Coming out is a gradual and difficult process that LGBTQ+ people go through as they accept their true identities.
As their sexual orientation and/or gender expression isn’t considered part of society’s norm, some people are hesitant to come out, afraid of the societal responses from their family, friends, workmates, and other acquaintances.
It’s not as simple as just telling everyone that they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or the like— it’s a deep exploration of one’s identity and courageously sharing it with the world. That’s why when someone comes out to you, you should be as supportive as you can be.
By having a more accepting reaction, you’re not just being a true friend, but you’re also helping them open themselves with their loved ones.
We know that it’s not easy to come up with the right response. That’s why we’ve come up with twenty suggestions on what you should and shouldn’t do when someone is coming out to you.
What You Should Do
We get that everyone has a different way of reacting to a friend that’s coming out, but as much as possible, we suggest doing the following things:
1Thank them for sharing their story and congratulate them for their courage.
When someone comes out to you, they consider you as a true friend that they can trust. You’re someone that meant a lot to them, so they’re risking it all just to be vulnerable with you. That’s why you shouldn’t just consider their coming out as a “regular” conversation. Be honored that you’ve got the opportunity to have this moment.
Coming out also takes a lot of bravery, as they’re basically risking their friendship on this. So while you’re thanking them, also take the time to congratulate them on having the courage to open up.
2Let your friend lead the conversation.
The coming-out conversation differs per individual. Some people want to share their full story, while others may want to keep it short and direct. So when someone is revealing their gender identity or sexual orientation, ask them first if it’s okay to know further details or not. Don’t be too pushy with the questions or force them to disclose more details. Remember, this is such as vulnerable time for them, so let them lead the pace.
3Keep the conversation as light as possible.
We know that coming out is a serious topic, but keep the vibe as light as possible. Being too serious during the conversation may amplify the anxiousness and tension that your friend is feeling. Just go for some light jokes that you both can relate to or anything that’s sensitively worded humor. Keep in mind to never go for jokes that can belittle them or tease their identity.
4Remember that it’s about them, not you.
When someone is coming out, remember that this moment is about them. Talking about your gay workmate or your queer cousin isn’t going to help ease the tension or make you more relatable to your friend. It can come off as dismissive to them, thinking that your story is more important than theirs. As we’ve mentioned earlier, let them lead the conversation.
5Share your honest thoughts about it, but without discouraging comments.
During the convo, your friend might ask your thoughts about their revelation. If this happens, keep it as honest as possible. If you’re shocked by what they’ve just shared, you can say it politely. You don’t have to act overly accepting or act like everything’s okay; just make sure to say your thoughts in a respectful and supportive way.
Instead of saying, “Oh my god, honestly, I can’t believe it! I just feel sorry for the backlash that you might endure. Your mom is surely gonna get pissed.” you can go for “I’m still in shock with what you’ve just said, but I’m happy that you’ve already found your true self. I just hope that things are gonna be okay at your home. If you need help when coming out to your mom, remember that I’m just one call away.”
6Respect their privacy.
Remember, this is their story to tell. Don’t assume that everyone already knows your friend’s coming out story; just keep the private info to yourself. If you really want to know if your other friends already know about this, it’s better to ask them about it.
If you’re not going to respect their confidentiality and just share their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with others, it may cause conflicts not just between you and your friend but also between your friend and their friends/family.
7Offer your support as they continue coming out to others.
The coming out journey is different for everyone. For some people, their experience can be smooth-sailing; their loved ones accept and support their true selves, there are only some minor judgments here and there, but there aren’t some life-impacting situations. On the other hand, some people coming out may trigger a big change in their lives. They may end up moving away from their homes, leaving their jobs, or even end relationships with their closest friends.
That’s why after the coming out convo, we suggest regularly keep in touch with your friend. Ask them if they need assistance when coming out to your other friends. Ask them if they need help. You can also offer them a place to stay if they need to be somewhere safe.
8Remember that they’re still the same friend that you love.
Your friend’s gender identity and sexual orientation are just one aspect of their life. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t mean they will change their whole persona is just a snap; they’re still the same friend you love and relate with.
9Try to include them in more of your plans.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, coming out may be a life-changing event for your friend; they may end up losing some of their friends and acquaintances.
So aside from checking on them, we highly suggest including your friend in your plans. Planning to go on a road trip? Ask them out. Going to see a movie? You can treat them out. You can also visit them at home and have a movie marathon there. Whatever those plans are, we’re sure that your friend is going to appreciate the effort.
10Learn about the LGBTQ+ community.
Besides regularly checking on them and including them in your plans, we also suggest reading more books and online resources about their gender identity or sexual orientation. It might help you understand further your friend and figure out the right way to support them. You can also talk to your other LGBTQ+ friends and ask for another perspective.
What You Shouldn’t Do
As you’ve learned the different things you can do to show support, we also suggest checking out this list and see the things you shouldn’t do when someone is coming out.
11Don’t ask invasive questions about their body.
It’s okay to ask questions; you can ask them more about their story or ask about the help that you can give to them. What’s not okay, though, is pushing them to tell further details about their body or their transitioning plans. Your friend wouldn’t just be annoyed; they may also feel disrespected about it.
12Don’t say, “I knew it!”
Saying that “I know all along.” or “My gay-dar has sensed it!” can be helpful to some LGBTQ+ people who are coming out, as it speeds up the discussion and even makes the whole process a lot easier.
However, some people may take it the wrong way and think that you’re dismissing their story to make it all about you. It also trivializes the conversation, making your friend feel like the whole convo is irrelevant. As much as possible, don’t just start saying that you’ve known it all along; listen and express your support instead.
13Don’t assume that they like you romantically.
Please, stop making it all about you. As we’ve mentioned earlier, coming is out is an incredibly vulnerable moment for your friend. They’re not doing this to impress; they’re simply sharing their true selves. Unless they’ve explicitly said that they like you romantically during the convo, stop thinking about it.
14Don’t say that “It doesn’t matter.”
When people say “it doesn’t matter” during a coming-out conversation, they usually say it with positive intent. They want to tell their friend or family member that they’ll love them, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity might be. However, some peeps can take this the wrong way.
Coming out matters to your friend. It’s not just about telling their loved ones that they’re gay— it’s also about them accepting their identity and orientation, as well as seeing this as a new stepping stone to their true selves.
Even though you’re saying “it doesn’t matter” from a good place, your friend may think of it as dismissive. They may think that you’ve never cared for them, as “you didn’t care” about their announcement. So instead of saying that it doesn’t matter, ask appropriate questions and be engaged with the conversation.
You can’t control what you feel about the announcement, but you can surely control how you express it. So if you’re surprised that someone comes out to you, just say, “I didn’t expect this…” instead of “Oh my god! I can’t! Like really? My gay-dar ain’t working! Are you really sure about that?!”
Come on, your friend is simply unravelling their gender identity/sexual orientation, not confessing to murder. Just keep your reactions short and sweet.
16Don’t get offended if they didn’t come out to you before.
If you found out that your friend has already been coming out to your other friends, don’t assume that you weren’t the “best” friend or that you can’t be trusted. People have their own ways of coming out; it’s difficult to share their stories simultaneously with their friends, family, and other acquaintances. Also, this isn’t about you. Stop focusing on the smaller things and focus on the big picture instead.
17Don’t say, “you’ve never looked gay.”
This statement not only is confusing the person who is coming out but is also highly offensive to the LGBTQ+ community. It reinforces the belief that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other orientations from the community has to look and act a certain way. So shut down the statements regarding stereotypes— it’ll never help your friend.
18Don’t try hooking them up with another queer friend or acquaintance.
Same with the 13th point, the whole coming out convo isn’t about you. Stop putting your friend, who just poured their heart out to share their story, in an awkward situation by suggesting them to date queer people that you know. It’s their prerogative when to start dating someone (if they haven’t yet), so don’t put them on the spot like that.
19Don’t forget to ask for their preferred pronouns.
One of the most important questions to ask a friend who’s just come out is their preferred name and pronouns. This is one way to show your support as you’re helping them express their true identities. If they haven’t figured that out, don’t force them on coming up with a pronoun right now. Some people don’t also like switching up their pronouns nor their name— and that’s fine too.
20Don’t convince them to stay “straight.”
Never ever tell someone that being queer is just a phase. Don’t tell your friend that they should “think this through” or that they’re just confused.
Most people have already questioned themselves before coming out. When they tell you that they’re gay, they’ve already thought about it a hundred times and already came up with the conclusion. So stop pushing them to stay straight. It’s not just offensive but also incredibly heartbreaking for your friend.
Coming out is a highly vulnerable moment for your friend. Their stress can be immense, so you must reassure them and show support during the convo. It’s also important to keep the vibe as light as possible and to be as engaging as you can be.
And along with being supportive throughout the convo, it’s also vital to be supportive after the coming out conversation. The coming out process is such a difficult time for your friend, so taking extra steps to help them get through will be highly appreciated. We hope that you’ll be able to make your family or friend’s coming out as something worth celebrating.