How Should I React to a Coming Out? (Guide For Relatives)

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Coming out as a queer person to relatives (you in this case) is often not easy. But it can be just as challenging to be on the other side and respond appropriately to a coming out.

While the person coming out to you may have been working towards this moment for years - you probably haven't had that much time to think about it. Often it comes completely unexpected and you can easily feel overwhelmed.

If you're reading this guide, we're just going to assume that you want to be as supportive as possible. In fact, it's not easy to know what to say and how to say it - but that's why we're here for you!

Here we tell you which reactions to a coming out are appropriate and which are not (and which are just totally tasteless, because those exist too).

Don't Say You Always Suspected It

This reaction is often received very differently. On the one hand, there are queer people who find this reaction liberating and encouraging, but for others it gives them the feeling of having totally failed in the past. Many LGBTQ+ people try to hide themselves for a long time, which involves an extreme amount of effort and worry. "I always knew!" is not what you want to hear then. Therefore, it is better to leave this point out for now, unless the person asks you directly if you already had suspicions or a hunch.

Thank Them For Their Trust

For example, "I'm very glad you told me" would be an appropriate response. This way you can tell the person how you feel about it without drawing all the attention to yourself and also validate their courage in telling you. "Everything will be fine. You don't have to worry. I'm always here for you" - sounds a bit cliché, but can completely change the other person's life in just 3 sentences.

Don't Ask If They Fancy You Now

No, just don't do that. Firstly, you'll draw all the attention back to yourself and secondly, you'll reinforce stereotypes, such as that all gay men are into all other men. 

Don't Say It Doesn't Matter

Because it does for them! We understand you, often this statement is meant to be positive, yet there is a chance that it will make the person feel rejected. Many LGBTQ+ people want a reaction - after all, it really is a big step for them. For example, you could respond with "I just want you to be happy. Are you?" This conveys just as well that the coming out doesn't change anything for you, but still has an appreciative undertone.

Ask If They Want to Talk More About It

Coming out often involves a lot of effort. Therefore, the person who comes out to you may want to talk about something else or withdraw completely after the bombshell has dropped. A good reaction from you would be, for example, "Do you want to talk more about this? We don't have to, of course, but I'm here to listen if you want". 

Ask If They Have Told Others And How It Went

You are probably not the first person and they have already come out to other people. Ask how it went and how they reacted. This will give you a good idea of how best to react. You could try to pick up on the positive reactions, but definitely not (accidentally) do the negative ones yourself. 

Offer Accommodation

If they have already come out to others and it did not go well, this could also have an impact on their living situation (e.g. because he/she/they needs some distance from the parents for the time being). If you have the opportunity, you could offer them to stay with you for a while. Alternatively, you can offer to help them find accommodation. 

Don't Say It's Just a Phase.

Seriously, just don't do it.

Don't Be Offended That You're Only Finding Out Now

Many people may have gotten the news before you. Don't be offended - just because it took a while for the LGBTQ+ person to tell you doesn't mean they don't care about you. You might also be the first person to know and you think it's stupid that you're only finding out now. Always keep in mind that coming out is a very difficult step for many people - it has nothing to do with you!

Be as Honest as Possible Without Being Negative

You are allowed to share your concerns and worries openly. For example, if you are concerned that being gay will not make life easier, share this concern honestly with the other person. However, avoid any comments that draw attention back to yourself, such as why coming out will make YOUR life so much harder, or things like that.

You Are Allowed Time to Process!

It is completely normal and okay if you need a few days to think about the coming out. What does it mean for his/her/their life? How will it affect our friendship? These are very normal thoughts! Tell the person honestly that you need a little time and get back to them when you are ready to talk. 

These tips can help you respond appropriately to a queer person's coming out. Ultimately, of course, each of us is unique and you must decide for yourself which of these tips you would like to implement and how. One thing we would like to say is that please be sure to put negative comments aside for now. If you are angry or think the decision is wrong, talk to the person a few days later, but let them have their important coming out moment. Don't tell them how unhappy you are or project your concerns onto them. If you really have massive objections, then you have to ask yourself what is more important to you: your prejudices and (religious) views or this person who has just put her trust in you?

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OurComingOut.com is a project by us - the RainbowWarriors. We are a virtual youth movement by & for queer youth and young adults. As a strong team, we work together to advocate for LGBTQ+ & mental health issues.