What If Someone Comes Out to You
We've all seen 'coming out' scenes in movies and on television: started with a tearful confession, followed by a perfectly-tuned interaction, and ending with a warm embrace. Coming out can be very difficult and emotional time for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. It can provide relief, but also carries the risk of rejection, discrimination, harassment and even physical harm. A person's coming out may take a few years before they are ready to talk to anyone about it.
A straight person doesn't necessarily have it any easier. Even those stanch LGBTQ+ advocates can be shocked or feel uncomfortable when a friend, family member or co-worker comes out to them. They may not know how to react. They may also be afraid of making the situation awkward by saying something they regret later.
There isn't a perfect script to follow as everyone's coming out experience is different. The most important thing to remember is to be patient, polite, and respectful by following these simple guidelines.
DO | Listen
It's important to let him or her set the tone and direction of the conversation. Make sure to listen to them and respond accordingly. You don't need to be serious if they are trying to be casual or attempting to bring levity to the situation. You can be casual or serious depending on the tone they've set, so try to meet them there even if you feel anxious or uncomfortable. A sensitively crafted joke or a bit of humour can ease the tension you both may be feeling. If they are emotional, it's okay to comfort them by offering some supportive words or a hug -- if this is appropriate or standard in your relationship.
Was Your Coming Out Experience Positive?
DON'T | Respond with "I knew!"
No matter if you've always suspected Susan from the office was lesbian or that your best friend Mark was gay from the day you first met, it can be rude and offensive to point this out. The person may feel ashamed of the time it's taken for them to come out, and don't need to be reminded of a) that struggle or b) that it may have been a topic of conversation for others. This does not mean you need to lie if asked if you've suspected they were LGBTQ, answer respectfully and honestly.
DO | Ask
It's important to know if this person is telling just you or everyone. There are some people who come out to everyone all at once and others who choose to come out more gradually. If this person isn't ready to tell everyone make sure you reassure them you'll keep the informaton to yourself until they are ready to let others know too. Make sure to also remember not to make every conversation after revolve around their sexuality or ask who they've told since your last interaction - being LGBTQ+ is not the most important thing about them.
DON'T | Assume
It's important to understand that someone coming out as LGBTQ+ is not about you. Coming out to anyone can be extremely scary. No closeted person should be made to feel as if they've betrayed or deceived you. There are so many reasons why someone may want to wait to come out – none of wich are for you to judge. Please don't assume or jump to the conclusion they must be harbouring feelings for you. Asserting your heterosexuality can make them feel uncomfortable, unsupported and self-concious they have done something wrong by telling you.
DO | Treat them the same
They are the same person they were before coming out. Unless they tell you otherwise, the person's interests, hobbies, favourite things won't change completely now that they've come out of the closet. If Jason liked watching sports with you before doesn't mean he will now try to drag you to poetry readings in the village. Or that suddenly Susan will be more interested in baseball than your weekly crafting circle. Assure this person that nothing will change between you two. The simple sentence "nothing has changed between us" is the best way you can be a straight ally.
DON'T | Mention politics or religion
This is not helpful and is extremely disrespectful. Please do not confuse someone coming out to you for them wanting to start an argument or debate over the religious or political aspects of their sexuality. If you disagree over LGBT issues, this is not the time for you to make them known and in time you can have a respectful debate. Keep an open mind and make sure to remember their coming out is not about your beliefs – this about them. Don't ask if they "are confused" or need maybe just haven't "found the right boy/girl" or need to seek out a therapist.
DO | Remember Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity are Different
It's important to remember to not confuse sexual orientation and gender identity are completely different. Gay men do not want to be women and lesbians do not want to be men. Sexual orientation refers to the gender someone is attracted to. Gender identity is a description of how someone relates to their body and their ascribed gender role. If someone comes out as trans, don't argue that they may just be gay or lesbian.
DO | Be honest
If you don't understand something they've said please ask them to clarify in a polite and respectful manner.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2018 Stu