How to react to a coming out

Coming out of the closet, mostly known as coming out, is the conscious decision of a member of the LGBTQIA+ community to “reveal” their gender identity or sexual orientation to their family, friends, or the general public. It happens when someone willingly shares a part of their identity with someone else. There are many reasons one can decide to come out, and they might vastly differ from one person to another. There are also various ways one can come out, like singing I’m coming out by Diana Ross and eating a rainbow cake, or sitting down and talking about it, or making jokes like this road ain’t straight, and neither am I to an unaware audience. I could continue with examples, but I think you got my point. 

For my dear queer audience, I hope you know that there’s not a right way or time to come out, you’ll know when you’ll feel comfortable and safe enough to do so. If you’re not out yet, you are seen and loved, and don’t worry, the time will come. Or it won’t, it’s all up to you hon! Do it at your own pace, you don’t owe your identity to others. 

That being said, while there’s no wrong way to come out, there are a lot of wrong ways to react to a coming out, some of them more subtle than others, and I’m here to help you find out all the ways you might traumatize your kids while thinking you were doing “fine, pretty good actually”. This is not done to shame you or make you feel bad, however, it’s important to understand how your words and behaviors affect your loved ones, especially in this very delicate situation. 

First things first, if you think that an appropriate reaction is disgust, hate or even violence, honey, this is not the article for you, so Thank you, next. If you are a concerned (and very confused) parent, a “cool” relative who thinks they know how to react (trust me, you don’t), or just someone who wants to support their loved one through a complicated time but you’re not really sure how to, then buckle up sweetheart, we’re going for a ride.

What do you need to do before starting? Open your mind and your heart. Even if you think you are “super okay” with it, unfortunately, thanks to our society, we all have some degree of internalized homophobia, which unconsciously affects our thoughts, actions and words. I’m not here to talk to you about this topic (maybe next time, stay tuned for more), but for this conversation, please put your opinions and thoughts on the matter aside and listen. Truly listen.

Don’t say it’s a phase.

One of the first times I came out, it was to my mother. She was very supportive of me, but then during the conversation she said, “don’t worry love, it might be just a phase”. It might seem like something nice to say, the words of a concerned parent who’s just worried their kids don’t know who they are or what they want from life. It hurt. Saying to someone that what they are going through is “just a phase” it’s a way to downplay their feelings and struggles. As stated before, this is a very delicate situation, and the person who’s coming out to you had probably worried about it for months or years. Don’t disregard their feelings, it’s hurtful. Also, technically, everything is a phase. I mean, show me something that lasts forever. We are in constant change, we change tastes, behaviors, friendships, opinions and so on. This doesn’t make them less important for us. Respect what your loved one is telling you, because it doesn’t matter if this is forever or for a few years, it matters that you’re next to them through this process. Also, would you tell a straight person “it’s just a phase”? I don’t think so. Instead of this, try saying “Thank you for telling me, I’m proud of you for this step. I’ll always support you”, because, in the end, that’s what you’re here for, right? 

Don’t say it doesn’t matter

It does. I know you have good intentions, but saying it doesn’t matter or I don’t care it’s (in most cases) not a nice way to show how “ok” you are with it. It just invalidates their emotions and struggles. On many occasions, coming out is the culmination of a complex and painful process to accept who they are, don’t make them feel like their pain “didn’t matter” or “was not important”. If you want to support them, try saying something on the lines of “I love you, this doesn’t change my opinion of you, I just want you to be happy and confident. Thank you for trusting me”. Let them know that it sure matters that they trusted you enough to come out and that your feelings for them are the same. It’s a bit clichè, but “I love you” it’s always very much appreciated.

Don’t  say “Yes, I support you, but don’t go around telling it to everyone”

Also known in the variant of “I’m not homophobic, but” or “I don’t judge you, but other people do”. We know they do. The world is not a very pleasant place in general, least of all if you’re openly gay. When people decide to come out to you, they do it because they trust you, and they trust you not to judge them. Don’t reinforce the idea that being LGBTQIA+ it’s a “sin” or something to hide. It’s not, we shouldn’t be ashamed of who we are and you shouldn’t be ashamed of being related to or knowing someone who’s not straight or cisgender. When you tell us to hide it, especially if you’re a close relative, you’re sending a dangerous message that can seriously mess up our heads. We are not “wrong”, we were born this way baby. Please, especially if you’re a parent, don’t be your child’s first bully. I know people can be mean, and it’s not very safe to be “different” in our world, but don’t tell us to hide. It’s our decision whether or not to do so. Trust us, we know the risks better than you. We know that in 72 countries it’s illegal to simply exist for us, and in 8 they would kill us. We know that in the rest of them it’s not safer, and that every day you hear of someone threatened, beaten up or killed in the streets for being themselves. We all have one friend who went through something similar, and in some cases we are that friend. Don’t tell us how to act. It’s patronizing, we can decide by ourselves to hide it or to be open. There’s no shame in any of these choices, but it’s our choice to make, not yours. We are asking you to be there for us, not your opinion on the matter. I’ve had so many people in my life telling me to hide who I am, because they were “afraid for my safety”. We all know that when you say this, it comes from a place of concern and love. If you’re concerned for the safety of your loved one, try saying “thank you for trusting me. Are you safe? Do you need a place to stay?”  or also “I am worried that something bad will happen to you because of this, so if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation, don’t hesitate to come to me or to call me. I’m here for you”. Acknowledge the courage it takes to come out. Be their support system, because others will discriminate and hate them, even in their close family. Be there for them.

Don’t out them!

Don’t. Just don’t. If you go around and tell it to other people without their permission, you’re trash. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Whoops, I do, and they say you suck.

Don’t force them to come out to other people

They trusted you. They decided they wanted to tell you, not auntie dearest or your best friend or even your spouse. Please respect their decision and be their ally in this very difficult journey. They might say yes if you continue to ask them about it or if you push them, because they love you or they don’t want to disappoint you, but this will not help them or make them happy. The decision to come out to someone is not easy, it takes time. It’s a difficult process, so forcing them it’s absolutely not the solution. Talk to them, not at them. I know it’s hard to hear, but you don’t always know what’s best for your loved ones. Ask them what they need from you so that you can discuss it together. Trust them and make them not regret telling you the truth.

Don’t ask “Are you sure?”

Yes, I am! I wouldn’t risk your judgment if I wasn’t. Are you sure you’re straight? I don’t think you would like to receive that kind of question. It’s not a pleasant thing to ask, especially when it takes a lot of courage to come out. It’s just judgemental, and you’re trying to support them, not make them feel worse. Again, it doesn’t matter if in 10 or 50 years they realize their gender identity or sexual orientation has changed, what matters is your support, be their ally! It’s okay if you are shocked or you need time to process, it can be very unexpected news in some cases. What to do if you think you need time to understand what they’re telling you? Communication is the key. Say that you still love them, but that you might need some time to get used to it. We are all human beings, we need to treat each other with kindness and express our needs, so talk to each other! You can both be a support system for the other, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.

Don’t say “I knew”

Well, Debra, good for you. Funny story, when I came out to my grandmother (who’s not called Debra, that was just a joke), I had been worrying about it and agonizing for months. I love my grandma a lot, she’s a fundamental part of my life, so I decided to finally go to her to tell her that I was bisexual. After I finished my pre-made speech about how much I love her, that this doesn’t change who I am nor my affection for her and so on and so forth, she looked at me in the eyes and said “I know”, followed with “you haven’t been very good at hiding it”. I admit it, I found it extremely funny, and I still do, it’s one of my favorite coming out stories to tell. But I also know people who told me that when they came out, the answer “I knew” hurt them, because it undermined all they have been through and the efforts they made to come out to you. It’s not important if you knew or not, we’re not playing hide the gay and if you find it you win a prize. How people react to the “I know” might depend, some are okay with it and some might feel very hurt. So, to avoid upsetting your loved one, just avoid it. This should be a happy memory to look back to, so we really don’t care if you knew, don’t be patronizing. Don’t joke about it without asking the other person if they’re okay with this, respect their boundaries. 

Don’t ask “Do you have a crush on me haha”

No. 

Don’t say “You don’t look gay”

Sorry, let me just change in a big rainbow flag and put some glitter on. We don’t all look the same, we are human beings, just like you. The stereotype of the butch lesbian or the feminine gay it’s just that, a stereotype, and we don’t like them very much. Please stop thinking that there’s just one right way to express yourself and stop judging others or how they dress, speak or act. Embrace the differences while treating everyone with respect, it’s not hard hon. You can do it!

Don’t ask for a threesome

This is just, ew. Man, take a look at yourself. I appreciate the confidence, but that’s just wrong. And sexist. Go in the corner and reflect on the misogynistic and homophobic crap that just came out of your mouth. I don’t have any advice on how to phrase it better, if that’s your first reaction, just shut up.

Don’t tell them you “Know another gay, you will be so cute together”

For real? Does this person have anything in common with me except their sexuality? I know a man, maybe you’ll like him, that’s what you straights like, right? It just doesn’t make any sense to think I would like someone just because of their sexuality. That’s homophobia hon, we don’t want it, thanks. I know you think it’s a nice gesture or a funny joke, but it’s not, and I think we established already that you don’t joke about it without asking first. If we ask you for cute, available friends though, feel free to pair us up. You betta work, Cupido! (But again, only if we ask).

Don’t get offended they didn’t tell you before

This reaction might be the exact reason why. It’s hard to come out, okay? We have to come out to every person we know for the rest of our lives, just because everyone always assumes straight as the norm (well, they don’t do it with me, but that’s another topic). It’s very tiring to always have to explain yourself. Please, I cannot stress this enough, be kind to your loved ones. It might be very difficult for them to accept that they are not straight, it’s a long and complex psychological process. Self-love and acceptance is not an easy task to accomplish, especially when you have the whole world telling you how wrong you are. Give us time, be patient, be there for us. Instead of berating them for not telling you before, try saying “thank you for trusting me with this. I hope you know that I love you and accept you as you are”. Ask them if they want to talk about it more or not, but don’t push them. Ask if there’s anything you can do for them. You can also ask them if they told it to anyone else and how it went. Again, communicate with them, make them feel like you care about that part of their life and, if they’re comfortable sharing, you’re willing to listen.

At the end of the day, it’s a process for both of you. Take your time, explain why you might feel uncomfortable or uncertain, but don’t be rude or offend them. Remember they are sharing a very delicate part of who they are, don’t reject them or make them feel like they are doing something wrong. They can’t change who they are, but you can change your opinions and how you react to these situations. 

Please be kind to each other, and don’t forget to talk about your feelings. Express your emotions, tell them you love them. Feeling things does not make you weak boys, I’m talking especially to you. Society might tell you that it’s wrong to express your emotions, don’t listen. Feeling things is what makes us human, you can’t ignore them. Learn to process and to share them, especially if you want to have healthy relationships (not only romantic ones, show your friends some love please!). If you’re not really a talker it’s fine, hug them, show them that you still appreciate and love them in other ways. We all speak different love languages and there’s nothing wrong with that, the important thing is trying to understand what you need from each other and give it. I love hugs and talking about my feelings, some of my friends don’t, so I try to do what they tell me they need from me and they do the same. Communicate, people! 

If your loved one has come out and you are now realizing some stuff you said might have hurt them, talk to them. Apologize and discuss together what you can do to improve. It’s never too late to better your relationship, but don’t force yourself on them. It’s also never too late to grow up and change, remember my mother who said “it’s just a phase”? Well, she came with me to my first Gay Pride in 2017. So my dear queers, don’t worry, even if right now everything seems dark, things will get better, I promise.

Bibliography

  1. https://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-global-gays-rights-report-20170515-htmlstory.html
  2. https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/coming-out-of-the-closet
  3. https://lgbtrc.usc.edu/resources/comingout/moretips/
  4. https://www.insider.com/what-to-do-when-someone-comes-out-2017-12
  5. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/how-to-react-someone-comes-out_uk_5a688e34e4b072371ece73c0?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAANsTYDelPZW3LYMWDhFvb7L5UleJotkmAYy6a8gNSpSle6wgkXyxjqsnUbodQ6vVFv3ntinR2Svbty4cqJhjWK0a9wOARnRHyN8ZsR4ZRtEOHrgbhp1q2uAWGBef7d2_Ha1SfHm34FMbQSDvNsQN3KmE6svmdUHQRmgY0Ht1lXW2
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