Internet chat room participation and the coming-out experiences of young gay men : a qualitative study
This descriptive study examines the experiences of young gay men who participated in Internet chat rooms as they were coming-out. Self-identified gay men, between the ages of 18 and 26, who lived in the area of Tampa, Florida, were interviewed. Thirteen men comprised the study sample: nine EuroAmericans, two Hispanic-Americans, and two African-Americans. The study explored the coming-out process by capturing the positive and negative turning point moments associated with their chat room participation which highlighted both the benefits and concerns related to their online activities. The illumination of turning point moments, associated with chat room participation, is viewed to alter the men's developmental trajectories. The men’s experiences may also mirror the experiences of other questioning and gay youth and provide valuable insight to those stakeholders who aim to support gay youth. The global construct that emerged from the data was "Searching for Acceptance for Who I Am” which captures these men's experiences, motivations, and expectations for participating in chat rooms. Themes within this construct are I'm Gay and Life Will Be OK, Finding a Tribe, Living a Double Life, and Learning About Myself and Gay Men in My Search for Love. Study findings suggest that the “gay chat room” is an important social context in the lives of gay youth with regard to sexual identity development. Participation was important to self-labeling, for reducing their anxieties about gay life, for receiving social support, entering into their local gay communities, and searching for sexual and romantic partners. Issues of concern related to the stress associated with participation in an offline gay life that was managed via the chat room while hiding their gay lives from family members, being inadvertently discovered by a parent as a result of their on- and off-line gay lives, difficulties with on- and off-line rejection in their search for romantic relationships, and feelings of being sexually taken advantage of by men that they met from chat rooms. Implications for health promotion and education are presented and suggestions for future research are discussed.