Research Feature: Jill Northcott

Memories of Coming Out: Parents and Adult-Children Recall the Coming Out Experience

Coming out, or revealing oneself to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, queer, etc. (LGBTQ+) can be incredibly stressful, largely due to fear of parental disapproval or rejection. It has been shown that parental approval and/or disapproval is tied to the identity formation, mental well-being, and physical health of LGBTQ+ youth and adults. While previous research on the coming out experience has assessed the experience from the adult child’s perspective, and occasionally the parent’s perspective, no studies have looked at both perspectives simultaneously. This undergraduate honours thesis, as a part of a larger study being conducted by Dr. Diane Holmberg at Acadia University, and Dr. Karen Blair at St. Francis Xavier University, addresses this issue and aims to fill the gap in the existing literature. This study examines the reported recollections of coming out by the LGBTQ+ adult individual and one of their parental figures, additionally, it explores how the potential discrepancies between the recollections predict the well-being of the LGBTQ+ individual. The larger study examines many variables including physical health, sexual behaviour, and perceived closeness of relationship to the parent, but for the purpose of the honours program, only the mental health and internalized homophobia of the LGBTQ+ participants was analyzed. The objective of this research project was to determine firstly, if there were any patterns of discrepancy between the adult children and parents’ recollections, and secondly which direction of memory discrepancy predicted better mental health and a more positive sexual identity (or less internalized homophobia) for the adult child.

It was predicted that more negative recollections of coming out by the adult child would predict poorer mental health and higher internalized homophobia. It was also predicted that agreement between parents’ and children’s memories, especially when positive, would predict better mental health and lower internalized homophobia than when there were discrepancies between memories. If there was a discrepancy between recollections, it was predicted that the adult child would have better mental health and lower internalized homophobia when the adult child had a more positive recollection compared to the parents’. Polynomial regression with response surface analysis, created by Shanock, Baran, Gentry, Pattison, and Heggestad (2010), was used to analyse both perspectives simultaneously as predictors of the LGBTQ+ adult child’s mental health and internalized homophobia. Though no significant results were found, there were interesting and unexpected trends found in the results that contradicted the hypotheses. These results will be further investigated as the larger study conducted by Dr. Holmberg and Dr. Blair is ongoing.

By understanding this intricate relationship, it can be further understood how LGBTQ+ individuals’ mental health is related to parent-child relationships and parental approval/disapproval. Investigating both perspectives simultaneously allows for in-depth analysis of how mental health is affected by potential memory discrepancies, and whether it is more beneficial for adult children to have a more positive recollection of coming out that their parents do, or if the opposite is true. This research will also contribute to understanding the importance of child-parent relationships, especially for those who identify as LGBTQ+ as this community is just gaining acceptance and still faces prejudice and discrimination. It is important to understand how pivotal moments in the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals, such as coming out, affect their future mental health.

Sound interesting? Please consider participating, in this study or in other current studies on other relationship topics (e.g., disapproval of relationships, affectionate touch in relationships)! Go to ; you will find a link there to this study, as well as other ongoing studies.