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Keywords:

  • Lesbian;
  • gay;
  • coming out;
  • speech act

The process of coming out linguistically as a lesbian or as a gay man is occasionally referred to as a speech act (e.g. Harvey 1997: 72; Liang 1997: 293). This analogy is taken as a starting point to explore the extent to which coming out is a performative act, and what sort of speech act coming out may be. The discussion draws on the perspective of both the speaker and the hearer to consider how the acts involved in coming out are open to interpretation. Parallels are drawn between the act of coming out as a lesbian or a gay man and other instances of self–disclosure or of individuals’ constructions of new facets of their identities.