A person’s decision to “come out” as gay to their friends and family is a personal one, something they have to do on their own time and in their own way. The traditional narrative, though, suggests men feel better if they verbally reveal their true identity. But according to a new study published in Self and Identity, this only seems to be the case for white men.
Researchers were curious to see how verbal disclosure of one’s gay identity could affected subjective well-being. Previous studies have shown that coming out, which is usually thought of as a spoken task, can help gay men feel more comfortable and at peace with their identity. And yet, this research is limited, according to lead study author Adrian Villicana, a doctoral student at the University of Kansas.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
After Villicana and colleagues had white and Latino gay men fill out extensive questionnaires, they found that while verbal disclosure increased well-being for gay white men, it did not influence well-being in Latinos. The team suggested that this type of disclosure might be effective and positive within a “white framework,” and less so when considering other factors of identity, including ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, and religion.
Villicana speculates two reasons for the racial disparity in well-being: One, he explained, is that white gay men associate verbal disclosure with feelings of authenticity and revealing a “true self;” they also begin to incorporate how others view them into their own identity. And the other reason is that for Latino men, coming out means something different.
“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,” Villicana said. In which case, the authors suggest that well-being in gay men of color is better when they can reveal their identity through a more implied approach.
“This paper looks at disclosure by other means,” Villicana said. “Disclosure can be nonverbal. 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 verbalization. You’re still sharing it with other people but not in verbal ways.”