A study of gay Latino and gay white men suggests that we shouldn’t impose any “right way” of coming out the closet.
The new research examined verbal disclosure of one’s gay identity to others by men from these two backgrounds and found some startling differences in the outcome.
“Verbal disclosure is what most people think of as ‘coming out’ as gay,” said lead author Adrian Villicana, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Kansas.
“It’s verbalising to other people, ‘I am gay.’ It’s a proclamation, it’s yelling from the rooftop — at least that’s a common understanding of what it is and should be.”
According to Villicana and his co-authors Kevin Delucio of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Monica Biernat of KU, that verbal disclosure, often promoted in events such as National Coming Out Day, could be a kind of “cultural directive”.
The research team asked gay Latino and gay white men to complete extensive questionnaires on coming out.
The results show that verbal disclosure of gay identity increased subjective well-being for gay white men but didn’t influence subjective well-being for gay Latino men.
The researchers found two reasons why gay white men who verbally disclose have higher well-being. “First, verbal disclosure leads to more feelings of authenticity, so feeling that they are showing their ‘true self.’ Second, as they verbally disclose to others, they begin to incorporate others into how they view themselves,” said Villicana.
However, among gay Latino men, verbal disclosure is not related to these two things. “For gay Latino men, authenticity and incorporating others into how they view themselves is not influenced by their sexual identity, but may be more tied to their ethnic identity.”
The researchers suggest that gay men of colour could gain the same benefits to their well-being through implied disclosure rather than verbal disclosure of their gay identity.
“Disclosure can be nonverbal,” Villicana said. “It’s more action-based, like bringing a same-sex partner to family events. More stereotypically, you might bring your same-sex roommate of 20 years. So, there’s tacit acknowledgement, but there isn’t discussion or verbalisation. You’re still sharing it with other people, but not in verbal ways.”
The investigators suggest verbal disclosure might accurately be seen as an effective strategy within a “white framework” that doesn’t account for facets of identity like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and religion.
“When scholars talk about gay identity as a white construction, it’s because the data we have comes from gay white men for the most part,” Villicana said.
“While it’s good to understand this identity and related process, it limits our understanding of gay-related processes for other people. It’s confusing and potentially misleading to use data from one group and apply it to another group in the same way.”