Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Lesbians-Psychology, Coming out (Sexual orientation), Homophobia, Lesbians-Identity, Qualitative, Queer, Identity, Process, Explorations, Object relations (Psychoanalysis


A qualitative, flexible research method design was used to obtain data from a focus group, to investigate how lesbians experience a change in internal self and object relations in the process of coming out. More specifically, the research investigated: 1) what internal/external object representations are affected by coming out as a lesbian; 2) what are the internal issues of identity change; 3) what are the interpersonal issues of support; 4) what internal/interpersonal issues of "losses/gains" exist while coming out? Five adult lesbian women between the ages of 25 and 29 participated in this focus group study in Northern California. The major findings of this study suggest that coming out is a complex internal and interpersonal process. The narrative responses from these five women indicated a process of first recognizing homosexual feelings as a child, suppressing these feelings, and having these feelings resurface as a young adult. Several of the women stated that the coming out process resulted in pain/hurt for their mothers, which in turn, seemed to cause shame/guilt related to integrating their lesbian sexual orientation. In developing an identity the participants described working through homophobia embedded from important internalized objects. In this process, a new consciousness allows them to come to terms with their own internal homophobia and their important object's homophobia, by being "true to the self." The internal world of self and object can interact iv synergistically to support the transition to an expressible and expressed lesbian identity. It may be critical for clinicians to recognize the importance of internalized object representations that contribute to conflict in developing a cohesive sense of internal as well as interpersonal self. It might also be essential for clinicians to be attuned to the joy and process of being "true to the self," since the participants in this focus group discussion indicated this as a crucial part of coming out as a lesbian woman.




iv, iii, 63 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2009. Includes bibliographical references (p. 50-53)