How not to react when a friend or family member comes out of the closet

11 Jan

When a friend or family member comes out of the closet reactions can be quite diverse to say the least. Some people are overjoyed, some confused or stunned, and then there are some that get angry and downright nasty. I think all of us that have come out have experienced a little bit of each, hopefully the good end of the spectrum outweighs the bad. Some of what follows when helping you know how to react to a person coming out may be humorous, but it really is intended to be taken seriously. It’s okay to laugh though so go ahead if you feel it!

When we discuss reacting to a person coming out, we’re not really talking about the initial reaction the moment you hear it although I will touch on it very briefly. What we’re really talking about is that area of time surrounding when the person comes out to you, that’s when you can really make a difference for the person. You may think the news is hard on you, especially if you had no clue, but remember it’s even harder on the person coming out. With that out of the way let’s dig into it.

So a friend or realitive has come out to you , they just up and said “hey, I just wanted to let you know I’m gay.” It can be a trip for sure and the way you react is something that person is going to remember forever. For example, when I came out to my parents it was a look of horror that graced their faces mixed with disbelief. This struck me as odd because it was pretty evident I was genderqueer, I had been hinting at it for a decade and the whole idea of catching a ten year old boy in a dress repeatedly should have been a sign. I got thrown out of the house. At that moment, Christmas night no less with the entire family in the house. That’s a bad reaction!

Later in life after years hiding back in the closet it was time to come out for the last time and stay out. I called my best friend, I admit I was a bit worried how he might react to learning a person he once lived with was a transsexual lesbian in the making. “It was a bit of an odd exchange on my part, I stalled and avoided until finally I said “Dude, I’m getting my junk removed and uh… well.. ya know I’m a trans lesbian.” he was quiet about three seconds and then said “Okay. Right on. We’re still going Bristol Wednesday right?” That was the perfect reaction!

The reason that was so good isn’t solely based in it being positive, but in that it gave me the room to direct information. I could choose to talk about it more then or leave it until later. He didn’t act out of the ordinary, in fact he didn’t act at all, he just took it in and went back to life as usual. It was a quiet yet strong vote of approval and confidence. It made me believe if it was no big deal to him, it wasn’t worth worrying about and at least between us nothing had changed. You don’t have to actually say you support the person for it to be known by them.

While it is nice to hear someone say they support you in coming out, it can get sickening when you do it over and over again. Like anything, when you go over the top to constantly tell someone how much you are behind them and how great you think it is, in time it gets old. Say it once, I promise you the person will remember! When you bring it up all the time it feels like more like you’re trying to convince yourself you’re okay with it and it becomes uncomfortable.

Even if you think everyone knows a person is gay, and even if they do, never under any circumstances tell other people about it. That is solely in the hands of the person coming out unless they explicitly tell you it’s okay. For the person coming out it’s about more than just saying the words, for some it is a re-birth and to take that from somebody is not just poor form (To say the least), it’s a breach of confidentiality and trust. When someone comes out to you they are baring as intimate a part of them self as one can, respect that. Don’t run and post it facebook while you’re speed dialing someone and yelling for anyone within earshot to come hear what you just heard. Let them decide the how, when, and who of the process.

Another thing to avoid is making your newly out friend or family a poster child for you to display your tolerance. This probably sounds so basic you think it doesn’t merit mention but a lot of people do this. We (At least the people I know) hate being inroduced as your gay or transsexual friend. This applies even if the person has been out forever. Just introduce us by our name like “This is my friend Jill.” Don’t say “This is my lesbian friend Jill.” Again it is not your place to offer up that information, unless it’s to Portia DiRossi, or maybe Jessica Mendoza. If you happen to know them, then by all means pass on my info! Heck, I’ll forgive you later for introducing me to them, but that’a a rare and unlikely scenario and applies only to me.

What is most important is that when a friend or family member comes out you treat them the same as you always have. Gay and transgender people do not require nor do we want special treatment. We are still the same people, we like the same things, we still need air. Nothing has changed other than you now know for sure they are gay or transgender. Just because a person has come out does not mean they know every gay person in the world, they probably don’t know what happened on the Ellen Degenneres Show everyday, they probably don’t want a rainbow on everything they own. Being gay is just a part of a gay persons identity, not all of it by a long shot so don’t go crazy assuming differently.

When a person comes out to you just be yourself. Be the same person they cared about enough to share such a huge thing with. Don’t go overboard with the support, don’t ditch them. Just be there for them, that in the end is all you really need to do.

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