How To Support People Coming Out

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How To Support People Coming Out

Emily Chen, Staff Writer

Coming out as gay, bisexual, transgender, or any other LGBTQA+ identity takes an enormous amount of courage and trust. When a friend or family member comes out to you, you might not know how to react. You will probably have questions and feelings about their identity, but the most important thing to do is show them your support.

First and foremost, it is important to respond by showing your respect, acceptance, and support. For some people, coming out is a huge step and takes lots of preparation to be ready for. Others feel that their sexuality shouldn’t be that big of a deal when it comes to how they are viewed as a person, and come out casually, in passing. The best way to react to someone coming out is to match their energy. If it seems like coming out is very important to them, respond enthusiastically! Give them a hug, fist bump, or high five. You can say something like, “Cool! Thank you for telling me, I really appreciate you letting me know,” or “Awesome! You’re my best friend and I support you.” If they don’t treat it as a big deal, don’t make it into one, and respond in a more casual way.

Some things to avoid:

1. Outing your friend or family member to somebody else. 

Just because they were comfortable enough to come out to you doesn’t mean they’re comfortable with letting the whole world know. Don’t reveal their identity to people who they haven’t told. Coming out is their decision, not yours.

2. Assuming you understand. 

Even if you’ve seen Love, Simon, watched The Ellen DeGeneres Show, or are a fan of Sam Smith’s music, you’re still not an expert on the LGBTQA+ community. Listen to your friend or family member about their identity. You will probably have some questions, and that’s perfectly normal! Ask politely and listen respectfully. 

3. Asking when they “turned” queer/transgender. 

People are born with their identity; they don’t get to choose or change it. Your friend or family member is still the same person they have always been.

4. Denying their identity. 

Saying things like “You don’t look that way”, “Are you sure?”, “It’s just a phase”, and “No, you’re not, you just haven’t found the right person” is extremely harmful. You don’t get to decide who they are.

5. Making the situation about you. 

Telling them “I knew it!”, “It was obvious”, “I’ve always wanted a gay friend!”, or “My friend/cousin/neighbor/etc. is gay too!” might seem supportive, but phrases like these actually take the conversation away from the person who just came out to you. Brushing off the courage and bravery it took for them to come out is very hurtful. Even if you already knew, be sure to show your support.

6. Assuming it will change anything about your friendship. 

Again, they’re still the same person they were before they came out. You just know more about them. If anything, you’ll be even closer!

On the subject of coming out, Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Club President senior Tammy Cheung stated, “Coming out is important because at a certain point you get tired of not being yourself. It’s also a way for you to accept yourself.” However, stigma and prejudice are unfortunately still present in today’s society. Not everybody is in a situation where they can safely come out as a member of the LGBTQA+ community, and making the choice not to come out is completely okay. 

GSA member junior Alana Jones advised, “Be safe and be prepared for people’s reactions, and make sure you’re comfortable with being out.” By ignoring stereotypes, keeping an open mind, and embracing people for who they truly are, we can work towards a world of acceptance.

If you don’t know much about the LGBTQA+ community, there’s no time like the present to start learning! The acronym stands for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and asexual communities. The plus sign represents those who fall under a different identity not listed in the acronym. It includes all sexual identities that are not heterosexual and gender identities that are not cisgender (identifying with the gender assigned at birth). Other terms that can be used interchangeably with LGBTQA+ are LGBT and Queer.

Gay, lesbian, and homosexual people are attracted to those of the same gender. Bisexual people are attracted to those of the same and different gender, and pansexual people are attracted to people of all genders. Those on the asexual spectrum experience little to no romantic or sexual attraction—it varies from person to person.

Transgender is an umbrella term that describes people who identify as a different gender than what they were assigned at birth. Genderqueer and non-binary people do not identify as male or female. They might identify as both, neither, or an entirely different gender.

Somebody who comes out as transgender will probably ask you to use different words and pronouns when you refer to them. For example, a transgender woman (someone who was born male but identifies as female) should be referred to as a girl or woman, with she/her/hers pronouns. Some people use singular they/them/theirs pronouns because they are not associated with a binary gender (male or female). For example, you would say, “They are my friend,” “I was talking with them,” or “That backpack is theirs.” Ask your transgender friend or family member about their pronouns! It isn’t offensive, and using their preferred pronouns shows that you understand and respect their identity.

Gender and sexual identity are viewed as spectrums; there are no strict rules defining each identity. For example, someone could be attracted to girls more often than guys, but they would still be bisexual. Additionally, somebody’s sexual preference and romantic preference aren’t always the same. For instance, somebody who identifies as homoromantic asexual experiences romantic attraction, but not sexual attraction.

It might seem complicated, but these are just terms that people use to describe themselves. Knowing that people with different genders and sexualities exist is the same as knowing that people with different hair colors and music tastes exist. We’re all just people!

Graphic courtesy of SMARTMUSIC.COM