How to Respond to Someone Coming Out: A Comprehensive Guide

Someone came out to you as one or more of the letters of LGBTQIAP+. You want to show your support but also you don’t want to say the wrong thing. Help!! (Lots of queer people also face this problem when other people come out to them, so this guide is also for you!)

Well, I polled my queer friends, and also I am Very Good at this, so I am obviously an authority on the subject. Full disclosure: once I high-fived somebody upon finding out he was gay. Another time I said “NICE!!!!!!!!!!”

Why come out? Possible reasons:

  • We want you to know. Unfortunately, our world is cishet-until-proven-innocent. Not explicitly coming out can feel like hiding.
  • Self-acceptance. Being out requires a level of self-acceptance that increases every time we come out
  • We want you to use our pronouns/name, if you are currently using incorrect ones
  • Visibility. We come out because we can, for those who cannot. We come out to put a face on what might have until now been an abstract theoretical issue for you. We come out for those who are questioning.

How big of a deal is it? Edited to add this section based on further thoughts from a friend. I wrote this a while ago and from a perspective of a gender coming out, so most of the rest of this thing assumes it’s a pretty big deal, but also maybe a small acknowledgement is all you need in this situation.

“Part of it also comes from the context of, is this a big deal to the person coming out, which you may or may not know. Coming out happens again and again and again and again in different situations, some of them may be bigger deals than others. As somebody who is out already and comfortable in most situations, I personally like the non-reaction, something along the lines of “oh, that’s cool” and would personally avoid making a big deal out of it since it’s not new to me. But if it’s a situation where it may be a bigger deal (person not yet widely out, or it’s a more risky context to come out in) something additional to honour that goes a long way. Acknowledging them with celebration (“thanks for letting me know”, “I’m happy you feel comfortable telling me that”) is great, or asking non-intrusive and non-stereotyping questions as a follow up (“that’s cool, are you seeing anyone?” but not “that’s cool, will you help me go shopping?”)”

Also, how big of a deal is it to you? You def shouldn’t make it about yourself or use ignorance as an excuse for shitty behaviour, but if this is the first queer person you’ve met and/or this is something you are unfamiliar with, there’s no need to try to “play it cool” or pretend not to be completely confused if you are. It’s okay if you know nothing about “the transgenders”, go read up/ask questions/watch these amazing videos, we’ll love you no matter what (prolly) :p

There is no wrong way to show love and support. If that’s what you are going for, you’re on the right track. If you don’t know what to say, also just express some love and support, especially if it’s the person’s first few times coming out. I think that if you are responding from a place of love, there’s no need to worry so much about saying the wrong thing.

Good: “Lots of love and support for you”+hugs. It might feel awkward to say, and they might not seem like they need it, but it’s always good to hear it explicitly said.

Good: “Congrats on figuring that out!” It’s hard to figure these things out. If this is a new thing, congratulations and celebration are in order.

Good: something friendly like “alright, got it!”, “sure!”, “of course!” if someone is just informing you of their pronouns and not coming out per se, e.g. in a pronoun round or when meeting you for the first time, OR you don’t feel love for the person (haha). Use your judgement of your relationship with the person.

Meh: “ok. (INSTANT SUBJECT CHANGE)” This happens SO MUCH. Maybe you are afraid of making it seem like a big deal, and so you brush it off instead of expressing the love/support that you actually feel. It IS a big deal. Coming out is scary. Love is never unappreciated. You know that you are supportive, but how do we know if you don’t tell us? Please let us know  :).

Related meh: “it doesn’t matter to me”. Likely same motivation as previous. If what you actually mean is “don’t worry I don’t hate you” or “I love you unconditionally”, say that. But being queer isn’t a defect that you have to benevolently overlook, it’s who we are, and likely something we want you to acknowledge, seeing as how we are telling you about it.

Bad: (silence). Some people are so unsure of what to do they end up doing nothing. Then I’m like, did they hear me/read the message? Did they die of shock? Are they never talking to me ever again?? Do they just not care? Was it inappropriate to say that at that time? WHAT DID I DO WRONG TELL MEEEEEEEE

Meh: “oh, I know. (end of convo)” If someone is reasonably open, you might hear about it from various sources, especially if pronouns are involved. But maybe it is important for them that you hear it from them directly. It’s an okay thing to say but follow it up with the love and support thing, to honour the fact that they are coming out to you right now.

Meh: “I knew it!!” If you’re not queer you don’t get to brag about your gaydar. If you are queer, you can say that I guess but follow it up with the love and support thing, to honour the fact that they are coming out to you right now.

Bad: Doubt the person. Make gross jokes. Question their identity. Ask if they are sure. Argue about grammar. Disown them.

You are NEVER entitled to know about somebody’s gender or sexuality. Being told is an honour. Not being told is not dishonesty. We come out to different people at different times for all sorts of reasons. You will be told when the person is ready.

Good: “thanks for telling me!”

Bad: “thanks for being honest with me.” Ew. Also see the next point.

Bad: “why didn’t you tell me earlier???” + making it about you and your feelings. It (probably) wasn’t personal, chill out. Maybe that’s why they didn’t tell you earlier #justsaying.

Being queer is not an unfortunate disease or inconvenience or dirty secret.

Good: “cool!”, “congrats!”, baking a cake. Both coming out and discovering your identity are hard. Celebrate accordingly.

Bad: “thanks for being honest with me”

Bad: “oh………”

Use caution: offers of help such as “I’m here to talk if you need me.” This is an okay/good thing to say, and I appreciate the sentiment, but shouldn’t be the first thing you say, unless the person is telling you this while also telling you about how they are in a bad place etc. Like, don’t assume that my life will be bad just cos I’m queer??? (but this is perfectly acceptable if you are also queer)

If you have questions. It’s okay to have questions, especially if this is the first time a queer/trans/nb person is coming out to you. I feel like sometimes some people are completely confused and have no clue what I just said, but are scared to ask. If it’s something you can google, do that. Otherwise, ask yourself if it is an appropriate question. If yes, and they invited you to ask questions, go for it. If unsure, ask “can I ask you about ….?”, and if they say no, stop right there.

Logistical things. Here are the questions you should probably ask: if it was a gender thing with no clarification of name/pronouns, ask about that. If necessary, clarify the contexts in which someone is out, so that you don’t accidentally “out” them (i.e. disclose their gender identity/sexuality to someone else). For example, someone may request different pronouns around different people if they’re not out to them yet. Clarify if they want you to notify/correct other people, and keep them in the loop if you do. Don’t assume any of these things. Do not randomly out them. This is so important it gets its own point.

Do not out anyone without their explicit permission/request. Ever. For any reason. Even if they “seem open about it” and post about it on Facebook. Especially not for argument points. “Well Max is gay and he says…” fuck you forever. Outting people might put them in danger, because discrimination and hate are still things that exist. Secondly, it’s their story to tell, when they are ready to tell it. They are the only one who gets to decide when and who to tell it to, regardless of your opinion on how harmless you might think it is.

Additional notes about names/pronouns. Just try your best. If you mess up, correct yourself and move on. Practise in your head or out loud. There’s no need to say “I will probably mess up”. We know you will. It’s okay to say “please feel free to interrupt me if I mess up”, so that we know that’s a thing we can do, but don’t make it our job to correct you.

In conclusion, bake them a cake. Can’t go wrong with cake. Alright here’s a script “Hey cool/awesome/nice/great, thanks for sharing! I love and support you and I’m happy for you! *hugs*” Done.

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How to Respond to Someone Coming Out: A Comprehensive Guide

2 thoughts on “How to Respond to Someone Coming Out: A Comprehensive Guide

  1. Tom says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with you here. Of course its not good if someone says “Ok.” and then changes the topic, but saying “ok” is the best response I have received. And then proceeding to listen to what I have to say. The best type of coming out is when the person asks me no questions, genuinely accepts me and gladly obliges with my pronouns and name.

    Like

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