Your friend just came out to you as gay or trans and you’re not sure what’s next. It can be hard to know what to do to support a friend who’s coming out as a member of the LGBTQ community. It can be even harder to know how to support a friend if you’re straight and cisgender (cisgender: you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth based on what your genitals look like). If you’ve been searching for ways to be there for your friend, you’re already on the right path to being a supportive friend.
It’s more than likely that your friend spent a good amount of time thinking and planning about coming out to you. This is common because there is a real fear of people being hateful and losing family and friends. Most times, a friend coming out to you means they trust you enough to do so. It can still feel very scary and even risky for your friend to come out to you.
Here’s what you need to know to help support your friend who is coming out.
Give your friend the space to express how they are feeling. Coming out is a vulnerable moment and you can be supportive even if you don’t completely understand their experience. Use active listening. Give your full attention without judgment and then reflect back what you heard to make sure you understood.
Focus on your friend, not on you
You might think of saying things like, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” “When did you know?” or “I already knew”. Don’t say these things. It sends the message that you’re not in tune with your friend’s experience. Instead, think about how your friend might be feeling when they’re coming out to you.
Don’t out your friend
Don’t assume that it’s okay to share your friend’s personal identity with other friends. This can be hurtful and invalidating to your friend’s coming out journey. It can also place your friend in danger. Do ask your friend what they are comfortable with and respect that.
If you wouldn’t ask something to your straight or cisgender friends, don’t ask it to your LGBTQ friends either. Your friend is still the same person they were before coming out and deserve the same respect. Don’t try to set your friend up with another gay person either, unless they ask you to.
Validate their identity
Learn about your friend’s way of identifying themselves. You can find the meaning of LGBTQ labels online, but each label can mean something different to each person. If your friend has chosen a label and you want to make sure you understand it, ask them if they are willing to share what it means to them. Don’t assume your friend might be confused. Do use the proper pronouns and name your friend told you to use for them.
Yep, this was a lot of information. The best thing you can do is to be there for your friend. Tell them you feel honored they shared another part of them with you. Encourage them. Keep doing the same things you like to do together. You’re an amazing friend and you can be very helpful to make them feel safe and supported.
Roxana Tefel is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Florida and the owner of Better Life Therapy. Roxana provides online therapy and in-person counseling to individual adults and teens struggling with anxiety, self-confidence, coming out and gender identity.