This article was published on May 24th, 2014
Whether you’re gay, straight, or in between, when someone comes out to you as gay, bi, or trans, it can be hard to know the right thing to say. If you keep a few simple things in mind, you can be supportive, and avoid hurting your friend.
- Thank them for telling you. You may not know yet where your friend is on their coming out journey. You may be the very last person to know, or the very first, but either way, thanking them for telling you shows them that you value their honesty and trust.
- Ask questions. Some people spit out the words “I’m really a woman,” and then have a gush of information to share; some people mutter “I’m gay,” and then seem to have nothing else to say. Gently asking polite, respectful questions can help your friend open up and talk about how they’re feeling. Try “Who else have you told so far?” or “Are you seeing anyone right now?” Avoid “Are you going to have surgery?” or “Who’s the man/woman in your relationship?”
- Offer assistance. Especially if the person coming out to you is young, it’s important to make sure that they have a safe home, school, and work environment. If those things are all settled, and your friend feels safe, they may still want or need help finding resources to answer their questions about what all this means; if their environment is not safe, they might really need that help, and may feel overwhelmed by the process of trying to get it. In that case, anything you can do is not just good friendship, it may be life-saving. Remember that LGBT youth are at the greatest risk for suicide of all teenagers.
- Tell anyone else. Simply put, this is no one’s journey but the person who is coming out. Unless they explicitly ask you to, it is absolutely not okay for you to reveal anything about their sexual or gender identity to anyone. This is another reason why it’s good to know who already knows; this way, you’re not accidentally spilling the beans.
- Tolerate jokes and bullying, whether your friend is around or not. One of the most awkward situations can be when someone is in the process of coming out, and someone not in the know makes a trans- or homophobic joke or comment. In the light of the emotional storm of coming out, your friend may not be able to stand up for themselves right now; a good friend will call the joker on their phobia, and not make their friend either do it, or endure it silently. A simple, “Hey, that’s not okay,” is enough. Don’t do it in such a way that it outs your friend.
- Use this as an excuse to validate yourself. This is not the time to tell your friend about all the gay people you know, or how your cousin’s uncle’s friend’s roommate’s daughter is trans, or any of the other well-meaning comments that try to tell your friend how accepting you are. These comments come from a good emotional place, but it’s not what your friend needs. They wouldn’t be opening up to you if they didn’t trust your acceptance, especially in the early phases of coming out.
Be honored that your friend has chosen to come out to you. It shows that they trust you, respect you, and consider you an important part of their lives. Make sure that you deserve it.