This article was published on March 15th, 2023
Coming out of the closet is an inherently vulnerable process. When someone close to you comes out as LGBTQ+ to you, it can sometimes be a shock. It’s important to know that the person coming out to you has placed a tremendous amount of trust in you. It’s an honor that someone chose to share this part of their life with you, and how you react can make or break an already fragile situation.
So, how should you react when someone comes out to you? Here are 10 things to say (and not say) if someone comes out to you.
1. Don’t Say: I always knew.
While some people find it reassuring when their loved one’s state that they knew all along, others find that it trivializes the coming out process. Sure, hindsight it 20/20, but put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. They had to psych themselves up for a potential landmine of a conversation, only to be told that it was obvious, and that doesn’t always feel good. Before coming out, many queer people struggle with internalized homophobia, wherein they struggle with a sense of shame associated with a perceived inability to fit in with cultural norms.
Some people will attempt to deny their sexuality for years before coming out by attempting to “pass” as heterosexual. Others will act out by deliberately engaging in destructive sexual behaviors. By saying that you always knew, you may inadvertently contribute to the sense of shame. This also invalidates the feelings of fear that may surround coming out.
2. Say Thank you.
If someone comes out to you, that means they trust you first and foremost. Thank them for allowing you to witness their true authentic self. Also, acknowledge that the act of coming out takes a lot of bravery.
3. Don’t Say: So does that mean you like me?
As a straight person, imagine if every time you talked to a coworker of the opposite sex, everyone around you assumed that the two of you were together romantically. Not only would that be annoying, but it also fails to consider the nuances of attraction. There are an absolute bevy of factors that contribute to someone liking someone else. Also, by saying this you’re shifting the focus of the conversation back to yourself.
4. Ask them if they need a place to stay.
Coming out to one’s family can be an incredibly contentious process, and not everyone’s family is as accepting as one would hope. According to the Trevor Project, 28% of LGBTQ youth report experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Offering your loved one a place to stay adds an additional level of security when they decide to come out to their immediate family.
5. Don’t ask if they know [insert gay person’s name here]
While “The Chart” popularized by the L Word is a very real phenomenon within the sometimes-infinitesimal queer dating pool, not every gay person knows each other. Here at HomoCulture, we’re here to tell you that if someone close to you comes out to you, they probably don’t also know your gay uncle.
6. Ask them if they want to talk more.
Coming out can feel like a huge relief, and feel free to offer your loved one the space to process and talk more about their experiences. Ask if they’ve come out to anyone else, and how that experience was. At the same time, if they don’t feel like talking, that’s okay too. Coming out is a huge leap to make emotionally and socially, so it can be draining. Sometimes, when people come out, they tend to isolate themselves afterward.
Make sure to let your loved one know that you’re there for them, especially if you notice that they start to isolate themselves more frequently, for example, canceling on plans, becoming less responsive to texts or other forms of communication. If this happens, feel free to call and check up on your loved one during the weeks following your coming-out conversation. If you reach out first, this will help reassure your loved one that you’re still friends.
7. Don’t say that it doesn’t matter.
While platitudes like “love is love” may seem comforting to you, they can also minimize the bravery and courage that it takes to come out in a society that is dominated by heteronormative and monogamous expectations of romance. It’s true that your loved one is still the same person, but the decision to come out does matter, it means that your loved one is taking the steps to become the most authentic version of themselves, and that’s wonderful.
8. Do congratulate them.
Coming out is a positive life change that requires an unbelievable amount of bravery and courage. When your loved one comes out to you, feel free to congratulate them for taking the step to exist as the most authentic version of themselves.
9. Don’t judge your friend.
If you have conflicting religious beliefs about the LGBTQ+ community, keep them to yourself for this conversation, and then do some further reflecting once you’re alone. The last thing your friend or loved one needs is to be met with even more judgment once they’ve muscled through the hurdle of coming out. While coming out ultimately leads to a more fulfilling life, the steps that LGBTQ+ individuals must take to get there can be incredibly scary. If you are a religious person who is struggling with how to reconcile the beliefs that you were taught around queerness that you grew up with, check out the Human Rights Campaign’s Faith Resources.
10. Do ask questions and do your own research about the LGBTQIA community.
When your loved one comes out to you, don’t feel like you must sit there in silence. Feel free to ask questions, but still respect their boundaries if they say that they’re not comfortable answering certain questions. Also note that it’s not your loved one’s responsibility to teach you about the LGBTQIA community, so if you’re curious feel free to take some time to do your own research. Organizations like PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) have plenty of resources for queer people and their loved ones.