Previously heterosexual lesbian mothers who have come out to an adolescent daughter: An exploratory study of the coming out process

Denise Clara Lamothe (1989)

Self-in-Relation theory of women's development, developed at the Stone Center at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, speaks of the potential value of women's connections in relationships. It is speculated that women develop within a matrix of connections to others and may thrive when these relationships include both mutuality and a capacity for empathic understanding. The mother/daughter relationship is thought to be central in this matrix. After reviewing the literature regarding definitions of lesbianism, models of lesbian identity formation, lesbian identity and self-disclosure, current theories of female development and the experience of the lesbian mother in general, a study was designed to explore the experience of the lesbian mother during disclosure of her lesbian identity to an adolescent daughter. It was, however, impossible to isolate this one experience from the complex circumstances of each woman's coming out process. Thus, this dissertation contains the findings of a study in which ten such mothers were interviewed regarding their experiences of coming out--to themselves, to others, and finally to their daughters. In addition, participants were asked about any previous psychotherapy and what had been helpful or not helpful about it. A call for participants was placed in gay community media and a remarkably homogeneous sample emerged. Data collected regarding each aspect of each mother's experience was summarized, reported in narrative form, and then visually displayed in matrices. Each participant reported that her coming out process had been problematic in some ways but was ultimately worthwhile and that her relationship with her daughter/s had been ultimately enhanced by her disclosure. Interestingly, no participants reported lesbianism as the primary cause of their divorce. None had had positive relationships with their fathers. All had sought counseling at some time and the importance of empathic connection to a therapist was noted by all. The main theme which emerged, both implicitly and explicitly, throughout the study was the importance for women of honesty and empathy in relationships, which strongly supports a central tenet of Self-in-Relation theory. Although this study is not generalizable because of the specificity of the sample, it raises questions and highlights areas for further research.