Coming Out: How to Properly Respond
Beyond revealing a part of our identity, it's about sharing a story of struggle
Coming out isn't as simple as opening a metaphoric closet door, and announcing to the world about our identity—one that we've been questioning our entire life.
Therefore, when receiving such news—whether you've expected it or not—it's imperative to avoid downplaying it with immediate exclamations such as, "Oh, I've known all along!" or seemingly well-intentioned responses such as "It doesn't matter to me."
Statements like these are equivalent to undermining the importance of their identity.
"So what should I do if someone comes out to me?"
I am no expert, but being a gay, cisgender man myself, I feel that there are some things you should do when it happens.
Follow my unpatented three-step process called AHA! (Avoid drama, Have patience, Acknowledge and compliment!) and you will be looking like Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) in no time:
The AHA! process
Whether you are a fag hag, already have a hoard of queer best friends, or you are experiencing someone coming out to you for the first time, do not panic or get overly excited.
You may think you have "known it all along", but on their end, it may have been an arduous journey or a struggle they've put up with to come to this stage.
Let them finish their story.
Have patience and listen
They've trusted you enough to disclose this important part about themselves—so give them this space to share at their own pace.
While at it, avoid being pushy or nosy. Ask questions for anything you don't understand, but let them decide if they are comfortable to disclose it to you at this stage.
That includes details about who they are dating or banging.
Also, here are some questions you should not ask (which I took the liberty of answering if you are curious):
- Are you interested in me? It's irrelevant at this point.
- Aren't you worried about getting HIV/AIDS? Sure, as should you and every other human being on this Earth.
- Maybe it's a phase? Some of us may have considered this at some point, but if we have decided to open up and let you know, then no, it is not a phase. We are telling you that this is who we are. We are not coming to you with a problem we are looking to solve.
- What made you do this? It's not a choice one makes.
- Who did this to you? One does not have the power to make another person a certain way.
- Were you molested? Molestation is a problem. Being who we are is not.
- Does this mean you want to be a man (said to a woman) / woman (said to a man)? Ultimately, this depends on what they are coming out to you about, or how much they intend to tell you.
Acknowledge and compliment!
By choosing to expose their vulnerabilities, there are a lot of risks involved. One of it may have included the fact that they might lose you and whatever relationship they have with you.
If you are unable to process what they have told you at that moment, that's ok.
Most importantly, let them know that you still love them regardless but need some time to think things through or learn more about what they've told you.
Compliment them on their courage. Hug it out, if you are comfortable with that. Find out how you can support or help them in their journey.
Be an ally
What does it mean to be an ally? Being an ally is a real commitment; not just an empty proclamation. Besides being at fun events where you get to dress up and show your support, there's more to it.
It's also about being present and participating in challenging conversations for your person and their wider community.
For example, if you are in an organization that does not have similar benefits provided to heteronormative couples, use your voice to question that.
Keep their confidence and privacy
They may have spent a long time deciding if they should tell you, so allow them that time to determine if they want to reveal it to another person.
It's their story—don't make it yours.
In the past, I've had many friends who would mention my sexuality when introducing me to strangers at bars or events, as though it's the only interesting fact about me.
My friends are lovely people, and I believe that deep down, they mean no harm, but I would very much prefer if they revealed how we became friends.
Understand that, just because you are accepting of your person, it doesn't necessarily mean the same for the stranger. You don't want things to turn out awkward for everyone at the dinner table, do you?
We may be proud of this part about ourselves, but there are also other layers within that we want to celebrate, and probably much more relevant to the other party.
Let us decide; don't strip our power of choice!
Regardless of which spectrum of the queer community one belongs to, coming out is not a destination.
For a lot of us, it's a continuous journey of self-discovery. It is about learning to love ourselves and mustering the courage to share that love with another, hoping that we are loved back.
I hope you have found some of this information I shared insightful.