Coming out is defined as the process by which someone accepts and identifies their gender identity and/or sexual orientation, and shares their identity willingly with others. It is sometimes one of the hardest things a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) community can do.
“While coming out is a big thing for the LGBTQ+ member because it means they are finally speaking their truth, it is also scary and difficult because of the stigma that is associated with being homosexual, bisexual, or transgender,” says Anton Paderanga, MindNation Marketing Officer and a gender equality advocate. “So when someone comes out to you, it means they trust you and consider you a safe space where they can be free to be themselves.”
“Choosing to come out to you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you.”Anton Paderanga, MindNation Marketing Officer
If you are on the receiving end of a coming out confession, it’s important to make the other person feel seen, heard, and respected. Below are some things you can do:
- Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you. Choosing to come out to you means that they have a great deal of respect and trust for you. Anton says that the best immediate reply to give is “Thank you for telling me.” “Saying this also honors the bravery of your loved one and reassures them that nothing will change in your relationship,” he adds.
Do not say things like “Are you sure?” “I knew it!” or “Duh, it’s so obvious” because even if your intention is to lighten the atmosphere, it invalidates the gravity of the coming out process and inadvertently offends the one coming out.
2. Respect your friend’s confidentiality. A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity should never be the subject of gossip, so don’t go around telling other people in your circle that so-and-so is gay, bisexual, or transgender even if your intentions are good. Every person’s coming out process always involves private and personal information that deserves to be treated with respect.
Now, if someone else asks you point blank, “Is your friend X gay/transgender?” Anton advises that you respond with a non-committal response like “Why do you want to know?” or “Is it an issue?” This gently lets the other person know that it is inappropriate to engage in idle talk about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. You can also reply with “Sorry, it’s not my place to say.”
- Be the friend you have always been. “Immediately assure them that nothing will change,” suggests Anton. The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them, so tell your friend that you still care about them, no matter what. Then continue to do what you have always done together, whether it’s playing sports or catching up online on weekends.
- Feel free to ask questions that you may have.
Anton says that some good follow-up questions include:
- “Who else knows?” (because they may need you to keep their sexual orientation or gender identity a secret)
- “What can I do to help?” (because they may need it down the road)
- “What pronouns do you want me to use?” (important if your loved one is coming out as transgender)
- But refrain from asking about the following:
— Anything about their sex life (just as you would not ask a straight person)
— If you can set them up with another LGBTQ+ person that you know (because for all you know they are already in a committed relationship with someone else)
— Your gay friend if he can help you with shopping, make-up, fashion, etc. (because this is propagating the stereotype that all gay men express themselves in a feminine manner, when in truth they can also be masculine)
- Offer and be available to support your friend as they come out to others. “Your role is to be a stage parent — to give them support and confidence they need when their anxiety makes them forget what to say,” Anton points out. However, this does not mean that you should pressure your friend to come out to other people when they are not ready.
- If possible, connect your friend with the LGBTQ+ community. If you know of other LGBTQ+ individuals or organizations, tell your loved one about it without giving specific names (because, again, it is not your place to out other people). “You can just say ‘Oh, I have a friend who has gone through the same experience as you if you want to talk to them about it’ or ‘I know of this group if you want to hang out with other LGBTQ+ members,’” Anton advises. Then seek the permission of the other person or organization before introducing your friend to them.
- Learn about the LGBTQ+ community. Doing this will allow you to better support your friend, and knowing about their world will help prevent you from drifting apart. “When a loved one comes out to you, you automatically become an ally — a heterosexual and cisgender person who supports gender equality,” says Anton. “This means you take on the responsibility to help educate other people and amplify the voices of the LGBGTQ+ community.”
By being a supportive friend to someone who comes out to you, you help establish more safe spaces for those in the LGBTQ+ community and help them take one step closer to attaining the rights that they deserve.
If you need someone to talk to, MindNation psychologists and WellBeing Coaches are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions. Book a session now through http://mn-chat or email [email protected].