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Title:The interpersonal and mental health implications of the coherence of coming out narratives for a sample of gay men in committed romantic relationships
Author(s):Clausell, Eric
Director of Research:Allen, Nicole E.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Allen, Nicole E.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Roisman, Glenn I.; Oswald, Ramona F.; Heller, Wendy; Neville, Helen A.
Department / Program:Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):same-sex couples
gay male
coming out
Minority stress model
Abstract:The coming out process has been conceptualized as a developmental imperative for those who will eventually accept their same-sex attractions. It is widely accepted that homophobia, heterosexism, and homonegativity are cultural realities that may complicate this developmental process for gay men. The current study views coming out as an extra-developmental life task that is at best a stressful event, and at worst traumatic when coming out results in the rupture of salient relationships with parents, siblings, and/or close friends. To date, the minority stress model (Meyer, 1995; 2003) has been utilized as an organizing framework for how to empirically examine external stressors and mental health disparities for lesbians, gay men, and bisexual individuals in the United States. The current study builds on this literature by focusing on the influence of how gay men make sense of and represent the coming out process in a semi-structured interview, more specifically, by examining the legacy of the coming out process on indicators of wellness. In a two-part process, this study first employs the framework well articulated in the adult attachment literature of coherence of narratives to explore both variation and implications of the coming out experience for a sample of gay men (n = 60) in romantic relationships (n = 30). In particular, this study employed constructs identified in the adult attachment literature, namely Preoccupied and Dismissing current state of mind, to code a Coming Out Interview (COI). In the present study current state of mind refers to the degree of coherent discourse produced about coming out experiences as relayed during the COI. Multilevel analyses tested the extent to which these COI dimensions, as revealed through an analysis of coming out narratives in the COI, were associated with relationship quality, including self-reported satisfaction and observed emotional tone in a standard laboratory interaction task and self-reported symptoms of psychopathology. In addition, multilevel analyses also assessed the Acceptance by primary relationship figures at the time of disclosure, as well as the degree of Outness at the time of the study. Results revealed that participant’s narratives on the COI varied with regard to Preoccupied and Dismissing current state of mind, suggesting that the AAI coding system provides a viable organizing framework for extracting meaning from coming out narratives as related to attachment relevant constructs. Multilevel modeling revealed construct validity of the attachment dimensions assessed via the COI; attachment (i.e., Preoccupied and Dismissing current state of mind) as assessed via the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) was significantly correlated with the corresponding COI variables. These finding suggest both methodological and conceptual convergence between these two measures. However, with one exception, COI Preoccupied and Dismissing current state of mind did not predict relationship outcomes or self-reported internalizing and externalizing symptoms. However, further analyses revealed that the degree to which one is out to others moderated the relationship between COI Preoccupied and internalizing. Specifically, for those who were less out to others, there was a significant and positive relationship between Preoccupied current state of mind towards coming out and internalizing symptoms. In addition, the degree of perceived acceptance of sexual orientation by salient relationship figures at the time of disclosure emerged as a predictor of mental health. In particular, Acceptance was significantly negatively related to internalizing symptoms. Overall, the results offer preliminary support that gay men’s narratives do reflect variation as assessed by attachment dimensions and highlights the role of Acceptance by salient relationship figures at the time of disclosure. Still, for the most part, current state of mind towards coming out in this study was not associated with relationship quality and self-reported indicators of mental health. This finding may be a function of low statistical power given the modest sample size. However, the relationship between Preoccupied current state of mind and mental health (i.e., internalizing) appears to depend on degree of Outness. In addition, the response of primary relationships figures to coming out may be a relevant factor in shaping mental health outcomes for gay men. Limitations and suggestions for future research and clinical intervention are offered.
Issue Date:2011-08-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Eric Clausell
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-08-25
Date Deposited:2011-08

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