5 Stages of Coming Out - Simply Explained
In order to support a person close to you in coming out, it can be very helpful if you understand roughly how the coming out process works and how in which phase/stage you can best provide support.
Of course, we can't give you a guide here that you can simply apply universally. Ultimately, every person is different - so try to develop a sense for their individual needs.
However, the 5-phase model of the outing process can help you to better understand what is going on in a person close to you. Especially if you have never been through a similar situation yourself, it is often difficult to understand why (especially young) queer people react the way they do.
Note: We use the term queer here to refer to different sexualities. This includes, for example, gay, lesbian, bisexual and so on.
The 5 Stages of Coming Out
It is important to note that these 5 stages are not fixed laws. The duration and intensity with which a person goes through these stages are very individual.
1. Pre-Coming Out
During their childhood, queer people often have the feeling of being "different". However, this otherness cannot yet be precisely understood or described. As a result, they often have the intuition not to share these feelings with others - not even with their own parents or close friends. Often there is also the feeling that there is something wrong with them, including subtle feelings of fear and guilt. For queer people it is often difficult to grow up in a heteronormative (the assumption that everyone is heterosexual) and cisnormative (the assumption that everyone identifies with the gender assigned at birth) society. One's own feelings that deviate from these externally modelled values can lead to serious inner conflicts.
2. Inner Coming Out
The "otherness" just described is now more consciously conceived in this phase. This can be, for example, the realisation that they are attracted to their own gender or cannot identify with their birth gender. This realisation triggers inner fears of being different from others. Also already known prejudices against e.g. homosexual people lead to an inner conflict. Since these are usually already strongly internalised, they are not questioned at first (this is also called internalised homophobia). In this phase, there is usually a strong fear of being excluded from the environment.
3. Stigma Avoidance
In our society, many negative images and prejudices against queer people are anchored - probably some of them are also known to you. Exactly these lead to an immense inner struggle in this stage, because queer people (at first) don't want to admit to themselves that they are who they are. This can go so far that they try to completely repress their feelings and become heterosexual or conform to the norms of society.
In this fourth phase of coming out, the desires and needs, or the pressure of suffering of the persons concerned become so strong that they begin to question their previous assumptions and inner attitudes. In the further course, they often seek contact with other queer people and information about the topic. The more their own self-acceptance grows, the stronger the positive feelings of liberation and relief become, even euphoria at having finally found themselves.
5. External Coming Out
In this final phase of coming out, people finally share their self-knowledge with other people. This step is commonly known as coming out, e.g. to family or friends. The more positive reactions there are to the coming out, the better the person can accept themselv. This last phase, by the way, lasts a lifetime, as there are always situations in which a decision has to be made to open up to others or to keep it to oneself (for the time being).
We would like to mention here again that you should by no means try to force this pattern onto your relatives. We are all very individual and each person's coming out process is just as unique. Nevertheless, we hope that the 5 phase model has given you a better insight into the very complex process of coming out, which for many people (unfortunately) is also associated with a high level of suffering.
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