Outness

Counseling Psychology Assistant Professor Sherry Wang is developing a tool accounting for context and intersectionality in determining an LGBTQ person’s outness

One of the ways commonly used by psychologists to determine someone’s “outness” includes taking stock of a person’s public displays of affection.

If an LGBTQ person feels comfortable holding the hand of their same-sex partner in public, their identity is supposedly more evolved. If they don’t, they’re assumed to be less comfortable with being “out,” their identity less developed.

Assistant Professor Sherry Wang rejects this conclusion.

“If you’re living in an area where you can be lynched or fired or ostracized in these ways, then why would you be out?” Wang asks, explaining that the problem lies not with the individual, but the heterosexism in their community. “There’s nothing wrong with your identity development; it’s accounting for contextual pieces like physical safety or danger.”

To properly assess the identity development of LGBTQ people, she believes we need better questions that account for their cultural and geographical contexts.

[Assistant Professor Sherry Wang asks LGBTQ people in Deep South to react to national psychological assessment tools.]

In 2016, Wang collaborated with Auburn University in Alabama to chronicle the experiences of LGBTQ people living in the surrounding region. Using their findings, she wants to develop a tool that provides hard data, while accounting for intersectionality and the complexity of LGBTQ people.

“We want to know where people find resilience and what they would like people to know about them,” Wang says. “What are the stories they want to tell?”

Sara Rampazzo Gypw0jmai1i Unsplash

Photo by Sara Rampazzo, courtesy Unsplash

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