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Dealing with someone ‘Coming Out’

Some general tips and advice on what to do when a friend or family member ‘comes out’.

Added to Library, on 19 July, 2015

Dealing with someone ‘Coming Out’

For many individuals, a friend or family member coming out is no big deal, is expected, or is embraced. For others, it is a shock, it can be upsetting, and it can lead to turmoil. Here are just a few collected tips and pieces for advice for those who are unsure what to do after someone has ‘come out’.

Remember: they’re still the same person.

Just because you’ve found out something about their sexual preferences or their gender identity, doesn’t mean they’re now somebody else. If you cared about the person before they came out, then you should still care about them after.

Keep your judgements to yourself.

If you have religious or cultural beliefs about Queer identities, don’t air them straight away. Chances are that the individual who has just ‘come out’ may know this, and has been scared of coming out for that exact reason. It’s not to say that you forever have to pretend; rather, bring this up at a more suitable time and in a more sensitive way. You will find that you’ll be able to understand each other a lot better – and be more accepting of each other’s views – when you’re discussing things outside of an emotional pressure cooker.

Just because they’re out to you, doesn’t mean they’re out to everybody.

For many Queer individuals, being “out” doesn’t necessarily mean they feel the need to tell everyone who they are and what they’re into. Respect the person’s privacy.

Rejection is the worst thing you could possibly do.

And it’s the worst thing an individual can experience. The alarming rates of mental health issues in Queer individuals isn’t so much to do with the fact they’re Queer, but what they’ve been subjected to because of it – and one of the most common reasons for not coming out is because of a fear of rejection; similarly, rejection is one of the most common causes of mental health issues in Queer individuals.

There’ll be time to talk, and time to be honest.

You may have a myriad of questions to ask, but they might not know all the answers yet.

And when you do talk, be honest, but not brutal.

‘Coming out’ can be a hard and emotionally-tasking thing for all parties involved. Support is hugely important: it stops so many problems before they happen. But being supportive does not necessarily mean you have to forever keep quiet about your questions and concerns. You are allowed to be worried and even upset: but it doesn’t mean you need to take it out on the individual who has ‘come out’ – it’s not their fault. Create a respectful and open arena for discussion. Treat the person with the same respect and dignity you’d expect from any other person.

Be open-minded and willing to listen and learn.

Don’t make the individual feel like they’ve made a choice. Don’t call it a ‘phase’. Don’t assume you know more than they do.

It doesn’t have to be all serious.

Be sensitive, but don’t be overly serious. In any friendship or relationship, humour is important – and Queer individuals don’t lose their sense of humour once they realise they’re Queer.

You won’t get it right all of the time.

You’re going to make mistakes. You might say the wrong thing, make bad assumptions or perhaps react unhelpfully. If you do make a mistake, be prepared to apologise and be prepared to listen.

And neither will they.

You may find their ‘coming out’ will bring you closer together, but it may also cause a little friction. Be patient, be supportive and be accepting. ‘Coming out’ can be traumatic. Mood-swings and feelings of anger, depression and resentment can be common, especially if the journey up until this point has been tough.

Be inclusive.

Don’t suddenly stop inviting them to parties, activities or events. If they have a partner, include them too. In fact, maybe make a special effort: the individual may have lost friends or family members because they’ve ‘come out’. Even little things like a message here and there to see how they are can make all the difference. Don’t allow them to isolate themselves from the world.

If you’re reading this, you’re making a very positive start.

It shows you care, and that’s a wonderful thing. No-one’s expecting you to become a knowledge-base of Queer facts and identities. You don’t suddenly need to know every Madonna or Lady Gaga song, nor is anyone expecting you to know every Transgender Identity that’s out there. But if you’re willing to learn a little more about the individual’s world and what they identify with, it’ll make all the difference.

Be part of their journey.

‘Coming out’ isn’t the end of their journey, it’s just a landmark. Being part of that journey can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever experience.

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Dealing with someone ‘Coming Out’