Here’s a helpful guide for the friend who wants to be as supportive as possible to their BFF, who may be trying to step out of the closet. You know you want to be helpful and open-minded, but you’re not quite sure what to say. Here are some guidelines of what to say (and some definite don’ts) to the person in your life who may be trying to come out to you.
Thank them for opening up to you. It may be a little difficult to place yourself in your loved one’s shoes and fully relate to how they’re feeling, but if you need to know one thing, it’s this: it was probably so difficult and scary for this person to decide to come out to you! They may have been holding onto this secret for most of their lives. They may have been struggling with the idea of being gay and the consequences they would face if they ever decided to come out. But they did decide to come out, and they came out to you, of all the people in the world! So you should feel a little bit special. So make sure your friend knows how proud you are of them for fighting their fears and being honest with you. They definitely deserve a congratulations and a big hug.
React in a civil way, no matter how you personally feel about it. No matter how you feel about the LGBT community, you have to take a moment to realize that this person who just came out to you as a gay/bi/trans person, has been this way the entire time you have known them. If you loved them before, there’s no reason this news should change how you feel about them now. If you happen to feel uncomfortable by the news they’ve just shared with you, I urge you to at least react in a neutral, civil manner, instead of greeting this news with negativity. The news that your friend is gay might have been shocking to you, and you might need to adjust to this new information—that’s understandable. But be honest with your friend about that, don’t fake your feelings.
Have an open dialog. Now I’m sure you must have questions for your friend, and they probably have some questions for you, too! Talk it out and be real with each other. You guys are friends, after all. Maybe what your friend really needs right now is someone to listen to their thoughts and fears. Just let them know that if they ever need someone to talk to, you’re there for them.
Keep your mouth shut. The last thing you want to do now is run your mouth to anyone who will listen. It’s not your place to update everyone by sharing this news all over your Facebook and Twitter. Ask your friend if they want you to keep this a secret—it’s their decision, not yours. However, if they give you permission to help tell the rest of your squad the news, then knock yourself out.
Let me tell you a quick story…
Back in Grade 11, I had an extremely close friend come out to me one day after school. I had known him for years at this point, and he was (and continues to be) one of my best friends. But when he shared with me the news that he was gay, I was so dumbfounded by his honesty, that I completely effed up. Like, so badly. To this day I feel horrible about how I handled the situation, but thankfully he doesn’t hold it against me and it’s now something we both laugh about. So, from my own embarrassing personal experience, let me tell you what you should definitely NOT do!
Tell them it’s “just a phase.” Yup, that’s what I said to my poor friend. I didn’t mean it to come out quite like that, nor did I understand the negative connotation that was underlying in that statement. Of course it isn’t just a phase! Is your straightness a phase? Do you think that one day you’ll wake up and this phase will be over, and suddenly you’ll realize you’ve actually liked the same sex this whole time? No, I didn’t think so. So being gay is definitely not a phase, it’s definitely not a choice—it’s a part of a person’s identity. So, by asking my friend if he was “absolutely sure” he was gay, I wasn’t being a very supportive friend. If he wasn’t absolutely sure, he wouldn’t have made the painstaking decision to expose this secret about himself.
Don’t encourage them to stay in the closet. This one is huge! I look back and want to literally kick myself in the face for encouraging my friend to keep his gayness a secret. Now, understand that this didn’t come from a place of embarrassment or shame on my part—I could care less that my male friend was attracted to men. More power to him. Now we could scope out boys together. The news didn’t bother me one bit. So why did I give that horrible advice?
Truthfully, I was terrified for my friend. Like I said, I had known him since we were kids. We both grew up in the same neighborhood, a block away from each other. I knew his childhood guy friends that he had grown up with. We both had similar upbringings, and the same cultural background. So when he told me he was gay, the first emotion I felt was fear. I was so scared for my friend. I knew what this news would bring for him. And sadly, I knew that it would mean more hardships and obstacles for him. His family, most of whom were immigrants, were pretty religious and old-fashioned. I worried about how they would handle the news that he was gay. I knew many of his other friends. They didn’t seem very open-minded. Would they still want to hang out with him once they knew he was gay?
Although I was right to fear for my friend (he did face many obstacles once he completely came out), looking back on it now, I can see clearly that I should have never let my fear dictate my reaction. Sure, he’s dealt with his fair share of haters, but he’s become the strong, independent man he is today because of it. Never back away from doing something important just because it’s going to be difficult.
And my final bit of advice to you…
Stand up to bullies. I was afraid to have my friend share his truth because I was wary of the backlash he would face. What a shame, that someone should have to hide a huge part of their personality just because it isn’t fully accepted or celebrated in our society. So, I encourage you to be the change you wish to see in the world! Stand up and speak out against bullies. Show your support for the LGBT community and let them know that despite the fact that there will always be hateful individuals in this world, there are far more people who love and support them! Let your friend know that no matter what adversity they might face, you’ll always be there beside them.