s get into it!
Stage 1: Identity confusion
Individuals will start acknowledging their attraction to other members of the same sex
while still identifying as heterosexual. They aren’t pretending to be straight; that feels real to
them, and the gay attraction feels unacceptable and unwelcome.
Stage 2: Identity Comparison
Individuals begin accepting that they might be gay. They may participate in gay sexual
behavior while still not identifying as gay. In this stage, individuals may identify as gay while
heterosexually marrying, justifying it by only engaging in casual gay hookups. Fully embracing a gay identity in this stage is likely to be met with some pretty overwhelming shame and guilt.
Stage 3: Identity tolerance
In this stage, individuals accept that they’re likely gay, in a more positive way, and
they’ll start trying on words like gay, bi, pan, lesbian, etc. to see what words feel right. This stage feels hesitant and curious, and individuals are starting to see a need to end their social isolation and loneliness. They may venture into the LGBTQ community at this stage.
Stage 4: Identity acceptance – the beginning of gay adolescence
This is when individuals accept themselves as LGBTQ, feel belonging in the community,
and get increasingly more angry at homophobia in society. They may distance themselves from family and friends if those people disrupt their new way of thinking. This stage marks the beginning of “gay adolescence” because the new identity becomes obvious; it’s common for people in this stage to explore new fashion, music, people, and personal identity as a whole. Especially if the individual couldn’t safely explore their sexuality as an adolescent, this may look like a “second adolescence” for the individual. That gets more intense in stage 5.
Stage 5: Identity pride - gay adolescence in full force
Individuals in this stage are fully immersed in LGBTQ subculture. They have less
interactions with straight people and start confronting straight people. All straight people are lumped together, the homophobic people and the non-homophobic people alike. Individuals in this stage develop a “them versus us” mentality against straight people. The anger and pride people experience in this stage makes for powerful LGBTQ activists. They’re likely to have loud attitudes, wear lewd clothing with provocative slogans, and act rebelliously or promiscuously. They’ll know all the best gay singers, literature, and tv shows. The behavior in this stage looks like teenage behavior, and when it happens in adults, it typically lasts only 2-3 years. Because of the emotional turmoil and generally volatile experience of this stage, it often comes as a relief to people that their experience in this stage will soon come to an end.
Stage 6: Identity Synthesis
This stage brings integration. The “us versus them” concept disintegrates. Individuals
understand that there are good straight people in addition to the less savory ones. Gayness is seen as a facet of identity rather than the whole of it (Kort, 2018).
It’s easy to say that coming out is a process, and it’s even easier to forget that processes are long, annoying, and uncertain. I find a lot of solace in this model because it highlights the variety of personality shifts that will happen over a long period of time throughout the journey. I hope the next time you hear someone say, “Why do they need to make being gay their whole personality?” you can bring some compassion in the conversation; maybe that individual is doing the best they can in a hard situation, and it’s just part of their coming out journey.
Jacob Lundy is a Mental Health Student Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. He began pursuing a Bachelor's in Psychology from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and deeply fell in love with therapy when he finally went to therapy himself in his senior year. He has ten years of teaching experience including music, special education, and ESL. He also has three years of experience working as a personal service worker, showing comfort to autistic individuals. He's now pursuing a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Adams State University. To request an appointment, click here to request an appointment.
Kort, J. (2018). Lgbtq clients in therapy: Clinical issues and treatment strategies. W.W. Norton