How To Support A Friend Who’s Just Come Out
Experts share exactly what to say.
Your friend tells you she needs to talk. She takes a deep breath over lavender oat milk lattes — her treat — and spills the beans: She's gay. So... what happens next?
There are plenty of resources out there for LGBTQ+ people on how to come out. But if you're straight, you might not instinctively know how to support a friend who's coming out, no matter how much of an ally you are.
“Coming out can be such a delicate and vulnerable process,” Beck Liatt, LMSW, a psychotherapist at MyTherapyNYC, tells Bustle. If they’re choosing to share this facet of their identity with you, they’re asking for your support and love during a complicated period. Afraid you’re going to say or do the wrong thing? Here's how you can help support a friend who's just come out.
What To Say When Someone Comes Out
You’ll want to read the room when someone comes out to you. If your friend drops the life update that they're gay casually into the group chat and appears to want to minimize fuss, they probably don’t want you to scream, draw attention to it, or throw them a party (however much you might like to). An "Oh, really? Cool!" is all that might be required or appreciated. Follow their cues here.
If they sit you down to share their update, you’ll want to meet the gravity of the moment. “One thing you can do to help a friend coming out is simply to acknowledge this truth with them,” Liatt says. “Naming the courage and vulnerability it takes to be public with your authentic self can be very validating.” Saying, “I’m so happy for you!” or “I’m so proud of you for sharing this,” can go a long way towards making them feel seen.
If they've clearly gone through a huge process to get to this point and have made a big deal of telling you, some fuss and celebration may be in order. Make your use of the party emoji proportional to the exclamation points in their text, and set aside an extra big hug the next time you see them IRL.
Listen To Them
A lot of support during the coming-out process should center around letting your friend express how they're feeling and what the experience is like. “For many, one of the most important aspects of coming out is the ability to begin to live life authentically — as the person who they were meant to be,” Rachel O'Neill Ph.D. LPCC-S, a therapist with Talkspace, tells Bustle. “Giving your friend space to talk, to share with you what they want you to know about who they are, is perhaps the single most important strategy to support them through the coming out process.” Validate their identity by using the terminology they choose — gay, ace, queer, bi, nonbinary, or whatever else.
Ask Sensitive Questions
If they want to talk about how they got to this point, you can ask sensitive questions, like “So how are you feeling?” or “How long have you known?”
“Asking questions can communicate interest and support of their coming out process,” O’Neill says. “However, try to avoid asking invasive or overly personal questions; instead, let your friend be in control of what they choose to share with you.” She suggests questions that communicate your interest in being a supportive part of their life, like “How can I support you?” and “What do you need from me right now?”
Avoid questions you’d feel awkward having your friend ask you. What you ask your childhood bestie will likely differ from what you ask your work wife.
Be Respectful Of Their Trust
You've been involved in the intimate details of this person's identity and personal life, at a momentous and sometimes very scary time. That's a huge honor, so thank them for it! But even if this is your best friend of 50 million years, remember to keep your social boundaries in check. Follow their lead on excited or curious enquiries about their newest crushes, how their family reacted, and other intensely private things — try not to assume they’re down to talk about it.
You might consider asking if they’re out to other people in your friend group or to family, but it’s safest to operate as if you’re the only person they’ve told (and respect their confidence accordingly). “Don’t assume that because they have chosen to come out to you, that they are necessarily ready to come out to others,” says O’Neill.
Ask What Level Of Openness They’d Like
Just because your college roommate has come out to you doesn’t mean that they’ll be out at your 10-year reunion. “Coming out as LGBTQIA+ is a uniquely personal and individualized process,” says O’Neill, so it’s critical to make sure they are able to come out to the people in their life on their own terms.
Liatt says this is particularly important for transgender people. “Referring to your trans friend with the correct pronouns to strangers may feel like the respectful thing to do, but without consent from your friend, you may be putting them in an uncomfortable situation,” she says. It can also be dangerous. Triple check their comfort levels by asking what pronouns they’d like you to use for them in general settings or around mutual friends, and ask if you can check in every so often to see if that’s changed.
Offer Coming-Out Resources (If They Ask For Them)
If your pal seems to be struggling , have some resources on hand — on-campus or work LGBTQ+ resource groups, helplines, online support communities, even TV shows — that they might appreciate. “One type of therapy I think is wildly underrated is friendship therapy,” Liatt says. “Going to a queer and trans centering practice can offer a space for your friend who has just come out to vocalize how to best support them.”
Build Their Chosen Family
If their family of origin is unsupportive of their identity, Liatt says, you can assist. “Help build a chosen family with them,” she says. “Offer to accompany them to queer events or meetups they may not feel comfortable going to alone. These events are where they will likely find support, mirroring, and community.” Of course, not every LGBTQ+ hangout will be open to allies, but you can also help them find Zoom events or online meetups that might be lower pressure to attend solo.
Beck Liatt, LMSW, psychotherapist at MyTherapyNYC
Rachel O'Neill Ph.D. LPCC-S, therapist with Talkspace
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