So, someone has recently come out to you. Or maybe you suspect someone will in the near future. Or maybe you just like reading blog posts about hypothetical situations that do not and will never apply to you.
Whatever brought you here, welcome! I’m happy to help.
Coming out can be a daunting process that comes with a lot of pressure for everyone involved. In such a delicate situation, with so much emotional charge hanging in the balance, it is hard not to wonder how to react (and not react), what to say (and not to say), and what to do (and not do) in this moment.
But fear not! Here are some dos and don’ts for when someone comes out to you by someone who has lots of experience with both coming out and being come out to. Godspeed!
Don’t congratulate them on being queer.
I get it. Someone you know and probably care a lot about just told you a very deep, very intimate fact about themselves. You want to celebrate this momentous occasion, right? Congratulations must be in order! Well, while your heart is probably in the right place, congratulating someone on their sexual orientation is like congratulating someone for having brown hair. It’s kind of pointless and a little silly.
Disclaimer: Maybe you acknowledge that coming out was a difficult decision for this person, and you want to congratulate them on their bravery. It’s a nuanced difference, and if this is the case, I say a hearty congratulations is a-ok.
Do thank them for trusting you.
It takes a huge amount of trust for someone to open up about anything so close to their heart. This is especially true when you consider all the risks that coming out poses on someone’s life. As a reporter for the Los Angeles Blade (one of the oldest LGBTQIA+ newspapers in America) whose primary focus is on queer hate crimes, let me tell you that the dangers of being an out queer person are very real and extremely terrifying. Consider it an honor that this person chose to confide in you, and thank them for it.
Don’t treat this like a fleeting moment.
Because it’s not. Telling you that they are queer may have only taken this person a few minutes or even seconds, but the mental and emotional prep that went into that seemingly short moment was likely lengthy, taxing, and significant. Coming out was not a spur-of-the-moment decision, so it should be treated with respect for the difficult journey it took this person to get here.
Do offer a hug if they want one.
Hugging isn’t for everyone, I know. So if this is not for you or this person, maybe skip this one. But as long as both parties consent, a hug can be a great way for you to express all the appreciation and warmth this person deserves.
Don’t ask a ton of questions.
It may be tempting to want to find out more after this new revelation. How long have they known they were queer? Why did they decide to come out now? Are they afraid of what others might think? Do they have a crush on anyone you know?
Curiosity is natural, but there will be plenty of time for you to get your answers. Right now, the person coming out to you is probably under enough stress as it is. Pelting them with difficult-to-answer questions will likely only stress them out even more.
Do ask what they need from you.
This isn’t like asking how long they have known they are queer because this isn’t a question that creates stress. Instead, this is a question that never fails to put you right where this person needs you to be: in their corner.
Don’t do a ton of talking.
This goes with the don’t-pelt-them-with-questions thing. This is not your time to talk. They have been preparing for this for a long time. At this moment, the floor is theirs, as it should be.
Do listen. A lot.
Silence is golden here. Let them get everything they have off of their chest. Don’t rush them. Don’t cut them off. Just listen and acknowledge.
Don’t start listing all your favorite queer celebrities to them.
It may be tempting to try to find a way to relate to someone who just came out to you. But remember, this is not the time for comparisons. This person, like you, is beautifully unique and deserves to feel as such.
Do tell them how special they are to you.
Someone once told me that the best way to tell someone that they are special is with specifics. For example, rather than telling this person, “you are so unique,” it would mean more to them if you said something like, “I notice that when you walk into the room, everyone starts smiling.”
Don’t tell them you love them “anyway.”
That “anyway” hanging on to the end of an “I love you” is incredibly condescending and, honestly, a little cruel. “Anyway” implies that there is something wrong with being queer and that you chose to love this person in spite of their “wrong” queerness. There is nothing wrong with being queer, and this person deserves to be loved for all of themselves, not in spite of a part of themselves.
Do tell them, “I love you.”
Don’t pretend you are super surprised.
Acting as if you just got the shock of your life is just plain cheesy. They told you they are queer, not that they have living proof of extraplanetary species hidden in their home office. Save the acting for your Oscar nomination. This is a moment for realness.
Do express your true feelings with empathy and all-encompassing love.
This person is being incredibly vulnerable and honest with you. It is important and will be appreciated if you do the same.
Don’t think your role ends here.
Because it most certainly does not. Coming out is not a one-time thing. Whether you are the first or the twenty-third person they have come out to, this person has a lifetime of moments like these ahead of them. Some will go well, and some really, really won’t. As someone this person confided in, you are now an important part of this process.
Do let them know you are there to support them as their journey unfolds.
Because that is what they really need, and it will mean the world to them.