Accepting one’s gender or sexual identity that does not fit into a heteronormative structure is just one stepping stone on a path of many hardships. ‘Coming out’ is a complicated and challenging process.
Research published in the academic journal Sociology Compass shows that the process of coming out to one’s parents can be long and challenging. It often takes time and resources (e.g., therapy, family counseling, etc.) before parents come to terms with and accept their child for who they are.
This is where you, as a friend, can help. Here are three things you can do to make this journey easier for them.
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#1. Acknowledge the moment
It takes an unfathomable amount of reflection, introspection, and courage to step up and show your true self to someone. Choosing to share sensitive information with someone is a testament of trust in the relationship.
How one responds when a friend willingly puts themselves in a vulnerable position sets the precedent for future interactions. Trivializing this moment by treating it as any other casual detail can shatter your friend’s expectations, confidence, and worth.
You can celebrate the bigness of the moment for them by smiling through and saying things like:
“Thank you for trusting me with this.”
“I am so happy for you, thank you for sharing this moment with me.”
“I am so grateful you chose to share this with me.”
Regardless of what you may have known or suspected about them, it is essential for this interaction to be about them. Some things to avoid saying are:
“Oh, I always knew this about you.”
“I can’t believe you kept something like that from me.”
“This is not a big deal, it doesn’t change anything.”
Recognize the milestone that this is for them and offer your support to honor what they have just shared. Save any opinions or biases that may come up for you for a different time and place.
#2. Ask, but ask gently
There may be many questions that come up for you – about their chosen sexuality, what changes it will bring, how it might impact their life and relationships, and, most importantly, what role they would like you to play now that you have this information.
A willingness to understand is a positive sign of growth and strength in your relationship. If you find yourself confused, it is okay to ask without probing or being intrusive. This may sound like:
“I’m actually not entirely aware of what this means. I’d love to know more about it if you’re comfortable sharing.”
“Can I ask who else in your life knows about this?’
“I want to be mindful of addressing you the way you would prefer. Would you be comfortable sharing your pronouns?”
“I am so thankful that you made me a part of this. How can I best support you?”
When in doubt, it is best to ask what may be expected of you and have a conversation about it. Refrain from asking anything about their body and/or sex until it comes up naturally as it may come across as insensitive or nosy. Allow them to share their story in comfort.
#3. Keep things as usual on your end
Coming out is coming into a new world – bringing with it a whole new community to learn about and explore.
While there may be a lot of newness that keeps your friend busy, it is helpful to provide something old and stable that provides a sense of comfort and safety. Here are some things you can do to instill their faith in you:
Stay in touch with them and make frequent calls to check on how they are doing or what they may need
Hang out and spend time with them as you normally would, especially in public to let them know that you accept them as they are
Support their quest in making more queer friends if it helps them create a sense of belonging, even though it might not be a space you will always be invited to
Actively try to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community to gain a deeper knowledge about their struggles and how to support them
As your friend ventures out of their comfort zone, knowing that their old friends are still there for them can help them fully embrace their new identity.