Red, a mid-20s Christian Youth Leader, traveled home when his grandfather died. At the funeral, he (along with everyone else in his small town, including his grandmother) learned that his grandfather had engaged in a long-term affair with his (male) best friend. This leads the family to talk more about sexuality than ever before and makes him think it’s time to come out. Red, whose parents are decidedly conservative, worries about how they will respond to the news but bravely discloses his sexual orientation. Much to his relief, they are supportive, loving, and affirming.
It’s Pride Month! Yay! There are a million blogs written by more qualified people about coming out. This post, written by a loving ally for other allies, focuses on how to support someone when they come out to you. Here are some tips:
Mirror the level of emotional intensity of the person disclosing. For people who identify as LGBTQIA+ in a heteronormative and cisnormative world, coming out happens again, and again, and (exhaustingly) again – with family members, friends, strangers on the bus, medical care providers, therapists, teachers, co-workers, etc. Each of these relationships carries a different level of emotional intensity. If you barely know the person, you can respond quickly (affirming and honoring), whereas if the person is a close friend or family member, the conversation can be more profound.
Affirm, affirm, affirm. Say something positive that shows the disclosing person that you believe that their identity is a good thing. Avoid phrases like “I love you anyways,” which feels like a backhanded compliment.
Honor the person, information, and moment. Unfortunately, coming out can carry risks. Whenever anyone comes out to you, they are implicitly saying, “I trust you.” Thank the person for telling you, ask if they would like you to keep things private (and follow those guidelines), and, if possible, bookmark the moment by doing something together that highlights your continued closeness (in a way that mirrors the emotional intensity).
Educate yourself (then others) and speak up if you hear misinformation. Frequently, queer people are stuck doing all the work of educating the people around them, which is an enormous and draining burden. Try reading books, searching your questions online, and listening to podcasts.
Continue honoring, affirming, and supporting long after the coming-out conversation is over. Here are just a few ideas:
Celebrate Pride Month in June.
Join a PFLAG group.
Follow their lead with terms.
Support them in creating a chosen family within the queer community.
Be mindful of the ways LGBTQIA+ people experience pervasive oppression.
Be on the lookout for mental health struggles.
Continue to see the person as layered, whole, and interesting instead of overly identifying with one part of their personality.
Luckily, even if by accident, Red’s family hit most of the above points, which made coming out to them positive. Hopefully, someday this sort of emotional intelligence will grow widespread.