A Coming Out model was created by Vivienne Cass in 1979. This is a 6 stage model of a linear progression ending with identity stability, which assumes that there is a core essence of who we are that is gay/lesbian/bisexual. Cass’s model normalizes and predicts many of the phases many lesbians/gays/bisexuals go through. It is a helpful guide in our individual coming out journey, which is also an ongoing process, beyond what this model describes.
A person wonders who she is. Five years ago, when Sue began her first relationship with a woman, Sue wondered whether she was going through a phase. Now she’s clear she’s attracted to and wants to be with women but she tells her family that this is a phase she’s going through.
This is when one is trying to figure out which camp one is in. “How am I like the straight people I know, and how am I like the lesbians I know?” One sorts through stereotypes of lesbians and straight women. Barbara dates women who have never had a same-sex relationship before. She doesn’t like lesbians she sees in the gay bars and thinks the mannish butch-or dyke-look is unattractive. She asks herself: “Could a baseball player be straight? Could a nurse be lesbian?”
After looking at her internalized homophobia, Shari will be able to tolerate the idea that she possibly might be lesbian, although she still experiences shame and discomfort about it and may not be able to come out to anyone. Making some forays into the gay community and making friends can be helpful. In the greater Detroit area, that could mean reading the gay/lesbian/bisexual/ transgendered weekly newspaperBetween the Linesor visiting the gay/lesbian store Just 4 Us in Ferndale; or checking out one of the coming out support groups at Affirmations, in Ferndale, or the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, both being gay/lesbian/ bisexual/ transgendered community centers; or attending events at the Affirmations Community Center. Spiritual resources for connecting in the community would include the several Metropolitan Community Church congregations in the metro-Detroit area or the Leaven Center in Lyons, MI, providing resources and education in the areas of feminism, anti-racism, spiritual development, and sexual justice.
This is being able to say “I feel okay about being lesbian. It’s a part of who I am.” Having been married twice, once in denial and secondly for her children to have a father, though she knew she was lesbian, Karen realized that she had to simply be who she is and just be lesbian. That acceptance led to her first lesbian relationship.
Feeling good about being oneself fully and being enthusiastic is when many lesbians come out of the closet to family and friends through letter or face-to-face. Pia knew she was lesbian for 10 years and had many relationships. After a couple of years of sobriety, she restarted a relationship with a woman she had known before. As that relationship became more serious, they planned a wedding in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and a holy union service at their local Metropolitan Community Church congregation, a gay/lesbian/bisexual-friendly denomination. As they made the plans, Pia sent a letter to family members, finally coming out to them.
After coming out to family and friends and weathering their reactions, Sharon made a point of coming out at work, at the office where she is an administrative assistant, on National Coming Out Day (October 11). She knew it wasn’t news to anyone in the office, but she delighted in raising awareness of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered concerns at work and living her life completely in the open, where people accepted her for being Sharon, lesbian, mom, woman, sister, daughter, administrative assistant…. for all of who she is. Being lesbian and being out is no longer a big upsetting deal.
What ‘Coming Out Stage’ are you in?