Everyone holds multiple identities that are important to them. These identities have to do with one’s race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, age and much more. We want to be comfortable sharing our identities with those we love. But for some, this can be a scary experience.
Those in the LGBTQ+ community may be more hesitant to share their identities of gender or sexual orientation with loved ones out of the concern that they will be rejected. The differing opinions on these identities and the reality that some people in this community are rejected by friends and family have caused increased mental health struggles and rates of suicidal ideation for individuals who identify as LGBTQ+.
Because the mental health challenges these individuals face are largely caused by discrimination, rejection and the fear of rejection, we must be prepared to support our loved ones who come out as LGBTQ+.
The Dos and Don’ts of supporting a loved one that comes out
- Listen. The first, easiest and most effective thing to do is listen. Your loved one may be willing to share a sentence or a whole narrative about their disclosure to you – either way, it’s worth being a captive audience. If you are a part of each other’s lives, you’ll have plenty of time to respond and engage, but hear them first.
- Reaffirm the relationship. Even if you are unsure of what exactly your loved one’s disclosure will look like moving forward, you can assure them that it does not change how you feel about them. “It’s okay” and “I love you” go a long way toward making them feel safe and comfortable.
- Ask to ask. Wanting to know more is natural and shows acceptance early on, but it can be overwhelming. Ask your loved one if they are open to your questions, as they may not be ready to unpack all of their thoughts with you right away. Allow them to set the boundaries they want and then follow their lead.
- Be patient. Most of us are constantly on a journey to better understand and express ourselves, and LGBTQ+ folks are no different. Their journey may include many different directions, U-turns and stops, but trust them to lead their journey in the direction that’s best for them.
- Learn the complexities of gender and sexuality. Gender and sexual identity exist on a spectrum. While some identities can fit into a specific box that we can label, others do not. If your person identifies as something you don’t quite understand, do some research and be open to asking more. Be prepared to admire the different perspectives that you didn’t know existed.
- Be prepared to make mistakes.Coming out isn’t a quick and easy process. But as long as you are being patient with your loved one, they will be patient with you and not hold your mistakes against you.
- Invite yourself in. After someone lets you into their life in a deeper way such as this, it is easy to get carried away and try to be overly involved. You want to be careful to not disclose what they’ve told you to anyone else. Outing someone, even if well-intentioned or by accident, can be damaging to the person if they’re not in a safe place for that to be known and damaging to your relationship with them. Commit to supporting them on their own terms and follow their lead.
- Get too “in your head” about what to say. There are obvious words that we should avoid to show respect to people in this community, but you don’t have to walk on eggshells around your loved one. There will likely be some awkward exchanges or miscommunications, but these can be worked through with mutual respect and acceptance.
- Assume too much. Don’t assume that your loved one is just going through a phase. Don’t assume that you know exactly what they’re going through, as each coming out experience is different. Don’t assume you are the perfect ally. Don’t assume they’re ready to come out to everyone or, conversely, that you were the first one they came out to. Listen to them to stay on the same page, and don’t try to hasten their public transition faster than they wish
Remember, this as you listen to person coming out. . . They are probably very afraid of telling you, but they are sharing this facet of their life with you. Be there for him or her.