Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) Processes of Coming out and Identity Development Among Gay Men of Color (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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619P (WITHDRAWN) Processes of Coming out and Identity Development Among Gay Men of Color

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Scott Rutledge, PhD, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, Temple University College of Public Health/School of Social Work, Philadelphia, PA
Chong-suk Han, PhD, Associate Professor, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT
Background and Purpose: In much of the literature on gay men, developing a “gay identity” is thought of as something that one does over time through a series of internal stages, with the most important stage being some variant of “coming out” as a gay man. So central has this “coming out” narrative become to allegedly developing a “positive” gay identity, many scholars as well as public commentators have argued that remaining “in the closet,” the opposite of “coming out,” is detrimental to both the mental and physical health for members of LGBTQ communities. However, more recent scholarship with gay people of color have cast doubt on a universal “coming out” experience for all LGBTQ people and have even begun to suggest that “coming out” in the traditional Western normative way may be actually detrimental to the health and well-being of non-White LGBTQ individuals. In this paper, we examine the experiences of gay men of color to examine similarities and differences around their identity development, paying particular attention to if, and under what circumstances, they “come out of the closet.”

Methods: Data for this study came from 35 interviews with gay men of color in the greater Los Angeles area. Selection criteria included whether they (1) were at least 18 years old, (2) self-identified as black, Latino, or Asian Pacific Islander, (3) were proficient in English, and (4) reported at least one male sex partner in the past 6 months. The interview sample included 12 black men, 11 Latino men, and 12 Asian Pacific Islander men. Sixteen men were between the ages of 18-29 years old, 19 were 30 and older. One of 11 Latino men and 9 of the Asian Pacific Islander men were foreign-born. All black men were born in the United States. Data were analyzed using a modified grounded theory approach.

Findings: Data analysis suggest that gay men of color develop a gay identity through various different paths of self-realization, some similar to the more traditional models of gay identity development and others unique to their experiences as racial minorities in a racialized society. Specifically, we find that for gay men of color, developing a positive gay identity and “coming out” involves negotiating homophobia in communities of color as well as the larger society and racism from both the larger society and from gay White men. Rather than a onetime declaration, “coming out” for gay men of color is a continuing negotiation depending on time and place.

Conclusion and Implications: Our findings help shed new light on what it means to develop a “positive gay identity” for members of racial minority groups. Rather than the taken-for-granted stage-wise models used to explain the experiences of gay White men, our study demonstrates the need to examine the “coming out” experience using an intersectional lens that takes into account racial identity and the role that racism plays in the development of a “gay identity” for non-White LGBTQ people.