Supporting Those Who Coming Out
The term “coming out” (of the closet) refers to the life-long process of developing a positive lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identity. It is a long and difficult struggle for many LGBT individuals because they often have to confront the homophobia, biphobia, and/or transphobia they learned growing up.
Before they can feel good about whom they are, they have to challenge their own attitudes. For some, it takes years of painful work to develop a positive lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identity or others it may not seem to take as long…it is an individualized journey.
Each LGBT individual needs to decide when and to whom they will disclose their sexual identity. At times, they are afraid to come out to their friends, family, and coworkers.
What might lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, & transgender people be afraid of?
· Losing: friendships and family connections, closeness in relationships/friendships, their job, their children, and/or financial support from family members.
· Being: the subject of gossip, harassed, physically assaulted, and/or thrown out of the house.
Why might lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, & transgender people want to come out to others?
· To end: the secrecy and to stop wasting energy by hiding an essential part of themselves
· To feel: closer to those people, like they have integrity, and/or “whole” around them
· To make: a statement that “gay is OK”
How might lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, & transgender people feel about coming out to someone?
· Scared, Vulnerable, Relieved, Concerned about how the person will react
How might an individual feel after someone has come out to them?
· Disbelieving, Uncomfortable, Scared, Shocked, Angry, Disgusted
· Supportive, Flattered, Honored
· Not sure what to say or do next
· Wondering why the person came out
What do lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, & transgender people want from the people they come out to?
· Acceptance, Support, Understanding, Comfort, A closer relationship
· Hearing that disclosure will not negatively affect the relationship
· An acknowledgement of their feelings
· A hug and a smile
Ways that you can help when someone comes out to you:
- Remember that the person has not changed. They are still the same person you knew; you just have more information about them now than you did before. If you are shocked, don’t let the shock lead you to view the person as suddenly different.
- Don’t ask questions that would have been considered inappropriate before their disclosure.
- If you would like more information, ask in an honest and considerate way. If you show a genuine and respectful interest in their life, they will most likely appreciate it. Some good questions to ask are:
How long have you known that you are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender?, Are you seeing anyone?, Has it been hard for you having to hide your sexual identity?, Have I ever offended you unknowingly?
- Don’t assume you know what it means for the person to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Every person’s experience is different.
- They may not want you to do anything necessarily. They may just need someone to listen.
- Consider it an honor that they have trusted you with this very personal information. Thank them for trusting you.
- Clarify with them what level of confidentiality they expect from you. They may not want you to tell anyone else, or they may be out to others and not be concerned with who finds out.
- If you don’t understand something or have questions, remember that people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are often willing to help you understand their life experiences.
Edited from the Northern Illinois University Safe Zone Program, and from Vernon Wall and Jamie Washington, 1989.