Someone coming out to their family and/or friends has to be one of the hardest things ever. There is a lot of pressure on you along with a desperate desire to not be judged nor rejected for how you identify yourself.
No single coming out experience is the same as another, there can be backlash, sometimes sadness but during the best times, genuine joy exists with the announcement. It can also be a difficult experience for the person’s families and friends who they are coming out to and this is what I want to talk about here.
I identify as a heterosexual female so I could never fathom how hard it is to come out and get different reactions back. However, I am a very open-minded person and I have always accepted people of different sexualities, skin colour, and from any walk of life, also during my life, I have experienced someone coming out to me. My own personal experience should hopefully guide or give anyone an insight into what it is like to have someone coming out to YOU and how you can deal with this new information or how you can support this person effectively.
We know that each situation can be different but most families and friends find it helpful to know how other people have coped in similar situations. It is often helpful and actually a relief to know that your emotions, concerns, and questions are shared by other families and friends who have dealt with or are dealing with someone who has recently come out.
Now, for me, a family member – whom I am very close to – came out as gay to me and to most of our immediate family. For years, we had our suspicions, but around about his 18th birthday he decided to tell us individually at different times. I already knew, for a few years, that he was gay so for me he was just confirming what I already knew. I will be honest, it got emotional and upsetting between the both of us the night he told me because he believed I would hate him for being gay which upset me greatly. Instead of letting that ruin what he needed to be a supportive moment, we talked it through and I asked him a few questions to get a sense of how he felt.
My initial reaction was emotional but I’ve never, ever felt any hostility or hate towards him for being gay. Nothing will ever make me hate him. If anything, it’s made me happier to see him break free from that shell and be himself. But, I will say, the thought of him being gay did take a while to actually sink in and this is what I want to put across to people. You don’t always have to have an immediate reaction to that person’s announcement, it can take days, months or even years for you to process which is completely okay to do. To this day, I still ask this family member different questions about things relating to his sexuality and his experiences, and that is completely fine.
Of course, there were times when I wished this family member wasn’t gay for his OWN sake because I knew what people could and would say if they knew. He has also been in fights for being publicly affectionate with his current boyfriend which is scary to hear, especially when he has come home with bruises and cuts on his face and you realise just how scary the world can be to the ones you love. But I see how happy he is in his fully committed relationship with his boyfriend and I realise how much it’s all worth. As long as he’s happy, myself and our family are happy and I hope the world can catch up with us and be 100% accepting one day.
However, I do have some tips for those who have had someone come out to them recently or who are currently finding it hard to process new information about someone they care about. Please read through these carefully and they may help you in understanding more about this person’s identity and moving your relationship forward with them.
Be accepting and respectful
If someone tells you they are feeling a particular way or identify themselves a certain way, please respect this and accept it. It is how they are feeling, it is what they are at their core, and these feelings and emotions are valid. To doubt this person can be hurtful and/or make them doubt themselves as a result. Also accepting their preferred pronouns and identities is as equally as important as it respects their wishes and allows them to come to terms with their identity more easily.
Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how they came to identify themselves in this way or any questions you may have if you do not understand or know much about their particular sexuality. But be 100% sure that they are willing to answer any questions before you ask because this person may not be ready to answer anything or feel like they can just yet. If they don’t feel ready to answer your questions, feel free to attend LGBT events or read up on the history and culture of LGBT people in order to learn more about them and find out how to support this person appropriately.
Don’t do the ‘out’ing for them
Like I said, my family had a feeling this particular family member was gay but we never speculated to other people or even after he told us, told anyone else; we always left to him to do that if he wished to do so. If someone comes out to you, you may be the first person they’ve told or the only person they’ve told so it is important you understand it is not your responsibility to tell other people.
Understanding how a person identifies themselves can sometimes lead you to look at yourself and how you have previously acted or spoken about LGBT people. Perhaps you have indirectly discriminated them by using particular stereotypes or never really bothered to look into such issues. But by reflecting and addressing the issues of biphobia, homophobia, transphobia and more, you can help yourself understand how these issues really affect LGBT people and how you can do things differently in order to be become a better ally for this person and others.
These were just a few tips to take on board when dealing with someone that has come out to you. It can be just as challenging and hard to understand for you as it is for the LGBT person. The more you research, the more you can understand their identity and a better ally you become.
Here are some sites to look at for more information on how to deal with someone coming out to you:
There are plenty more to look up and there are plenty of phonelines as well if you need to speak to someone about this.
Thank you for reading about my own experience and I hope you feel a bit better about understanding how it can be challenging for you as well and what you can do to understand more about different identities and sexualities and how to support the people that come out to you effectively.
Any questions you may have or any thoughts you have about this post, tweet us @CelebMix!