No two coming out stories are alike. Some people have a pretty stress-free experience letting people know they’re LGBTQ+, while for others it can be a heavy secret that weighs on their mind for a long time. With that in mind, here are some things you should really NOT say to someone who has just come out to you.
‘I always knew/called it!’
This is, how do I put it, no bueno. Even if you always did have an inkling about your friend, announcing it might make them feel really awkward and distressed. Acting like some kind of Gay Whisperer can knock someone’s confidence and undermine how hard it might have been for them to speak openly about themselves. Also, saying you ‘called it’ might make your friend feel nervous your social group were discussing it behind their backs.
Who cares, really?’
First off, the person who trusted you with this information cares. They probably care a lot, and might have been agonising over whether to tell you or not for months or maybe years. Although attitudes have definitely changed and people are by and large loads more chill and accepting of people’s sexualities, it can still feel like taking a massive gamble – it’s hardly like homo/bi/transphobia doesn’t exist anymore! Your sexuality and gender identity are big parts of who you are, so what your friend needs from you right now is support and kindness.
‘You don’t seem/look/act gay.’
Sadly, there’s no instruction manual you get sent out in the post as an LGBTQ+ person, so by saying someone ‘doesn’t act’ a certain way can make them feel invalidated and inauthentic. Just because your friend is a lesbian doesn’t automatically mean she was issued with a plaid shirt (although it is an excellent addition to any wardrobe), and a certificate of gayness.
‘You’re just doing it to be cool.’
STOP RIGHT THERE. Odds are, if your friend is letting you know about this for the first time that they’ve thought about it a lot, from when they’ll say it to the words they choose. It’s probably not the best idea to equate your friend’s bisexuality with buying a pair of fresh new Vans. Just a tip.
‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner?’
I get it, your close friend keeping a secret from you can make you feel like crap. Believe me though when I say it’s much worse when you’re vulnerable with a close person and they make it all about themselves. Who knows why they didn’t tell you – it could be internalised prejudices, a tough family situation, or maybe they just weren’t ready. And that last one is as valid as anything else.
‘What did your parents say?’
This is a tough one. Some people are blessed with lovely and accepting families who react in a positive way to them coming out. Others are not so lucky, and it might be a necessity for their own well-being to keep the knowledge from their parent/guardians for a period of time. It’s probably best to wait until they bring up the subject themselves instead of starting an interrogation.
‘It’s probably just a phase/Are you sure?’
Q: are you sure you’re straight? This kind of statement can send someone into a self-doubt spiral. It’s also good to keep in mind that you aren’t the Sexuality and Gender Police and if someone eventually identifies differently after coming out, that’s totally fine. Life is for learning and exploring and it would be a lot easier if people didn’t judge others for doing just that.
‘Does this mean you fancy me?’
If you’re straight, do you fancy everyone of the opposite sex? No? There’s your answer.
So what should I do when someone comes out to me?
It’s important to listen, especially if you’re one of the first to know. It can be hard to know what to say, but attentive listening is something your friend will really appreciate. Reinforce that you’re there for them if they need you, and let them know you’re glad they felt like they could tell you. If your friend is comfortable with it, a big hug is always lovely and calming.
Respect your friend’s privacy and the fact coming out is an ongoing process. Be an ally by challenging homophobic attitudes whenever you can, and learning about LGBTQ+ issues. Go forth, and come out as a good pal!