How To Support Someone Coming Out
- December 10, 2021
- Posted by: Explore Sex Talk
- Category: Equality
It can be nerve-wracking to be vulnerable, especially when we don’t know if sharing that vulnerability will come back to bite us. Historically, there have been a lot of legitimate reasons for people to fear disclosing gender status or sexual orientation that was not cis-hetero. People have been killed, subjected to torture, or simply rejected by their whole family. Even in places that are considered more accepting, LGBTQ* folks still face a risk of stigma and discrimination. Is it any wonder that the idea of coming out is completely scary for some people?
When your LGBTQ* person comes to you, it is important to realize that they have come to the conclusion that you are a safe person. We want to ensure that we continue to be a safe person for them. The real question is, how can we do that? And how can we do that respectfully?
The Magic L Word
Many people think that the L-word is love but the real magic L-word is listening. Feelings of love and support all stem from the feeling that we are heard, understood, and accepted by the other person. It makes us feel connected to the other person and is a major way we experience love and trust. How people listen plays a huge role in perceptions of safe space.
A lot of support during the coming-out process focuses on letting our LGBTQ* person express how they feel and sharing their self-discoveries about their identity. They may n0t have had anyone to talk to about this journey before and it’s possible that you are the first person they have voiced these thoughts to. Keep that in mind and give them the space to share what they wish to share.
If it feels appropriate, ask them open-ended questions about what they’ve disclosed. This can encourage more dialogue and shows your LGBTQ* person that you are interested and engaged in what they have to say.
Show Support With Non-Verbal Cues
Aside from being open to hearing what the other person is saying, how they perceive your reaction to their revelation is going to be very critical. It’s important to remember that this is a sensitive area for them and they are going to be extremely aware of your reactions, facial expressions, tone, perceived tension, and all those little telltale signs of how you may be feeling. It’s also possible that due to their nervousness that they might misinterpret your reaction quickly and easily.
Our job as a safe ally is to do our best to be aware of our reactions and how they may be interpreted. No one is perfect and we may make mistakes but how we handle our reactions can significantly impact our relationship with this person as well as influence if they come out to someone else.
Do your best to keep your tone light and friendly, your body language open and accepting, and be mindful of what facial expression you are wearing. Body language and other non-verbal cues are an enormous topic in good communication and are beyond the scope of this particular article. It’s a critical thing to keep in mind for supporting your LGBTQ* person though and what emotions your experiencing can have a significant impact on their experience of coming out.
There is nothing wrong with being LGBTQ*. Nothing. However, due to the fear, discrimination, and stigma that many people are raised with people can have complex emotions about any LGBTQ* identity. Even those who are discovering their LGBTQ* identity can be strongly influenced by any discriminating beliefs they may have been raised with or repeatedly subjected to.
One of the common fears is that the person they are telling about their LGBTQ* identity might secretly harbor discriminatory beliefs and reject them. They could also be struggling with confronting those beliefs within themselves and be uneasy with their self-image.
As an ally, one of our jobs is to provide reassurance and comfort. Let them know that we do not see them differently and that their relationship with us has not changed. That we will not suddenly view them as less and that we will continue to be the same friend to them that we have always been.
Offer Only the Support That’s Wanted
We all go through our own life journeys and self-discoveries. We all grow and change at different rates and in different ways. There are a lot of different ways that someone can explore their own LGBTQ* identity. When someone comes out to you, let them take the lead for indicating what kind of support they are looking for.
Someone may be in a place where they just wish to share their new knowledge about themselves while others may be looking for advice or ideas on how to explore or express that identity further.
It’s not going to be helpful to our LGBTQ* person if we try to push our own ideas and thoughts. It makes no difference if they are good ones. If our person isn’t ready for what you’re trying to offer and it’s being pushed anyways, it can generate feelings of anxiety, frustration, and leave a person feeling unsupported. Obviously, that is the exact opposite of how we want to be there for our loved one.
Listen and pay attention to their social cues for what type of support they are looking for from you. If you are really unsure of what they need, there’s no harm in asking. Let them know that you want to be there for them at this moment and ask what they need at this time. If neither of you knows, that’s OK too. Sometimes being willing to be there and offering the support you can is enough.
Understanding Context of Coming Out
Coming out often tends to be a process and one that can be done in stages. A person may choose to only be out with their identity in certain circles or communities. This doesn’t mean that they are open and out with their identity with everyone or in every context. The reality is that it may not be safe for them to do so.
Sadly, many people experience rejection from their families because of an LGBTQ* identity. In some countries, their legal standing or personal freedoms can also be at risk. They could experience discrimination or violence. All of these things can impact to what extent someone chooses to come out.
When your loved one discloses this to you, don’t assume that just because they have told you that they are ready for it to be general public knowledge. If you are unsure, you can always ask and if you do not have the opportunity to ask, it’s best to follow the lead of your loved one. Only mention it in a crowd if they do and remember that one context does not represent their comfort level in all contexts or situations.
Coming Out Shouldn’t Have to Be Hard
Coming out is not a one-off event, and queer and transgender people often experience it on a daily basis. As allies, we can contribute to safer spaces for LGBTQ* folks. Every safe space that we help build helps to reduce discrimination and help our LGBTQ* loved ones feel accepted and valued. Will you be an ally for someone today?