There are differing opinions about the stages of coming out. Like with everything else, the academic scholars in gay-studies disagree on some of the finer aspects, but in general the stages I mention here are almost universal. I have seen theories with 5, 6, 12, and even up to 18 stages of coming out. Some theories try to give every stage a new academic-sounding name, but in my 8 stages every word links to an accepted and well-known phase in human development.
1. The Realization Stage
The first stage is when you realize that something about you is different. You might know that you have a gay tendency, but you are still very much in denial. Rationalizing is a significant part of this stage. You might tell yourself that this is just a phase, that it will pass, that you are only a bit infatuated by one person, that it is normal to love anybody, but that this feeling inside you does not mean that you are “totally” gay. You might consider the idea that you are bisexual and that you will still be able to have a heterosexual relationship.
2. The Recognition Stage
The second stage is where you recognise a pattern within yourself. You realize that you are attracted to members of your own gender and not the opposite gender. You understand that this attraction isn’t going away and that it isn’t just directed at one individual. You recognise aspects of your personality and your preferences that make absolute sense in terms of your sexual orientation. Suddenly you understand things about yourself that you did not understand before.
3. The Individual Sharing Stage
Up until this point, everything only happened within your mind, but at the third stage you feel the need to share it with somebody else. It might be your mother, a good friend, or a therapist, but you know it is time to share it with someone. Within yourself you still have a few doubts; therefore, it is time to check your thoughts. If the person you share it with is shocked, he or she might bump you back to stage one. For that reason, it is important that you choose the right person to share it with.
4. The Public Sharing Stage
If you completed the third stage successfully, you would want to share it with more people: maybe your family, most of your friends, or some other person you trust. Remember that the closet always stays right behind you and there will be some people you never share it with. This isn’t a problem; nobody says you should publish it in the local newspaper. This stage might go on for the rest of your life because there will always be new people to share it with.
5. The Socialization Stage
The fifth stage is when you start to socialize with other gay people. It takes some gay folks years to get to this stage because they struggle to meet other gay people and/or they are too afraid to go to gay social gatherings, prides, or clubs. Just like the proverbial wall flower waiting for someone to invite them over, you might sit in your corner waiting for the gay community to come to you. This could be a very lonely time in any gay person’s life, and my advice would be to pass this stage as quickly as possible. Don’t be scared; there will always be some gay person you can relate to.
6. The Relationship Stage
After you started to meet other gay people, you might end up in a relationship. The same advice that any therapist will give a teenager in his or her first relationship goes for you as well. Nobody’s first relationship is the ultimate. If the relationship goes bad – it is part of life. The best thing is not to stay away from other gay people and to move on without regrets. Whatever your age, your first gay relationship means that you are still a teenager in the gay world. Yes, there are people who met one partner and it became a relationship for life, but they are the exception.
7. The Self-Actualization Stage
Self-actualization is the stage where you make peace with who you are. Some people never reach this stage and it is a pity. Knowing yourself, accepting yourself, and loving yourself are all part of a crucial stage in everybody’s life – gay or straight. It isn’t something that happens in your twenties, so do not fear if you aren’t there yet. Self-actualization is something that takes years to get to in gay and straight people’s lives. If your parents do not accept you for being gay, it might even take longer because an important building block in any person’s self-actualization is being accepted by your parents.
8. The Normalization Stage
Self-actualization is the stage where you accept yourself totally. To some extent, life starts after self-actualization. All seven earlier stages have to do with you accepting the fact you are gay, but normalization is the point where you realise you are gay, but that being gay isn’t all there is in life. It is the time when you become integrated in society as a whole. Being gay isn’t an issue anymore; the issue is that you are human, you have a role to play, and you can become part of the whole world without thinking, advertising, or mentioning your sexual orientation. If somebody asks you whether you are gay, you acknowledge it – and whether they accept it or not isn’t an issue anymore. You are, after all, much more than a sexual being.