In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Interpersonal LGBTQ Communication

  • Introduction
  • Coming Out
  • Communication Apprehension
  • Family Relationships
  • Heteronormativity in IPC Research
  • Language in Interpersonal Communication
  • Nonverbal Interpersonal LGBTQ Communication
  • Safer Sex Communication
  • Trans Interpersonal Communication

Communication Interpersonal LGBTQ Communication
matthew heinz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0262


Interpersonal communication studies is a subfield within communication studies dedicated to the communication processes between two people or among small groups of people. Driven by social-psychological and interpretive approaches to communication studies, it began to take shape in the 1970s and is now one of the largest areas of study within communication studies. Interpersonal communication theories and framework largely presumed populations to be heterosexual and/or cisgender for decades. The specific lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) topics studied by interpersonal communication scholars or by scholars who integrate interpersonal communication perspectives reflect social and political dynamics. The acronym LGBTQ here pragmatically serves as a commonly used identifier although other identifiers (e.g., LGBTQ2S, LGBTQI2SA, LGBTQ+) merit equal recognition. Earlier studies focused on stereotyping, discrimination, stigma, coming out processes of gay men and then lesbians, and same-sex romantic and sexual relationships; the invisibility of bisexual and trans people was highlighted thereafter. While the earlier focus laid on sexual orientation, more recent studies address transgender issues and gender identity effects in interpersonal communication. With social, political, and legal acknowledgment of LGBTQ family relationships, scholars began to include studying interpersonal communication within LGBTQ families and relationships and between LGBTQ family members and their heterosexual and/or cisgender relatives. In the last two decades, scholarship by and about Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) has critiqued the dominance of whiteness in interpersonal communication studies, which also applies to LGBTQ interpersonal communication. BIPOC LGBTQ interpersonal communication dynamics remain understudied, as do other demographic groups within LGBTQ communities, such as people with disabilities, non-binary people, homeless people, veterans, or refugees. LGBTQ interpersonal communication studies appear disproportionately affected by a lack of keyword consistency. A wealth of studies in social sciences examines communication processes affecting LGBTQ people. However, these studies are conducted by scholars from a range of related disciplines and published in a transdisciplinary range of journals. They often omit interpersonal communication as a keyword so that the entirety of research knowledge in this area appears smaller than it actually is. This overview of key scholarly literature on LGBTQ people and topics represents scholarly literature that specifically mentions communication and that applies to interpersonal communication settings. Generally speaking, LGBTQ interpersonal communication scholarship could be characterized by a high number of pilot and single-case studies. Larger bodies of knowledge exist in very specific topic areas such as coming out, safer sex (often in the context of HIV/AIDS), and same-sex couple communication and parent-child communication. Examinations of the applicability and transferability of interpersonal communication constructs, instruments, and theories originating from heterosexual and cisgender samples are largely absent.

Coming Out

Studies on coming out in interpersonal communication engage a variety of interpersonal constructs, most prominently self-disclosure as in Edgar 1994; Kelly and Robinson 2011; and Miller, et al. 2019. Bijie and Tang 2016 identifies patterns in Chinese gay men’s coming out narratives. Li and Samp 2020 approaches disclosure and concealment based on qualitative and quantitative data. Riggle, et al. 2017 links coming out to LGBTQ individuals’ well-being, and Manning 2014 to sexual health. Chirrey 2003 applies speech act theory. Daniele, et al. 2020 investigates the role of voice modulation in coming out communication. Denes and Afifi 2014 examines the effects of initial coming out conversation in a family context.

  • Bijie, B., and L. Tang. 2016. Chinese gay men’s coming out narratives: Connecting social relationship to co-cultural theory. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication 9.4: 351–367.

    DOI: 10.1080/17513057.2016.1142602

    Although primarily approached from co-cultural theory and narrative analysis, this study contributes important knowledge about interpersonal communication processes described within the sample’s narratives.

  • Chirrey, D. A. 2003. I hereby come out: What sort of speech act is coming out? Journal of Sociolinguistics 7.1: 24–37.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9481.00209

    Draws on speech act theory to discuss dialogic implications of coming out as a lesbian or as a gay man. Examines performative aspects of coming out talk.

  • Daniele, M., F. Fasoli, R. Antonio, S. Sulpizio, and A. Maass. 2020. Gay voice: Stable marker of sexual orientation or flexible communication device? Archives of Sexual Behavior 49: 2585–2600.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10508-020-01771-2

    Authors hypothesize that speakers flexibly adopt stereotypical speech styles and voice modulation to manage sexual orientation presentation. Presents results of two studies involving a total of 34 speakers and more than 900 listeners affirming vocal modulation as a function of speaker relationship with interlocutor and coming out status.

  • Denes, A., and T. D. Afifi. 2014. Coming out again: Exploring GLBQ individuals’ communication with their parents after the first coming out. Journal of GLBT Family Studies 10.3: 298–325.

    DOI: 10.1080/1550428X.2013.838150

    Reports results of survey administered to 106 GLBQ participants between eighteen and fifty-five years old. Survey inquired about first and potential second coming-out communication to parents to examine effects of initial coming-out experience. Found one-quarter of participants reported a second coming out.

  • Edgar, T. 1994. Self-disclosure behaviors of the stigmatized: Strategies and outcomes for the revelation of sexual orientation. In Queer words, queer images: Communication and the construction of homosexuality. Edited by R. J. Ringer, 221–237. New York: NYU Press.

    Early discussion of self-disclosure dynamics and implications for relationships with families, friends, and relational others. Draws on Erving Goffman’s notion of “discredited” people.

  • Kelly, R. J., and G. C. Robinson. 2011. Disclosure of membership in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community by individuals with communication impairments: A preliminary web-based survey. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 20.2: 86–94.

    DOI: 10.1044/1058-0360(2011/10-0060)

    Clinical web-based survey of 192 LGBT people in the United States with communication impairments. Results showed the majority of participants did not disclose LGBT community membership to clinicians due to perceived bias. Authors offer concrete recommendations for clinicians to provide culturally competent care.

  • Li, Y., and J. A. Samp. 2020. Navigating remarkable communication experiences of sexual minorities. Lexington, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

    Textbook examining communication experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people with a theoretical focus on messages in relation to self-disclosure, coming out, and concealment of sexual orientation. Introduces Theory of Coming Out Message Production grounded in qualitative and quantitative studies of communication practices across contexts.

  • Manning, J. 2014. Coming out conversations and gay/bisexual men’s sexual health: A constitutive metamodel study. In Health care disparities and the LGBT population. Edited by V. L. Harvey and T. H. Housel, 27–54. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

    Presents interview data from gay men about the coming out discourses between them and family members as well as between them and health providers. Proposes a constitutive theoretical model for coming out processes.

  • Miller, C. A., A. Biskupiak, and P. Kushalnagar. 2019. Deaf LGBTQ patients’ disclosure of sexual orientation and gender identity to health care providers. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity 6.2: 194–203.

    DOI: 10.1037/sgd0000319

    Survey-based study conducted in both American Sign Language and English. More than three hundred self-identified US LGBTQ deaf adults (including 32 percent persons of color) answered questions about self-disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity to health-care providers. Statistical analyses found cisgender women less likely to disclose sexual orientation than cisgender men.

  • Riggle, E. D. B., S. S. Rostosky, W. W. Black, and D. E. Rosenkrantz. 2017. Outness, concealment, and authenticity: Associations with LGB individuals’ psychological distress and well-being. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity 4.1: 54–62.

    DOI: 10.1037/sgd0000202

    Quantitative study involving 373 LGB participants testing outness, concealment, and authenticity on well-being. In contrast to some studies, findings showed increased outness as significant predictor of increased depressive symptoms but also showed significant association of higher levels of concealment with lowered well-being.

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