Date of Award

August 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Lindsay Timmerman

Committee Members

Erin Parcell, Erin Ruppel, Leslie Harris


Coming out, LGBT, the closet


The current study investigated the ways in which LGBTQ individuals define and understand “coming out.” Specifically, participants explained how they define the term “coming out,” how their definitions correspond with their lived experiences of coming out, whether they believe “coming out of the closet” is a fitting metaphor for the experience it describes, and their suggestions for components that should be included in a definition of coming out. Fifty-one participants took part in semi-structured interviews, either face-to-face, via video chat, or via email. Their responses were analyzed using the constant comparison method and used to construct a grounded theory of coming out. This theory frames the reason for coming out as the crux of the coming out experience; that is, coming out exists as a response to the expectation that most individuals are heterosexual and cisgender. Related to this, the present theory de-centers disclosure in the coming out experience, emphasizing the role of the internal aspects and stating that coming out can occur even in the absence of self-disclosure to others. The grounded theory constructed here also frames coming out as a process that is ongoing and unique to each individual. Based on the present findings, coming out is defined as an ongoing and highly individualized process, consisting of multiple activities and experiences, during which an individual makes known their LGBTQ identity to themselves and/or others, through implicit and/or explicit means. Implications, limitations, and suggestions for future research are discussed.

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