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Coming Out Theory

Pride is upon us, and celebrations across the Lower Mainland are going strong. Pride events raise feelings of both elation and fear for folks who identify as part of the beautiful LGBTQ+ spectrum. A time for celebration is now marred by anti-LGBTQ+ laws, policies, and practices not only in the United States, but also here in Canada (Hobson, 2023) . Violence against trans and nonbinary folks appears to be increasing daily. The idea of coming out as LGBTQ+ at this time can be particularly scary and emotional.

Coming out is already a fraught experience. Who gets to come out? When is it safe to come out? The experience is different for everyone. For some, the process is gradual, and for others it can be sudden. It may be repetitive, where one needs to come out over and over to family, friends, or community (Ali & Barden, 2015) .

Intersex-inclusive Pride Flag
Coming Out Theory

Cass Theory

Vivienne Cass, a clinical psychologist, developed this 6-stage developmental process of coming out in 1979 and it is still used today although it has limitations and described below (Thriving Center of Psychology, n.d. )

Stage 1 - Identity Confusion

The first stage is the recognition or awareness that one does not fit into the cis-heteronormative societal norm, that they may be or are queer. This stage is marked by confusion and stress.

Stage 2 - Identity Comparison

In this stage, one may feel acceptance of their gender identity and orientation while comparing to others and considering how they may be perceived by others. They may isolate or hide this part of themselves.

Stage 3 - Identity Tolerance

In this stage, one begins to explore spaces where their identity is met with acceptance, belonging, and celebration. This could be with LGBTQ+ organizations and groups, and they may be more alienated by the dominant culture and norms as a result.

Stage 4 - Identity Acceptance

As the name indicates, in this stage one feels acceptance towards their gender identity and is more inclined to be around other LGBTQ+ people. At this point, one may begin coming out to a close circle of people that they trust will keep their identity a secret.

Stage 5 - Identity Pride

In this stage, one identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Feeling a sense of pride in their identity, they may call out cis-gender heteronormative identities and values and affirm and celebrate LGBTQ+ people.

Stage 6 - Identity Synthesis

In this stage, there is no LGBTQ+ and heterosexual division. Rather, queer individuals invite into their space heterosexual allies who accept, validate, celebrate, and affirm LGBTQ+ people.

Not everyone will follow these stages exactly. Some may skip stages, some may move from one stage and go back to another, and some may stay at one stage for much of their lives. Coming out is not a linear process.

Cass’s theory only considered people who were lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The theory also likely centred White LGBTQ+ folks (Thriving Center of Psychology, n.d.) . How does this theory shift for trans people? Or those who are Indigenous and 2-Spirit? Theories are flexible and open to critique or consideration of other possibilities. What possibilities do you see?


Ali, S., & Barden, S. M. (2015). Considering the cycle of coming out: Sexual minority identity development. The Professional Counselor, 5(4), 501–515.

Hobson, B. (2023, June 30). Canada’s anti-LGBTQ movement emboldened by U.S. events: Advocates. Global News.

Thriving Center of Psychology. (n.d.). Out of the closet: the 6-Stage model of coming out.


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