Coming out is so much more complicated than you could even begin to wonder if it’s something that you have never done. For me, coming out as bisexual was to the four most important people in my life; my best friend of all time, my sister, my parents. Everyone from there has been pretty easy. But coming out, or being out, is a process, not just one event.
“Tell me your coming out story?”
– Below Her Mouth
It’s not coming out to one person, then everyone in town knowing and you being completely out. That’s not the way it works. But, what do you do when someone comes out to you? As long as you know people, this is something you may have to deal with. There is no guide, no to do list, or exact way to do it, but here are my 6 tips to help you support them. Things I think will help you and things I wish people had done for me.
1) Keep Yourself Under Control
I don’t know where you might be, or what the situation might be, but stay in control, and stay calm. You might be driving, and it’s a shock – but don’t crash. There is a fair probability that the person coming out has thought out the situation and picked the moment to tell you with care, so just stay calm. It might not be what you expect. Or even what you want for them. But take a moment to keep calm, and take a couple of breaths. Or even if it’s not a shock, and you KNOW you will be accepting, still maybe give it a couple of moments, to sink in for both of you. They may need a moment to think “Oh god, did I really just do that!?” When I came out to my best friend, I had rehearsed it so many times, actually saying it was the most surreal thing I have ever experienced. But don’t give it so long that they begin to doubt what they just did.
2) Don’t ask ‘Are you sure?’ or ‘How do you know?’
My parents asked me these two questions. It’s funny, because I know they didn’t mean to ask these questions, but they didn’t understand how to ask for the answers that they wanted to know. But it hurt that they asked them. And I know why you would be so tempted to ask these questions. Trust me, I know, and I have been on the receiving end of a coming out, and ‘are you sure?’ was the first thing that I wanted to know. But trust me, if they are telling you, they are sure. Unless you are so incredibly close with this person, there is a good chance that they are telling you after they are questioning. ‘How do you know?’ is also not right, because they must then justify their feelings, which are already hard to explain. This question is invalidating so please don’t ask it.
3) Ask helpful questions, to get the answers you want
Instead of asking the questions above, perhaps you could ask “When did you realise”’ “How long have you known?” “How did you discover it?”. These are much better questions. They don’t force the person to justify their feelings, but allows you to get the answers that you want to know. So, perhaps, that is what you could use that moment for at the beginning, to think of questions that don’t force them to become uncomfortable. Make sure the questions that you ask do not make them need to think of reasons to prove anything or become defensive.
4) Say “I am so proud of you”
Make sure to say this. It’s like the top thing for when they come out to you. There is so much there in that person to be proud of: It takes so much time, fear and thought and even bad mental health to get to the point where you know, it takes time and fear and judging the situation to figure out if they ought to come out, there is so much mental struggle, and guts – it takes big guts to come out. You have so much to be proud of in that person. Make sure that they know how much you appreciate what they have done. Telling my best friend, and having her put her arms round me and accept me, and tell me she was so proud of me, there is no better feeling. Make sure to give that to someone else.
5) Talk with them
Maybe it’s just because I’m a dramatic person, there is a lot I want to tell someone when I come out. It’s usually the story of how I got the point where I knew and I was sure and a little on my mental struggle with it. I feel like I have to justify it. Make sure that you let this person do it if they want to, and that you talk if that is what they want to do. Again, I wish I had been able to explain how I got to this point when I came out to my parents. Just make sure that if they need it, you are there to love and accept them for who they are, because they probably don’t deserve anything less.
6) Don’t force them to come out to anyone else
This is wrong. It is just wrong. Like the total and complete opposite of right. If you care for them and are supportive of this person, you won’t push them to come out if they aren’t ready. Again, I can relate, as I felt like my mum pushed me a bit too much to come out to her sister. But it made me uncomfortable and I felt like I was doing it before I was totally ready. When I come out, I like to be in control of the situation. Taking away that control, and making that person feel vulnerable, is totally wrong as coming out is the choice of that person – NO ONE ELSE.
Please, just love them. Because that’s what they deserve.
Useful websites and helplines:
- London Lesbian & Gay switchboard (LLGS) is a free confidential support & information helpline for LGBT communities throughout the UK | 0300 330 0630
- Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard is a free support, information and referral service for the Manchester and North-West area | 0161 235 8000
- Stonewall for more information on other LGBT services and helplines | 08000 502020