How Can I Respond If a Friend Comes Out to Me?
We live in a society that discriminates against people who are different. We have all been taught to believe that to be "straight" is to be normal. This can cause a great deal of pain for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersex and queer people. "Coming out," or disclosing their orientation/identity to others is an important step in LGBTIQ people’s self-acceptance. Like everyone else, LGBTIQ people accept themselves better if others accept them.
If someone chooses you as one of the first people to "come out" to then they must feel close to you and trust you to a significant degree. It is difficult to know what to say and do to be a supportive friend to someone who has "come out" to you. Below are some suggestions you may wish to follow. During the "coming out" conversation:
- Thank your friend for having the courage to tell you.
- Respect your friend’s confidentiality. They have placed a trust in you by sharing who they are with you.
- Tell your friend you still care about them, no matter what. The main fear for people coming out is that their friends and family will reject them. Keep the door open for further conversations and help.
- Ask any questions you may have, but understand that your friend may not have all the answers. If you are feeling uncertain or don’t think you can be supportive, refer them to someone who can.
- If your friend seems to lack confidence in your acceptance of them, talk about other LGBTIQ people you may know. It will boost their confidence if your friend knows you have accepted someone else. Explain that many people have struggled with these issues in the past. Admit that dealing with one’s sexual or gender orientation/identity can be a difficult and confusing process. There are no easy and fast answers.
- Don’t judge your friend. If you have strong religious or other beliefs about sexuality or gender issues, be gentle and loving if you have to express them. Remember that there will be plenty of time in the future for you to think and talk about your beliefs in light of your friend’s coming out.
- Don't put words in their mouth. It is not an ally’s job to tell people what their issues are, but rather to help them deal with the issues they present. If a supportive environment is provided, people who would like to talk about issues of sexuality or gender orientation will know that this is all right. Allow them to define their own issues. Listen.
- Share your friend’s identity/orientation with others unless they’ve explicitly told you that it’s ok. "Outing" people without their permission is a serious breach of confidence and can be devastating for an individual and a major betrayal – don’t do it!
- Don’t be too serious. Sensitivity worded in humor may ease the tension you are both probably feeling.
- If your friend came out to you about their sexual orientation, do include your friend’s partner in plans as much as you would any other friend.
- Be prepared to include your friend in more of your plans. They may have lost support of other friends and family, and your time and friendship will be even more precious to them.
- Offer and be available to support your friend as they come out to others.
- Be prepared for your friend to have mood swings. Coming out can be very traumatic. Anger and depression are common, especially if friends or family have trouble accepting your friend’s orientation or identity.
- Do what you have always done together. Your friend probably feels that coming out will change everything in their life, and this is frightening. If you always go to the movies on Friday, then continue that.
- Don’t allow your friend to become more isolated. Let them know about organizations and places where they can meet other LGBTIQ people or supportive allies.
- If your friend has attractions or feelings for you that you don’t share, don’t worry. These can be worked through. It’s the same as if someone of the opposite sex had feelings for you that you don’t share. Either way, it’s probably not worth losing a friend over.
- If your friend seems afraid about other people knowing, there may be good reason. People are sometimes attacked violently because they are perceived as LGBTIQ. Sometimes people are discriminated against in such things as housing and employment. If your friend is discriminated against illegally, you can help them in pursuing their rights.
- Everyone is a complex and unique individual. Sexuality is only a part of the whole of a person. Issues of sexuality and gender do not replace who someone is, but is a part of making up the whole person.
- It’s never too late. If someone has come out to you before and you feel badly about how you handled it, you can always go back and try again.
- Learn more about the LGBTIQ community. This will allow you to better support your friend, and knowing about their world will help prevent you from drifting apart.