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What to Say When Somebody Comes Out

Chris Mateo

May 3, 2024

“Coming out” in the LGBTQ+ community involves a gay person or trans person publicly sharing their orientation, expression, and/or gender identity. This significant moment profoundly impacts their sense of self and well-being, presenting both authenticity and the challenge of navigating complex social, familial, and personal expectations and reactions.

The responses from friends, family, and colleagues are essential during this transition. Positive reactions can reinforce a sense of belonging and validation, while negative ones can deepen feelings of isolation and anxiety. Allies play an important role in creating an accepting and supportive environment that promotes a broader culture of inclusivity, empowering those coming out to feel safe and confident in their journey.

How to respond supportively

When a gay friend or trans person is coming out, acknowledge it! Saying “Thank you for sharing this with me!” acknowledges the trust they’ve placed in you, reinforcing that their disclosure is valued and appreciated. Ensure you provide a safe, confidential space conducive for sharing and assure them of their privacy with statements like, “This can stay between us until you decide otherwise.” Respecting their boundaries is paramount. Make it clear that their disclosures are confidential and that you respect their timeline and decisions regarding their coming out process to others.

This respect for their privacy and safety helps to build a trusting relationship where they feel secure and supported. Honor their vulnerability and strength in sharing, and provide a supportive environment for them to continue to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. It will set the tone for your conversations to follow!

Demonstrate support

Offer unconditional support. Let them know that your relationship is secure with words like, “I’m here for you, no matter what.” Support is fundamental; it affirms to the individual that your acceptance of their identity is wholehearted.

Continue to reinforce your support by being available and responsive! Actions such as reaching out to check on them or offering to accompany them to LGBTQ+ events can also demonstrate your commitment to their expression of identity and personality and ultimately their wellbeing as a whole.

Apply ring theory

Susan Silk and Barry Goldman developed “The Ring Theory” to keep the conversation focused on the individual’s needs. The idea being that the same person experiencing change in the “center of the ring” should be able to “complain out” and similarly receive “support in” from their supporting outer rings (family member/friends, colleagues/neighbors, onlookers/strangers) without people from the outer rings complaining towards the more inner rings i.e. the person more intimately dealing with a crisis receives support and can vent without having to feel the brunt of criticism and stigma.

This approach helps maintain a supportive environment where the person coming out feels they can express their feelings and concerns without having to console or comfort others about the news.

Inquire about pronouns

Ask about their preferred pronouns. This simple act of asking “Which pronouns do you prefer?” respects their identity and emphasizes your acceptance and willingness to see them as they truly are. Ensuring you use their correct pronouns is an ongoing commitment that reinforces their identity in everyday interactions. This is a fundamental way to show that you care about their comfort and are attentive to their needs and can foster inclusive and supportive dialogue in the future.

Safety, privacy, and a continuous dialogue

Encourage open dialogue by indicating a willingness to listen whenever they feel like sharing more. Phrases like, “Whenever you want to talk, I’m ready to listen,” indicate and implement an “open door” policy to show that your support is ongoing.

Celebrate their courage

Acknowledge their bravery in coming out. Celebrating this moment can be uplifting, so affirm their strength with words like, “It takes a lot of courage to do what you’ve done, and I’m proud of you!” Recognize the milestone they’ve reached and celebrate their authenticity. Sharing in their joy and acknowledging their courage fosters a deeper connection and encourages them in their continued journey of self-acceptance.

Common pitfalls in responses

Effective allyship demands sensitivity and respect when responding to someone’s coming out. Avoid these common missteps to maintain trust and support throughout their journey.

Avoid outing when someone confides in you about their LGBTQ+ identity. Never assume it’s your place to share a gay friend’s or trans person’s identity with others. Always wait for explicit permission, respecting their right to control their own story. Outing someone can have severe repercussions on their personal and professional lives and may significantly damage the trust they have placed in you. Instead, focus on being a confidential and safe person who respects their choices and timing. Remember, coming out is a deeply personal decision, and being entrusted with this knowledge is a privilege, not a right to share.

Respect privacy and don’t pry into details not shared voluntarily. Maintain a respectful distance concerning the details of their journey unless they invite you in. Avoid overly personal questions that might make trans folks or gay friends uncomfortable. It’s important to allow them to share at their own pace without feeling pressured to provide more information than they are comfortable with. Express interest through open-ended questions that give them control over the narrative, such as “Would you like to share more about how you’re feeling?” This approach ensures they feel supported without feeling intruded upon.

Focus on identity, not sexuality, to avoid sexualizing the conversation. Remember, coming out is about identity, not sexual preferences or activities. Keep the conversation focused on supporting their identity as a gay person, trans person, or queer person. It’s essential to understand that sexual orientation and gender identity are about the person’s sense of self and not about their sexual life. By keeping discussions respectful and appropriate, you validate their experiences as worth sharing beyond just sexual connotations. This helps create a more comfortable and affirming environment for them. If you, or the person opening up to you, mentions confusion, lack of information, or interest in discussing sex, please reach out to us or mention us as a resource.

Never dismiss their experience or minimize their journey. Never minimize their experience by suggesting it is a phase or implying predictability with comments like, “I always knew.” Such remarks can feel dismissive and belittling to a queer person or any LGBT person. It’s crucial to acknowledge the significance of their disclosure and affirm the reality of their feelings and experiences. Instead of assuming or diminishing their process, show genuine curiosity, empathy, and ask how you can support them during this time, which can be incredibly helpful.

Steer clear of negativity in your response to their coming out. Even if you’re struggling with the news, avoid expressing doubts or negative feelings in response to their coming out. Keep such reactions private and away from the conversation. It’s important to manage your emotions independently and not impose them on the trans person or gay person coming out. If needed, seek support from other allies or professionals to process your feelings. This will help you maintain a supportive stance that prioritizes the well-being and emotional safety of the person who has come out to you.

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Best suggestions for being an advocate

Effective advocacy, understanding, and support are essential components of allyship. Explore these practical steps to enhance engagement and provide solid support for LGBTQ+ individuals throughout their journeys.

Education as advocacy

  • Emphasize continuous learning about LGBTQ+ issues to become an empathetic and effective ally.
  • Engage in workshops, seminars, and research to understand the history, struggles, and triumphs of queer people, trans people, and LGBTQ+ individuals.
  • Use insights gained to speak for and support the community effectively.

Support beyond presence

  • Show solidarity by attending Pride events and being there for LGBTQ+ friends in everyday moments.
  • Be a good friend during both public and private challenges, helping navigate legal or workplace issues.
  • Prove your friendship isn’t just for the good times but extends to offering support whenever needed.

Advocacy in action

  • Actively oppose homophobia and transphobia in your community and workplace.
  • Use your voice to advocate for inclusive policies and practices, ensuring LGBTQ+ people are respected and valued.
  • The best way to support is to create safe spaces that promote equality and challenge discriminatory practices.

Respecting the personal journey

  • Understand that each coming out journey is unique and deeply personal.
  • Provide consistent comfort and acceptance, allowing individuals to navigate their roller coaster of emotions at their own pace.
  • Be present and adaptable to their evolving needs without judgment.

Self-reflection for better support

  • Address personal conflicts or struggles privately through counseling or support groups.
  • Be honest about your feelings and seek advice and answers to better support yourself and others.
  • Ensure your support remains genuine and unwavering by managing your reactions and biases.

Additional points to consider

  • Recognize the significance of being an ally—it’s not just a role but a commitment to stand by the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Foster relationships that are built on trust, respect, and mutual support.
  • Remember, advocacy and support are not just actions but a reflection of your values and the truth you stand for in the world.

Additional support for you or your friends

If you or someone you know is navigating the complexities of coming out and needs support, Anchor Light Therapy Collective is here to help. Our dedicated professionals are committed to providing compassionate and confidential care to address any questions, concerns, or emotional challenges you may be facing. Whether you’re seeking understanding, support, or guidance on how to be a better ally, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Contact Anchor Light Therapy Collective today to ensure that your journey or your support for others is informed, respectful, and nurturing. We also offer virtual counseling for your convenience and increased access when you, or a loved one, need to talk to somebody. Together, we can make a significant positive impact.

The Path Forward Together

A thoughtful and encouraging response can profoundly influence the journey of someone who comes out. In our community, support extends beyond the moment of disclosure to encompass continuous advocacy and assistance for LGBTQ+ individuals. True allyship involves prioritizing the needs and well-being of LGBTQ+ people and showing, through consistent actions, that our support remains steadfast—regardless of our personal feelings or external pressures.

Whether you are exploring your identity individually, or navigating the dynamics of a relationship, Anchor Light Therapy Collective is here to support every step of your journey. Offering LGBTQ+ couples counseling & therapy, we provide a safe and nurturing environment for all members of the community. Remember, our actions and words have significant power. Let’s ensure they always reflect compassion, understanding, and unwavering support. As we move forward together, let us continue to learn, advocate, and stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

[1] Silk, S., & Goldman, B. 2024). Supporting grief: Support in, complain out. Speaking Grief. https://speakinggrief.org/get-better-at-grief/supporting-grief/ring-theory

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