Skip to main content

The Psychological Benefits of Verbally Coming Out

Though for Latino gay men, it may not matter much.

By Nathan Collins


(Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr)

There are well-documented struggles of being a gay man who’s in the closet, depression and anxiety chief among them. Indeed, according to a recent study, life could significantly improve for those who are able to sit their parents down and express their true identity—unless, that is, that person is Latino.

At issue, Adrian Villicana, Kevin Delucio, and Monica Biernat write in the journal Self and Identity, is how gay men form healthy identities. While psychologists’ understanding of that process is a little murky, most researchers think that coming out—specifically, verbally disclosing the fact that one is gay—is an essential part of identity development.

There is evidence that being able to say “I’m gay” out loud is both an indicator that someone’s comfortable with their sexual orientation and a powerful action in itself. Verbal disclosure is associated with more social support; verbally coming out can boost self-esteem and well-being.

“Identity and disclosure may operate differently for gay Latino and gay White men.”

Of course, the gay community is not monolithic, and a gay man’s identity is not simply a matter of being gay or being out—it can also be a matter of ethnicity, social hierarchies, and so forth. There’s also more than one way to come out, and different reasons to come out (or not), which likely depend on the social and cultural context a gay man finds himself in.

The question is, how do those forces play out in the real world? To find out, Villicana, Delucio, and Biernat conducted an online survey of 83 Latino and white gay men. The survey first asked several questions about the participants’ perceptions of their well-being and their comfort with their own sexual orientation. They also asked about how clearly the men had disclosed their sexuality to family, friends, and others using a seven-point scale. For moms, for example, a man’s responses range from one—mom definitely does not know—to seven—she knows and she talks openly about it.

White men who had most openly disclosed their sexual orientation did report better well-being than those who’d disclosed the least, as other research would have suggested. For Latino men, coming out in so many words had no affect on well-being.

A second online survey of 116 men replicated that result and suggested something of an explanation: White men who verbally disclosed their sexual orientation felt more able to be themselves on a daily basis and thought of themselves more in terms of their friends and family. There was no such effect for Latinos.

“Our findings … suggest that gay identity and disclosure may operate differently for gay Latino and gay White men. Instead, gay Latino men may have a different understanding of gay identity that facilitates the usage of a tacitness strategy — where others know of one’s gay identity but it is not verbally disclosed to or discussed with others — without affecting their perceptions of intrinsic self-expression, self-construal, or subjective well-being,” the team writes. “This suggests that a specific notion of what constitutes a healthy expression of gay identity is not shared across various ethnic groups of gay men.”