Coming out, or the disclosure of a minority identity, features prominently across disciplines, including several subfields of sociological research. In the context of sexuality, theoretical arguments offer competing predictions. Some studies propose that coming out is increasingly an unremarkable life transition as the stigma associated with non-heterosexualities attenuates, while others posit entrenched discrimination. Rather than testing these theories or providing incremental evidence in support of one position, we use 52 in-depth interviews with recently-out individuals to explain how identity disclosures in the present moment can validate plural possibilities. Our findings show that ambivalence is the core narrative which animates the contemporary coming out process. Respondents identify three interpretive frameworks that structure their experience of sexuality as at once incidental and central: generational differences, identity misrecognitions, and interfacing with institutions. We also detail a fourth theme, intersectionality, which shows the analytic limits of ambivalence in the coming out process. These patterns suggest more broadly that sexuality, like ethnicity, may provide symbolic resources—“distinguishing but not defining”—in the service of crafting a modern sexual self.
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For 2022 Gallup poll results, see https://news.gallup.com/poll/470708/lgbt-identification-steady.aspx.
We organized our sample frame around same-sex marriage in the United States (2015) rather than Canada (2005) in light of our interests in examining more recent disclosures.
Although our sample is diverse in its racial and ethnic composition, there is an absence of Black respondents. This is a function of the particular urban space of Vancouver, which has a 1% Black population. See https://worldpopulationreview.com/canadian-cities/vancouver-population.
Recently-out individuals, particularly younger generations, rely on the remarks of LGBTQ+ celebrities, public figures, and social media influencers to make sense of their identities. See https://www.ypulse.com/article/2022/03/17/why-gen-z-is-more-likely-than-millennials-to-identify-as-lgbtq/.
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Ghaziani, A., Holmes, A. Distinguishing but not defining: How ambivalence affects contemporary identity disclosures. Theor Soc 52, 913–945 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-023-09521-8