How To Support Your Friend When They Come Out, According To Experts
Happy National Coming Out Day! Oct. 11 marks the 30th anniversary of the LGBTQ+ holiday, which recognizes and celebrates the process of coming out. Contrary to popular belief, coming out is not one isolated event for an LGBTQ+ person. Instead, coming out is an ongoing, life-long journey for queer people and it should never be required or something you are pressured to do before you are ready. When it comes to improving the coming out process, the support of trusted friends can make a huge difference. I spoke to some experts about how to support your friend when they come out, and they had some really helpful tips to share.
If you're reading this because you've been doing research about how to be supportive during the coming out process, your heart is already in the right place and I'm glad you are in your friend's support network. The presence of social support and acceptance from friends, peers, and loved ones is actually one of the most important aspects of having a positive coming out experience, according to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people under 25. When it comes down it, one good friend can improve someone's coming out experience exponentially simply by showing up and being supportive. If you want to know more, check out the following tips on how to be the best possible friend to someone who's coming out.
1Create A Safe Space
Since there's really no way to tell if someone is going to come out to you until they decide to do so, you can instead make sure you radiate acceptance so that your friends feel confident about confiding in you. "Before they come out, cultivate fertile soil in your relationship for them to feel safe giving you that information. Find ways to inject positive affirmations for gay, queer, transness in passing (e.g. sharing a meme or an Instagram account that talks about queerness in a positive light, talk about someone else you know who is queer in an affirming way)," explains queer activist, editor, podcast host, and writer Fran Tirado.
2Follow Your Friend's Cues
When a friend comes out to you, it's important to understand that they have thought about doing so and deemed you to be a safe person to confide in. They may want to have an in-depth conversation about it or they may simply want to mention that they're queer and move on to something else. Either way is fine, and it's best to follow their lead, according to Katie Heaney, journalist and author of Would You Rather? A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out. "You should not say something like, 'Oh yeah, I already knew that' or 'Why didn't you tell me sooner?' or anything that negates the fact that this can be a really challenging experience for people," says Heaney. More than anything, you are there to listen, accept, and affirm.
"Try to take cues from their delivery, too," Heaney continues. "Sometimes it's really exciting! Sometimes someone coming out wants to be asked a lot of questions!" If you're not sure if your friend wants to talk at length about it, it's OK to ask if they'd like to talk more or if they'd prefer to discuss something else.
"One of the best ways you can react to someone’s coming out is to under-react," Tirado says. "React to the news as if they are just telling you about any everyday thing they might be working through. Be uplifting and kind, do not become hyper-emotional, don’t question their statements, don’t talk too much, don’t take up space, and never make it about you." This isn't to say that you should seem uninterested or that you don't care, but allowing your friend to guide the emotional weight of the conversation is important.
Being affirmative of your friend that just came out to you is super important and can be conveyed in simple ways. It's common for LGBTQ+ people to be rejected or seen differently by friends or family after they come out, explains Brock Dumville, MPH, Senior Crisis Services Manager for The Trevor Project. It can be very validating for you to affirm that you appreciate the fact that they told you and that this doesn't change how you feel about them. You can show that you don't see them differently in small and large ways, like continuing your Sunday brunch streak or expressing that sentiment directly.
You can show you care by listening and being supportive. For example If your friend changes their pronouns, use them and don't make a huge deal out of it if you mess them up. Just get them right the next time. Support can look like many different things. "It can be as simple as giving your friend a glass of water while you listen to them if they seem flustered or upset," says Carolanne Marcantonio, a sex therapist who specializes in LGBTQ+ topics.
4Ask If You Can Advocate For Them
Offering to advocate for your friend is a form of support that can mean a lot to them. "Ask their permission to help them come out to larger groups. For instance, if it were to come up in conversation where the coming-out person is not present, ask if it's OK for you to say, 'Actually, so-and-so identifies as gay/queer/trans now?' Their answer will usually be yes, as that helps offset that emotional labor which they shouldn’t have to hold on their own," Tirado explains. For example, if your friend gives you permission to do so, you can offer to inform your mutual friends of their new pronouns or correct people when they slip up.
When it comes to being your friend's advocate, it is imperative you ask for their permission first, as you don't want to out them by accident. They may not want everyone to know just yet, so make sure you're clear on what they'd be comfortable with.
5Check In With Your Friend Regularly
Another way to show your support is to be available to your friend. Mention that you're available through multiple channels of communication if they need anything.
"Doing the emotional labor of coming out to folks constantly is hard and grueling, and can be a source of trauma they might hold for a lifetime. Start by being their support system through it all, checking in with them constantly and making sure they feel confident and valid," Tirado explains.
For instance, if you know your friend is planning to tell their family, you can offer to make plans with them afterwards. "Say you're there to give text support during, even if you can't be there in person when it happens," Heaney suggests. "Be ready to celebrate if it goes well, and commiserate if it doesn't."
If you've been researching how to best support your friend when they come out, you're heart is already in the right place. Acceptance from peers is so important during the coming out process.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact The Trevor Project's TrevorLifeline 24/7/365 at 1-866-488-7386.
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