LGBT

What to Do When Someone “Comes Out” to You

The phrase “coming out” is synonymous with LGBTQ culture. It is a truncation of the phrase “coming out of the closet”. It means that someone is revealing publicly and openly that they identify as something other than cisgender and/or heterosexual. National Coming Out Day takes place every October 11, and has been celebrated by the LGBTQ community in America for over 30 years. It is a watershed moment for many queer people, and a day that people still “in the closet” look forward to. I know I certainly did.

Growing up, every time I saw a person come out of the closet, and admitted to the world that they were affirming how God created them, I was incredibly happy for them. There was always a piece of me that coveted that freedom, though. I felt pressured, either internally or externally, to stay in the closet. I became claustrophobic in a sense, and felt like trapped. However I finally did. Even though I had come out to lots of family and friends beforehand, I fully “came out” to the world as gay this past New Year’s Eve on Instagram and Facebook.

To say that it was nerve wracking would be an understatement. I knew to expect both good and bad responses. While I did get some judgmental responses, most of them were very affirming. I was incredibly grateful and comforted to know that I had people in my corner. However, what would be your first response if someone came out to you personally? Most people, Christians included, have never had someone come out to them. How would you react? If you don’t know, I want to give some do’s and don’ts when it comes to talking to someone when they come out to you.

DO: Congratulate them!

You may be the first, or thousandth person they’ve come out to, but it’s still important to acknowledge what they’ve said. Coming out to someone is a big step, because they’re being vulnerable with you. They may say that it’s not that big of a deal, especially if they’ve been out for a while, but it’s still kind to acknowledge them.

DON’T: Make it about you.

It’s so easy to make things about ourselves. It’s the way we perceive our world. It’s human nature! However, this ain’t about you. Let them lead the conversation. They probably have a whole speech they have been rehearsing, or things they have on their mind.

Also, there are certain things that you shouldn’t say, such as, “I thought you might be”, or “I was talking about that with…”. Instant red flag. Someone’s sexuality or gender identity is not gossip for you to discuss over coffee. Why is that? First, you shouldn’t be talking about people behind their backs. Didn’t your mama ever teach you not to do that? Also, it assumes that we are to fit a certain stereotype of what a LGBTQ person might be. Not all queer people act a certain way. Even if you have talked about our sexuality behind our backs, (which, as a reminder, you shouldn’t) don’t tell us that you have. Why? Because this ain’t about you.

DO: Thank them.

It’s an honor that someone would come out to you personally. I came out to certain people before publicly coming out because they meant a lot to me, and I didn’t want them to hear through the grapevine. I didn’t want them to think I didn’t care about them.

They chose you to come out to. They showed you a level of trust, and it’s important for you to acknowledge them. Be honored! Not everyone will get to experience a watershed moment like this in a person’s life.

DON’T: Try to convince them they’re not who they are.

One of my favorite responses* that I got when I came out publicly was, “God didn’t make you gay.” We’ll discuss that theological minefield for another time. Let’s discuss this sentence on a decency level, though.

*he said sarcastically

Whenever I saw or heard a statement like that towards me, I automatically felt like they were trying to take something away from me as a person. That may sound a bit dramatic, but when you try to convince someone that they really are not queer, you are trying to take away a part of their identity. You don’t see them as a person. You see them as a problem to be solved.

My coming out was not a knee-jerk decision. When people come out, it is the culmination of a long-time, perhaps even a lifetime’s worth, of discernment. Coming out is putting an end to the shame, fear, anger, and loathing a person has felt about themselves.

People that try to convince queer people that they’re wrong about their identity usually don’t want to talk with other people about gender or sexuality topics. They want to talk at other people about them. Don’t be that person. Even if you disagree with our “lifestyle” or “choice”, keep a tight lip about it. The world is already telling us this stuff. We don’t need to hear it from you.

DO: Ask them some questions.

Sometimes a person may feel absolutely exhausted from telling you this big revelation about themselves, and won’t want to discuss it any further. If they do, however, here are some good follow-up questions:

  • Who else knows? (Good to ask because they made need you to keep it a secret)
  • How can I help? (ALWAYS a good question to ask, because they may need it down the road)
  • What name and/or pronouns do you want me to use? (Important for people coming out as trans or non-binary)

Don’t: Ask them some questions.

That ain’t a typo. As important as it is to ask the right questions, it can be very damaging to ask the wrong questions. Here are some questions to avoid:

  • WHAT? (Don’t act like they just confessed to a murder)
  • Who else knows? (Yep. Not a typo either. This question can be a double-edged sword. Don’t act like it’s a shameful secret, or it’s something you have to do damage control with)
  • NOTHING about sex! (You would think that would be obvious, but questions like, “Who’ll be the man in the relationship?” are not okay to talk about)

If you noticed in two of the examples directly above, it’s all about the tone in how you ask them. The good questions focus on the person coming out. The bad questions focus on the question asker. Remember, this ain’t about you, so focus your questions on the person coming out. Let them further explain their life.

Finally, if someone that comes out to you and they don’t want to come out of the closet fully yet, please don’t pressure them to come out. While I’m incredibly grateful that I have fully come out, I know that the closet is safety and a means of survival for many people. Some people must stay closeted to keep their jobs, their homes, or their family. It’s not as easy as wanting to come out or not.

One of my favorite shows in the world is Brooklyn Nine-Nine. One of my favorite characters on the show is Cpt. Raymond Holt. He is the monotone, no-frills, hard-nosed captain of the 99th precinct. He is also gay. When one of the detectives from the show comes out to the rest of the precinct as bisexual, he says to her, “Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place.” That’s what someone is doing when they come out. They make this world more diverse, powerful, empathetic, and more awesome! Let’s celebrate them and the brave decision they’re making!

What did I miss? If you’ve come out, what are some things you heard that you like or didn’t like?

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