Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Sexual Orientation and Disclosure: Coming out Narratives by Young Men and Women in Urban Setting in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Sexual Orientation and Disclosure: Coming out Narratives by Young Men and Women in Urban Setting in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Article excerpt

In South Africa despite political, legal, and educational reforms, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth (LGBT) continue to battle against homophobia in their daily lives (Butler & Astbury, 2005). Sexual orientation prejudice contributes to stress and confusion as LGBT people come to terms with their identities (Diaz et al., 2001). All LGBT people must ultimately make a decision whether and how to acknowledge their sexual orientation to themselves and to others. This is a difficult decision and process with many possible routes and outcomes. "Coming out" is a term used to describe the process of acknowledging, accepting and appreciating one's self-identification with a particular sexual orientation and disclosing this understanding to other people (Galatzer-Levy & Cohler, 2002; Ward & Winstanley, 2005).

The process of coming out is a dynamic process that may consist of a series of stages. Briefly, this may involve pre-coming out (identity awareness and covering up), coming out (identity tolerance), exploration (identity acceptance), first relationships (identity pride), and synthesis (identity integration) (Cass's, 1979; Coleman, 1982). However, there is no one stage when the process begins and ends and some of the stages may overlap (Galatzer-Levy & Cohler, 2002; Ward & Winstanley, 2005). Individuals may initially come out to family, friends or co-workers, but if, for example, they move to a new job or to another city they might have to repeat the coming out process with their new friends and coworkers (Galatzer-Levy & Cohler, 2002; Ward & Winstanley,2005). Others suggest that coming out is not a linear process but a fluid one, involving movement back and forth (Marszalek & Cashwell, 1999; Reynolds & Hanjorgiris, 2000). This complex process can bring with it a myriad of positive and negative feelings for the individual, including fear, relief, anxiety, deep emotional distress, and a sense of being true to oneself (Oetjen & Rothblum, 2000; Diaz et al., 2001). Furthermore, while the process is generally applicable to all people coming out, there are unique variations that may be experienced by different people under different settings (Ward & Winstanley, 2005).

In South Africa, increasingly youth are coming out during adolescence rather than adulthood and, in the context of HIV/AIDS epidemic, which affects risk, life course and development (Butler & Astbury, 2005; Shisana et al., 2008). However, less is known about the coming out experiences of young gay men and lesbians in the country. This paper focuses on understanding the process and experiences of coming out among young men and women in an urban setting in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.


Study setting and participants

South Africa is the only country in Africa to provide legal rights to LGBT persons. However, South Africa is also the only countiy with legalized same sex unions that lacks a majority support from its population (Butler and Astbury, 2005; van Vollenhoven and Els, 2012). There are no official population estimates of the LGBT community in South Africa. However, the gay and lesbian population is estimated to between one and three percent of the population. In a country of over 50 million people, between 500,000 to 1.5 million South Africans are estimated to be gay or lesbian ( The study was conducted in the university community located in Durban which is the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal.

The study focused on male and female students between 18 and 23 years of age. Potential participants were approached through personal contacts. Snowball / chain-referent sampling technique was used to recruit participants due to the hidden nature of this population due to the sensitive nature of the topic (Cohen et al., 2007). Ethical approval was obtained from University of KwaZulu-Natal Research Ethics Committee? Only participant who gave informed consent were included in the study. …

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