Coming out is the most personal and intense experiences someone who is queer can go through, which is why if they choose to share that experience with you you always need to be sensitive. No matter what phase of life someone is in, coming out is never easy and it is never simple. Even if someone is surrounded by love, queer people are talked into the idea that they’re “the other” in society. This means that although they can feel accepted, oftentimes they feel like an outsider to a society that has conditioned them to feel afraid to show affection to the person they love, hide who they are, and to constantly be on guard. Learning how to react to someone coming out to you is another thing entirely.
When I first came out to my mom and dad, their response was tearful, but not for the reason I was expecting. The reason they were so upset when I came out to them was that I didn’t come to them sooner. While I was expecting there to be bible verses thrown in my face, I was, instead, greeted with warmth and love. However, I know that my experience is singular and other people aren’t so lucky. Since it is National Coming Out Day, I thought it would be helpful to highlight how to approach someone coming out to you.
Honesty is key in cases where someone comes out to you; not honesty in the sense of rejecting them, but honesty in your genuine connection from one human to another. It is important to say how you feel, but always keep in mind that if someone has come out to you they feel very passionate about sharing their deepest secret with you. If someone just came out to you, here are six things you should make sure to never say.
1. “We always knew!”
One thing that keeps queer people sane is their safety in the secrecy of their sexuality. By you saying everyone knew, you’re destroying the safety bubble many queer people like to live in: that they’re the only ones privy to their secret. To tell someone that everyone has always known they’re gay is the same as saying that their carefully crafted disguise has never worked, and that people have been speculating about their sexuality for quite some time. Even if you have always known, it is better to keep this to yourself.
2. “Now you can be my gay boyfriend/ girlfriend!”
If there is one thing gay people hate more than being persecuted it is being made into an accessory. While it may seem supportive and fun to trivialize someone’s newly admitted sexual orientation, try and refrain. If your gay friend does want to go shopping with you and tell you which bathing suit looks best on you–awesome. However, it should not be expected or even implied that your newly out friend should double as your latest fashion statement.
3. “I have this other gay friend you should totally meet.”
Because what people forget is that just because two people are gay, it doesn’t mean they immediately are going to be into each other. Queer people, too, have dating standards, expectations, and ideals when it comes to dating. Just because we have a smaller dating pool doesn’t mean we’re willing to go on a date with the first other person we meet who is gay.
4. “Oh my god, I had no idea! You seem so straight!”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, never act too insanely shocked when someone comes out to you. They could be married with children and it is still never too late to come out or realize your sexual orientation. Comments like these, while good-natured, reinforce heteronormative stereotypes that have plagued queer people since the dawn of time. Instead of reacting with shock one way or the other, it is your opportunity to listen while saving your shock and awe for your own privacy.
5. “Why did you wait so long?”
There is no correct timeline for when someone should come out of the closet. There are a slew of cultural, social, and economic factors that trap people in a sexual orientation that they may not necessarily identify with. For some people, they were raised during a time where not marrying someone of the opposite gender was not an option. For other people, their social climate made them feel as if coming out would be a death sentence. Remember that every person’s journey is different and it is never too late to start being true to yourself.
6. “Aren’t you afraid?”
Of fucking course they’re afraid. When you consider that this year alone 49 LGBT youths were gunned down in Orlando, and that it is far and away the most violent year for trans murders–it is terrifying to be queer in the United States. We live in a world where it is still considered “other” to be gay, and as progressive as our society seems, there is a lot of work to be done. If someone chooses to come out to you, know that they’re afraid…but brave in their ability to accept themselves. The first step to conquering that fear is your support, so be gentle, be kind, and remember to listen.