Words matter, especially in moments as significant as when someone comes out. Searching for what to say when someone comes out to you is a sign that you care, and I’m so glad that you do!
Hello there! As a proud member of the LGBTQI2+ community and a volunteer at PrideGigHarbor.gay, I’m thrilled you’re here wanting to know more about a topic that’s not just important, but also very close to my heart.
Coming out is a unique experience, a personal journey that can be as diverse as the LGBTQI2+ rainbow flag. It’s a moment that intertwines vulnerability with courage, and the response they receive can significantly shape their path ahead. That’s where you and I come in. How we respond, what we say, and even what we don’t say can make all the difference.
Your words and actions can contribute to a more inclusive and loving world when you learn what to say when someone comes out to you. In this guide, I’m going to share with you how to navigate these conversations with compassion, understanding, and a whole lot of heart. Whether you’re a friend, a family member, or just an acquaintance, your support can be a beacon of light in what might be a tumultuous time.
Understanding the Coming Out Process
Coming out is not just about revealing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity; it’s about sharing a deeply integral part of oneself with the world. This process can be liberating, but it can also be fraught with uncertainty and fear. It’s a step towards living authentically, but it’s also a moment that demands immense bravery. Understanding this context is crucial for us as supporters. It helps us approach these conversations with the empathy and sensitivity they deserve.
The Significance of Coming Out
Imagine keeping a significant part of your identity hidden, like a beautiful piece of art covered under a cloth. Coming out is the grand reveal, where the art is finally admired in its full glory. It’s a deeply empowering experience, but it’s also filled with complexities. It’s a mix of fear, hope, relief, and uncertainty. For some, it means starting a new chapter in life, one where they no longer have to hide. For others, it’s a step towards finding a community where they truly belong.
Coming out isn’t a one-time event but an ongoing process. It involves continuously navigating and negotiating one’s identity in various social contexts. People might come out multiple times, to different people, and in different stages of their lives. It’s a journey that deserves our utmost respect and understanding.
Common Myths and Misconceptions
By dispelling myths and misconceptions like the following, we can create a more supportive environment for those who choose to come out. Remember, our role is to listen, learn, and lend our support, creating a safer space for everyone to be their authentic selves.
Before moving to what to say when someone comes out to you, keep the following myths and misconceptions in mind:
- “If someone comes out, they must be completely certain about their identity.”
Not necessarily. Sexual orientation and gender identity can be fluid, and it’s okay for someone to explore and understand their identity over time.
- “All LGBTQI2+ individuals want to come out.”
This isn’t always true. Coming out is a deeply personal decision, and not everyone feels safe or comfortable doing so. Respecting someone’s choice to stay “in the closet” is just as important as supporting someone who chooses to come out.
- “Coming out is always a positive experience.”
While it can be liberating, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. Many face rejection, judgment, or even danger. It’s important to acknowledge the courage it takes to come out and the complex emotions involved.
- “If someone is LGBTQI2+, you’ll know it.”
This myth perpetuates stereotypes about how LGBTQI2+ individuals look or behave. The truth is, that sexual orientation and gender identity are internal aspects of a person and aren’t necessarily visible or conforming to stereotypes.
- “Young people are too young to know their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
This is a common misconception. Many people have a deep sense of their identity from a young age. Dismissing their self-awareness can be harmful and invalidating.
- “Coming out means you’ll start living a completely different lifestyle.”
Coming out is about being authentic to oneself; it doesn’t necessarily mean a person’s lifestyle will drastically change. The idea that LGBTQI2+ individuals lead vastly different lives is a stereotype that overlooks the uniqueness of each person’s experience.
- “Being LGBTQI2+ is a choice, so coming out is a choice to be different.”
Sexual orientation and gender identity are not choices. They are core aspects of a person’s identity. Coming out is a step towards living truthfully, not a decision to be different.
- “If someone comes out, they should be open to talking about it all the time.”
Just because someone has come out doesn’t mean they are obligated to discuss their sexuality or gender identity constantly or educate others. Respecting their privacy and boundaries is crucial.
Respecting Personal Choices: Coming Out Is Not Mandatory
In this journey of understanding and support, there’s a crucial point we must remember: coming out isn’t, and should never be seen as, mandatory. It’s a deeply personal choice, one that belongs entirely to the individual. After all, it’s nobody’s business but ours.
Think about it: in our society, heterosexuality is often assumed as the default. This assumption leads to the notion that anyone who identifies differently needs to make an announcement or explanation about their identity.
But here’s the thing:
Why should they? Why is there a societal expectation for people to “come out” about their sexuality or gender identity when heterosexual individuals are not expected to do the same?
It’s essential to challenge these societal norms and recognize that everyone has the right to their privacy. No one should feel pressured to come out. Just as we don’t expect heterosexual people to formally announce their sexuality, we shouldn’t assume that those who are part of the LGBTQI2+ community have any obligation to disclose theirs.
Coming out is a personal journey and can be an empowering experience for many. But it’s also important to acknowledge that for some, it may not feel safe, comfortable, or even necessary. The decision to come out or not should always be respected as a personal choice.
How to Respond Supportively to a Coming Out
When someone trusts you enough to share their coming out story, it’s a moment to handle with care, respect, and a whole lot of love. How we respond can either strengthen our bond with them or inadvertently cause harm. What to say when someone comes out to you is all about finding the right words – or sometimes, the power in our supportive silence.
What to Say When Someone Comes Out to You
First things first, lead with your heart. A simple “Thank you for trusting me with this” can mean the world. It acknowledges their bravery and the trust they’ve placed in you. Another great response? “I’m proud of you.” This shows your support and acceptance, reaffirming that their identity is a source of pride, not shame.
It’s also important to let them guide the conversation. You might say, “Is there anything you’d like to share or talk about?” This opens the floor for them to share as much or as little as they’re comfortable with. And remember, sometimes what they need most is a listener, not a speaker. A nod, a smile, or a gentle “I’m here for you” can speak volumes.
Reassure them that this changes nothing in your relationship. Saying “I care about you just the same” can alleviate fears of being treated differently. And if you’re unsure about something, it’s okay to express that too. A genuine “I might not have all the answers, but I’m here to learn and support you” can be incredibly comforting.
Here are more examples of what to say when someone comes out to you and offer them support, understanding, and love:
- “Your identity is valid, and I’m here to support you.“
This reaffirms your acceptance and acknowledges the legitimacy of their identity. It’s a simple yet powerful way to show your support.
- “How can I best support you?“
This question puts their needs at the forefront. It shows that you’re willing to take active steps to support them in the way they find most helpful.
- “I’m glad you shared this with me.“
This expression of gratitude can make them feel valued and relieved that they chose to confide in you.
- “Take all the time you need. I’m here when you’re ready to talk more.“
This gives them space and reassurance that you’re there for them, without putting any pressure on them.
- “I appreciate you being so open with me. How are you feeling about it?“
This invites them to share more about their emotional state if they’re comfortable, showing that you care about their well-being.
- “Would you like me to help you tell others, or would you prefer to keep this between us for now?“
Offering to assist with further coming out (if they want to) can be a great help, and respecting their privacy if they’re not ready is equally important.
- “This changes nothing about how I feel about you.“
A reassurance that your relationship with them remains unchanged and that you value them for who they are.
- “Do you have any resources or people that are supporting you through this?“
This shows concern for their support system and offers an opportunity to help them find resources if they need more.
What Not to Say When Someone Comes Out to You
Now, let’s talk about the no-go zones. Phrases like “I knew it!” can come off as dismissive, as it undermines their coming out as a significant revelation. Also, avoid making it about yourself with responses like “This must be hard for me too.” Remember, this moment is about them, not you.
Steer clear of prying questions like “When did you decide this?” or “Is this just a phase?” These questions challenge the legitimacy of their identity and can be very hurtful. And please, let’s not go down the “But you don’t look gay/trans” road. It’s full of stereotypes and simply not relevant.
Also, avoid overcompensating with overly enthusiastic responses like “That’s amazing! I always wanted a gay friend!” It might come from a good place, but it can feel like you’re seeing them as a novelty, not a person.
In a nutshell, when responding to someone’s coming out, the key is to be empathetic, respectful, and genuine. Your words have power, so choose them with care and kindness. Be a safe space for them to be their true selves, without fear or judgment.
Continuing Support After Coming Out
Now you know what to say when someone comes out to you, but that’s just the beginning of a new chapter. As allies, friends, or family members, our role in their lives takes on a new depth. It’s about walking alongside them, offering our support not just in the moment, but continuously as they navigate their journey.
Respect and Privacy
First and foremost, respect their privacy. This is non-negotiable. Coming out is their story to tell, not ours. We must honor their wishes about who knows this aspect of their identity. Ask them, “Who else knows this, and are you comfortable with others knowing?” It’s a way of ensuring you’re respecting their boundaries.
Remember, coming out can be a complex process for many. It’s not uncommon for someone to be open in certain spaces but not in others. This could be due to safety, comfort, or personal reasons. Our job is to understand and respect this. Be mindful of where and how you discuss their identity. It’s all about creating a safe space where they feel in control of their own narrative.
Being an Ally
Being an ally is an active, ongoing process. It involves educating ourselves, standing up against discrimination, and advocating for equal rights and acceptance.
- Start by educating yourself about LGBTQI2+ issues. Check out the resources linked at the end of this article for websites and books to help you become an ally and always know what to say when someone comes out to you.
- Listen to their experiences and take cues from them. Every person’s journey is unique, and what they need from you as an ally may vary. It could be a shoulder to lean on, a voice to amplify their concerns, or simply being present.
- Get involved in LGBTQI2+ causes if you can. Attend Pride events, support LGBTQI2+ businesses, or volunteer for organizations that endorse LGBTQI2+ rights. Your active participation in the community shows your commitment to not just your loved one, but to the movement as a whole.
- Be ready to stand up against discrimination, whether it’s in the form of a joke, a derogatory comment, or outright prejudice. It’s important to challenge homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination whenever you encounter them. Just please, be smart and safe when doing so, and don’t put yourself and/or others in danger.
Navigating Difficult Conversations
Difficult conversations are often part of the process, and it’s important to approach them with patience, empathy, and a willingness to learn. It’s about growing together, learning from each other, and building a world where everyone feels valued and understood.
What to Say When Someone Comes Out to You And You Have Questions
It’s natural to have questions when someone comes out to you, especially if this is a new experience. But remember, it’s not their responsibility to educate you. Before you ask, consider whether your question is appropriate and necessary. Is it about understanding them better, or is it driven by curiosity?
If you decide to ask, frame your questions respectfully. Start with, “Is it okay if I ask you something about your experience?” This shows you’re mindful of their comfort. Questions should be open-ended and non-judgmental, like “How can I support you in this?” or “What does this change mean for you?”
Remember, some topics might be off-limits, and that’s okay. Respect their boundaries. If they’re not comfortable answering, don’t push. You can always find answers to general questions through resources like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC.org) or PFLAG (PFLAG.org).
What to Say When Someone Comes Out But You Have Personal Conflicts
Maybe you’re grappling with feelings or beliefs that conflict with their identity. It’s okay to acknowledge these feelings, but it’s crucial to handle them responsibly. Remember, their coming out is about them, not you. Your conflicts should not overshadow their experience.
If you’re struggling, seek support. This could mean talking to a counselor, joining a support group, or finding resources that help you process your feelings. Websites like The Family Acceptance Project can be a great starting point.
Be honest with yourself about why you feel conflicted. Is it due to cultural, religious, or societal beliefs? Understanding the root of your conflict is the first step in overcoming it. And while you work through your feelings, continue to show kindness and respect. It’s possible to disagree with someone and still treat them with love and dignity.
What to Say When Someone Comes Out to You and Is Not Accepted by Their Family?
First, let them know that you’re there for them. For example, you could say “I’m so sorry you’re going through this, but I’m here for you”. Offer your support and love. Sometimes just being there to listen is powerful. You can also help them find local support groups or resources that can provide additional support.
What if I Accidentally Use the Wrong Pronoun or Name?
It’s okay to make mistakes. If it happens, apologize quickly, correct yourself, and move on. “I’m sorry, I meant [correct pronoun/name].” It shows you care about their identity and are making an effort to respect it.
How Can I Be an Ally If I’m Not Part of the LGBTQI2+ Community?
Being an ally means supporting equal rights, challenging homophobic and transphobic remarks, and learning about the experiences of LGBTQI2+ people. It’s about showing up and speaking out.
Is It Okay to Ask Questions About Their Coming Out Experience?
Yes, but always ask if they’re comfortable sharing first. Keep questions respectful and about their feelings rather than invasive personal details.
What Should I Avoid Saying When Someone Comes Out?
Steer clear of statements that dismiss their identity like “This is just a phase” or “I never would have guessed“.
Can I Tell Others About Someone’s Coming Out?
Never assume it’s okay to share someone’s LGBTQI2+ identity with others. It’s their story to tell, not yours.
How to Handle My Own Emotions About Their Coming Out?
It’s normal to have feelings about this news. Process your emotions privately or with someone outside the situation, so you can stay supportive.
How Can I Support My Friend Who Is Transgender?
Use their correct pronouns, support their decisions regarding their transition, and educate yourself on trans issues. Above all, treat them with the same respect and kindness you would want.
Should I Ask About Their Dating Life When They Come Out to Me?
Respect their privacy. If they want to share details about their dating life, they will. Focus on their feelings and experiences instead of their romantic life.
How Do I Support Someone Who’s Come Out But Is Still Exploring Their Identity?
Let them know it’s okay to not have all the answers. Support their journey of self-discovery without pressuring them to label themselves.
What if I Don’t Fully Understand Their LGBTQI2+ Identity?
It’s alright not to understand everything right away. You can say, “I may not fully understand what you’re going through, but I respect you and want to learn more to support you“.
How Can I Support a Friend Who Faces Discrimination After Coming Out?
Stand up for them if you witness discrimination and offer emotional support. Encourage them and remind them of their strength and your willingness to be there for them.
Check out these useful resources for anyone looking to support and better understand the LGBTQI2+ community.
Websites & Organizations
- Human Rights Campaign: hrc.org
- The Trevor Project: thetrevorproject.org
- Lambda Legal: lambdalegal.org
- PFLAG: pflag.org
- National Center for Transgender Equality: Transequality.org
- The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN): glsen.org
- The National LGBTQ Task Force: thetaskforce.org
- The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA): ilga.org
- The LGBT National Help Center: lgbthotline.org
- Trans Families: transfamilies.org
- “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson
- “Queer: A Graphic History” by Meg-John Barker
- “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe
- “Raising the Transgender Child” by Michelle Angello
- “The ABC’s of LGBT+” by Ashley Mardell
- “The Stonewall Reader” by the New York Public Library
- “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin
- “The Savvy Ally: A Guide for Becoming a Skilled LGBTQ+ Advocate” by Jeannie Gainsburg
- “Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle” by Robin Stevenson
- “The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality” by Julie Sondra Decker
- “Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story” by Jacob Tobia
- “Becoming Nicole” by Amy Ellis Nutt
- “This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel