Exploring the Affirmative Role of Gay Icons in Coming Out

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Abstract

Coming out is a process experienced by many sexual minorities that necessitates the individual disclosure of a personal attribute (i.e., sexual orientation) about him or herself that may otherwise go unnoticed. Compounded by myriad stressors of youth, the coming out process can yield a host of negative outcomes (suicide, depression, etc.) for questioning young people. This research utilized sense of community and collective identity frameworks (specifically, the attribute of symbols that is explicated in both literatures) to explore the affirmative role that gay icons can have in individual coming out processes. Retrospective, open-ended interviews were conducted with 10 “out and proud” gay men in the northeast region of the United States. Interviews were video-recorded, transcribed, and content-analyzed to identify themes. Three themes emerged from the data inductively. Sense of Self refers to the strongest link that participants perceived among all gay icons, Shared Identity refers to the connectedness that participants felt with the icons they mentioned, and Enabler of Coming Out refers to the belief among participants that they received validating messages about their emerging sexualities from the icons with whom they identified. Implications for policy, practice, and future research are also discussed.

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