How To Respond When Your Friend Comes Out To You

How To Respond When Your Friend Comes Out To You

"So does that mean we CAN ride rainbow unicorns off into the sunset together?"
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It's 2017, and we can definitely say that, for the majority, we as people have made great strides in terms of humanity's acceptance of LGBTQA identities. Yet in spite of this, it is often still very difficult for community members to embrace their sexualities in the very beginning. For someone to admit to their non-heterosexual feelings and attractions is a HUGE deal. And as if it wasn't hard enough to acknowledge this internally, there's still family, friends, and virtually the whole rest of society to consider breaking the news to.

So let's say you're approached one day by a dear friend who says they've got something to say.

They're gay (or bisexual, or pansexual, or whatever!).

And as your friend's chosen confidant, you find yourself wondering, "how can I support my LGBT best friend?" If you're not too familiar with the LGBT community, you may worry that you'll accidentally offend your friend, or that you won't know how to be there for them like they need you to be. But fear not! As an LGBT community member myself, I have a few suggestions for heterosexual allies that you will hopefully find helpful:

1. Don't assume they're telling you because they MUST have feelings for you.

One of your first instincts may be to think, "oh my God, they're confessing their love for me"; that's okay as long as you don't act on this assumption. If they really haven't given you any clear indications that they're into you, you should hold back these thoughts for now. After all, they only JUST came out to you; emotions will probably be running high for you both, so the last thing either of you need is a misunderstanding like that. Most likely, they chose to come out to you because they trust you- don't break that trust so easily with a silly fear.

2. Don't tell any of your friends - not even the mutual ones

Coming out is a very delicate process that you shouldn't get personally involved in. That is, it isn't your news to tell, so keep it to yourself. Your friend may not have gone to the others yet, or maybe they don't plan to, so it's important that you respect their wishes for privacy. If you've got the urge to share, write to yourself in your journal, or spill the beans to your favorite stuffed animal. Seriously- it's not worth wrecking a friendship over.

3. Don't ask them if they're sure.

Something a lot of people don't know is that sexuality is fluid. It can change over time depending on a given situation, or maybe just because for an individual, it's meant to change throughout their life. Either way, chances are, if someone's coming out to you, they're pretty darn sure that they've got it right. The fact that they're mentioning their sexuality at all means they've given it a lot (like A LOT) of thought already. When they come to you, it means they're ready to embrace themselves for how they realize they feel.

They might even change their minds, and say, for example, that they're not bisexual, but instead are homosexual. That's okay, too! Just let them tell you when and if they're ready to do so. Until then, trust what they're saying from the get-go.

4. Be sensitive about asking questions.

If you personally aren't part of the LGBT community, you may find some things about it a little confusing. All of these new ideas are being thrown your way and you're not quite sure how you should take them. And with your friend, in particular, you might want to ask them how they knew, or if they ever had a same-sex encounter before, or any other questions related to their sexuality. Just be sure to take care when you're questioning them. Don't be too pushy. You can be curious while still being respectful. And if you do offend them, take the time to apologize sincerely and make sure they know you didn't mean to hurt their feelings.

5. Celebrate their self-discovery - and don't make it about you.

The friend that comes out to you might have been the only person oblivious to their homo-proclivities. Maybe almost everyone else close to them was pretty certain that they were flaming gay for years. Even still, don't reply with an "I knew it!" or a "how did it take you so long to figure that out?". Discovering and coming to terms with one's own sexuality is a very, very individualized experience. It takes everyone in the community different lengths of time to figure it out! Unless your friend will definitely appreciate your humor, don't make any jokes about how they didn't know while you supposedly did all along.

6. Let them know you're here for them.

Just like you would in any other situation, give your friend a hug (or a firm, business-like handshake, or whatever you do to express your compassion) and reassure them that their coming out to you will not negatively affect your friendship. You may have some dissenting views about LGBT issues, but it's important to look at your relationship overall and decide if it's really worth it to have a social or political argument potentially destroy what you have.

Thank you for reading this article, because that means you are genuinely interested in supporting not only your LGBT friends, but the entire community as well. It warms my heart to know that we've got some really positive straight allies out there in the world. On behalf of the whole community, I thank you sincerely for your understanding.


Cover Image Credit: Olivia Gemarro

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No, I Don't Have To Tell You I'm Trans Before Dating You

Demanding trans people come out to potential partners is transphobic.
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In 2014, Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old Filipina woman, was brutally murdered after having sex with a U.S. marine. The marine in question, Joseph Scott Pemberton, strangled her until she was unconscious and then proceeded to drown her in a toilet bowl.

Understandably, this crime triggered a lot of outrage. But while some were outraged over the horrific nature of the crime, many others were outraged by a different detail in the story. That was because Jennifer Laude had done the unspeakable. She was a trans woman and had not disclosed that information before having sex with Pemberton. So in the minds of many cis people, her death was the price she paid for not disclosing her trans status. Here are some of the comments on CNN's Facebook page when the story broke.

As a trans person, I run into this attitude all the time. I constantly hear cis people raging about how a trans person is "lying" if they don't come out to a potential partner before dating them. Pemberton himself claimed that he felt like he was "raped" because Laude did not come out to him. Even cis people that fashion themselves as "allies" tend to feel similar.

Their argument is that they aren't not attracted to trans people, so they should have a right to know if a potential partner is trans before dating them. These people view transness as a mere physical quality that they just aren't attracted to.

The issue with this logic is that the person in question is obviously attracted to trans people, or else they wouldn't be worried about accidentally going out with one. So these people aren't attracted to trans people because of some physical quality, they aren't attracted to trans people because they are disgusted by the very idea of transness.

Disgust towards trans people is ingrained in all of us from a very early age. The gender binary forms the basis of European societies. It establishes that there are men and there are women, and each has a specific role. For the gender binary to have power, it has to be rigid and inflexible. Thus, from the day we are born, we are taught to believe in a very static and strict form of gender. We learn that if you have a penis, you are a man, and if you have a vagina, you are a woman. Trans people are walking refutations of this concept of gender. Our very existence threatens to undermine the gender binary itself. And for that, we are constantly demonized. For example, trans people, mainly women of color, continue to be slaughtered in droves for being trans.

The justification of transphobic oppression is often that transness is inherently disgusting. For example, the "trans panic" defense still exists to this day. This defense involves the defendant asking for a lesser sentence after killing a trans person because they contend that when they found out the victim was trans, they freaked out and couldn't control themselves. This defense is still legal in every state but California.

And our culture constantly reinforces the notion that transness is undesirable. For example, there is the common trope in fictional media in which a male protagonist is "tricked" into sleeping with a trans woman. The character's disgust after finding out is often used as a punchline.

Thus, not being attracted to trans people is deeply transphobic. The entire notion that someone isn't attracted to a group of very physically diverse group of people because they are trans is built on fear and disgust of trans people. None of this means it is transphobic to not be attracted to individual trans people. Nor is it transphobic to not be attracted to specific genitals. But it is transphobic to claim to not be attracted to all trans, people. For example, there is a difference between saying you won't go out with someone for having a penis and saying you won't go out with someone because they're trans.

So when a cis person argues that a trans person has an obligation to come out to someone before dating them, they are saying trans people have an obligation to accommodate their transphobia. Plus, claiming that trans people are obligated to come out reinforces the idea that not being attracted to trans people is reasonable. But as I've pointed out, not being attracted to trans people supports the idea that transness is disgusting which is the basis for transphobic oppression.

The one scenario in which I would say a trans person should disclose their trans status is if they are going to have sex with someone and are unsure if their partner is attracted to whatever genitals they may have. In that case, I think it's courteous for a trans person to come out to avoid any awkwardness during sex. But even then, a trans person isn't "lying" if they don't come out and their partner is certainly not being "raped."

It is easy to look at the story of Jennifer Laude and claim that her death was due to the actions of one bigot. But it's more complicated than that. Pemberton was the product of a society that told him that disgust towards trans people was reasonable and natural. So when he found out that he accidentally slept with a trans woman, he killed her.

Every single cis person that says that trans people have to come out because they aren't attracted to trans people feeds into the system that caused Jennifer Laude's death. And until those cis people acknowledge their complicity in that system, there will only be more like Jennifer Laude.

SEE ALSO: Yes, You Absolutely Need To Tell Someone You're Trans Before Dating

Cover Image Credit: Nats Getty / Instagram

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Respect And Celebrate Different Identities

Just because you don't think it's "normal" doesn't mean you can disrespect it.

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I've always believed "respect is earned, not given" to be utter BS, but that's even more true when it comes to how people identify. June is LGBT+ Pride Month, which means you're going to be hearing about a lot of different identities (gender- and orientation-wise) that you've probably never heard of.

Please, for the sake of everyone involved, don't be an ass if you don't understand what they identify as. At one point, everyone has questioned an identity that they came across (and if you say you haven't, I'm going to say you're lying). Do that in your head, but be respectful to the person.

I've been online for years, and I'm guilty of bashing people's identities because I thought they were "weird" and didn't fully understand them. Guess what? I recognize that as being a horrible thing to do and have since matured.

It costs you nothing to be respectful.

When I see an identity I don't fully understand, I either ask the person about it (respectfully) or shrug it off because it's none of my business. The most it affects me is when it comes to their preferred name and pronouns, but even that isn't a big deal. It won't end my life if I call someone by a set of pronouns I don't understand.

Now, I'm not saying to not ask questions out of fear of being disrespectful; I'm saying to not be a total jerk when asking.

When in doubt, ask them about it. "Hey, can you explain what ____ means?" is a very different way to start a conversation than "I've never heard of ____ and think it's gross/wrong, so it doesn't exist."

The worst possible thing you can do is tell someone their identity doesn't exist. That pretty much tells the person that they don't exist, which is really just a dick move.

Because, again, what does it cost you to be respectful?

That's right, nothing.

Their identity doesn't hurt you in any way. Them being gay or trans or somewhere in the middle or both literally does you no harm. Respecting them does you no harm.

You may not understand if someone identifies as a "non-binary pansexual they/them," but they know full well what it means. That's all that matters. All you have to do is respect them and call them what they want to be called rather than what you think they should be called.

Nobody knows someone better than they know themselves.

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