Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Coming-Out: Gay Males' Information Seeking

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Coming-Out: Gay Males' Information Seeking

Article excerpt

This inquiry, undertaken in New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States examines information-seeking of young gay males about coming-out, taking a social constructionist perspective on gay identity. The investigation uses data collected from critical incident technique interviews in which these young men related their information needs, information-seeking activities, and the conditions of these activities. Findings show that they typically encountered three types of information needs; these are linked to self-labeling, consequences for self-identifying as gay, and forming an understanding of a gay identity. Participants' information-seeking typically involved interacting with young gay adults through online forums. However, they also experienced a period when they did not pursue their information needs about coming-out. Conditions most strongly characterizing information-seeking were the experience of fear and the concealment of information-seeking activities. These findings are considered in association with Chatman's (1996) Theory of Information Poverty. The discussion of the findings also proposes directions for future research and provision of information.


One's development of a gay identity is increasingly an adolescent concern. In 1979, the mean age of self-labeling as gay or lesbian was 21.1 years old. By 1996, the mean age had dropped to be 14.7 years old (Savin-Williams, 1997). For those who interact, serve, and work with young adults, this trend may resonate intuitively, because adolescence is usually regarded as a time when many grapple with life concerns linked to identity. Adolescents' dealing with a sexual identity at increasingly younger ages presents an opportunity for librarians to support information seeking about this life concern. In addition, the threat of AIDS provides another rationale for supporting gay male adolescents' information seeking about coming-out. Young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 account for about 43% of new HIV infections each day worldwide (National Institutes of Health, 2002). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2001) estimates that in the United States 60% of new infections in men are linked to homosexual sex. Hays (1996) and Gonsoriek (1989) suggest that negative coming-out experiences place young men at a greater risk for HIV infection, linking self-esteem and depression related to coming-out with sexual risk-taking behaviors associated with HIV infection. These statistics emphasize how vulnerable adolescent gay males' are to HIV infection. By supporting positive information seeking experiences in connection with coming-out, librarians may view information provision as a form of AIDS prevention.

Young men in their late teens and early 20s who self-identify as gay participated in this research. Their contributions provided recollections and reflections based on their relatively recent experience with coming-out. Three general questions guided the inquiry.

1. What are information needs related to coming-out?

2. What information seeking activities are connected to coming-out?

3. What are the conditions of one's information seeking about coming-out?

Pursuing these research questions emphasizes the information seeker's perspective in building an understanding of the issues and difficulties associated with young men's coming-out experience with respect to seeking information.

This research takes a social constructionist view of gay identity, which posits that coming-out is the discursive production of an identity for both oneself and others (Greenberg, 1988; Jandt & Darsey, 1981; Kitzinger, 1987; Rust, 1993). This outlook, based in Berger and Luckmann's (1966) theory on the social construction of reality, locates the origin of identity in the interplay between an individual and society. A gay identity emerges not only from one's experience of same-sex romantic or sexual attraction; rather, an individual constructs it by using social and cultural resources to make meaning from this experience. …

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