Tag: identity

National Coming Out Day: Empowering, Heteronormative, or somewhere in between?

Tomorrow, on Wednesday, October 11th, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) will commemorate the 29th annual observance of National Coming Out Day, to “celebrate coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ)”. Many fine this day an opportunity to reflect back on and share their own coming out story, the HRC frames the day “as a reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out”. While my own process of coming out, at least in the sense mentioned above, I have some issues with this notion that it is a process with a shareable end goal, that I am able conveniently post to social media (based on the privilege I have in society), to remind my friends and family that I am queer, in case how I am living my life did not make that obvious enough.

On one hand, there is something to be said about the need for visibility, simply having a presence of owning your identity can be empowering, and it can help others in their process of finding their identity. But at the same time, I cannot help but wonder if the emphasis placed on coming out only serves to be heteronormative in nature, this need to distinguish yourself as the “other”. I also have issue with the idea that only LGBTQ+ individuals need to take the time to process what their sexual attractions and gender identities are, and more importantly how they define them and their place in the world. Why is it so normalized to own and share this counter narrative, when say, someone who identifies as a cisgender straight man is just accepted and believed in their identity?

Coming out also reinforces this idea that this process has an end goal, you spend some time, realize you’re not straight, share it with your friends and family, and done. This week, I want to encourage everyone to take a moment, think about how you feel with sexual orientation and gender identity, and consider how it positions you in the spaces that you occupy and the world around you, and the think about the ways that it can make it easier or more difficult for those in your circles who are not straight, are not cisgender. Does it give them space, and does it allow others to be open to themselves, and do you use your privilege to challenge that status quo to make that easier?


Dr. Maria Leonora “Nori” Comello is an assistant professor here at UNC in the School of Media and Journalism as well as a teacher so much loved by students.

Having expertise in public relations and health communication, Dr. Comello’s research has focused on intersection of strategic communication, health, and identity.

Especially, Dr. Comello is an insightful researcher fascinated by “identity.” She was first inspired for the concept by a quote of William James, a psychologist in the late 1800s: “Neither threats nor pleadings can move a man unless they touch some one of his potential or actual selves.”

She has worked on a variety of health communication research exploring effects of valued and activated identities on behavioral decision-making, including tobacco-prevention research among Mexican-American youth audiences and substance-prevention research incorporating ideas of self-concepts and behavioral willingness to use substances.

Her recent research interest includes the potential for games to support identities in a health communication context (e.g, how cancer survivors or patients with chronic diseases use games to achieve meaning in life). In one of the relevant studies, she looked at if game playing had beneficial effects on cancer survivors who often experience physical symptoms as well as emotional symptoms, such as anxiety, fatigue, and fear of recurrence. She found that intrinsic motivation cancer survivors has while playing games was positively associated with cancer self-efficacy, resilient coping, and flourishing; sense of community was also positively associated with resilient coping and flourishing.

Exploring ‘possible selves’ and communication effects

Neither threats no pleadings can move a man unless they touch some one of his potential or actual selves.” (William James, 1890)

Nori Comello is on a quest to seek that which touches a person’s potential or actual self, and that which may affect health outcomes. Her research focuses on communication, identity and health, and she studies the potential for messages to frame health in terms of valued identities. She also researches the effects of activated identities on behavioral decision-making.

Through her grant-funded tobacco prevention research among Mexican-American youth audiences, Nori studied how anti-drug messages might operate through their impact on social identities. She looked at identity not only as a psychological construct but also as a cultural construct. Both adolescence and identifying as Mexican-American offer different ways of understanding biculturalism. She found that bicultural audiences could present challenges for prevention researchers because of potentially competing views about issues that might be tied to each culture.

After years of studying substance abuse and tobacco prevention, Nori is turning her research gaze in a new direction. A friend’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis led her to participate as an ally in the game SuperBetter, and furthered her interest in health games. She realized she might be able to apply her research on identity to better understand the game experience and the process of working towards health goals. She is again on a quest. This time she hopes her research will inform guidelines for designing games that harness individualized identities.

Nori Comello, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill, and is affiliated with the Interdisciplinary Health Communication program.