Coming out – the process of revealing your sexual or gender identity to others around you – can be terrifying. Yet in an effort to live authentically, congruently, and freely, it is necessary to divulge certain very personal pieces of information with loved ones. We unfortunately live in a “heteronormative” society, which means that others assume that a person is straight or cis until informed otherwise. Acceptance and understanding has grown immensely, and no longer is sexuality or gender identity pathologized by mainstream medicine. Yet continued work is to be done, and well-meaning family members, friends, and supports are wanting guidance on how to support someone who comes out to them.
The instinct that people may have, when a person has the courage to come out, is to minimize the experience. “Oh, that’s no big deal to me.” Or maybe, “I already knew.” The intention is admirable – wanting to offer reassurance, wanting to make the other person feel comfortable. Yet that takes away from the courage and the importance behind the communication. Instead, say something like, “It means so much that you could trust me with this” or ask “What do you need from me right now?”
The process of coming out, and the reactions that coming out is met with, has changed significantly. No longer are threats of conversion therapy – an increasingly condemned practice viewed as harmful – or being kicked out of the family considered the “expected reaction.” No longer, though, is coming out just reserved for gay or bisexual individuals. People are coming out as gender non-conforming, and transgender. Close friends and family members are joining their loved one, offering support as extended family, friends, colleagues, and schoolmates learn about their loved ones’ authentic selves.
Despite the growth and awareness, those that identify as LGBTQ+ still face harassment and bullying, and increased risks for substance abuse, depression, homelessness, and suicidality. It is critical to offer unconditional support and acceptance at home, but also to create pockets of safety, security, and support through support groups, frank discussions, and active advocacy. Some parents and caregivers go a step further, offering this type of support not just to their own kids and family members, but to those who may not receive the acceptance that they need from their homes.
We’ve come so far in understanding the many facets and dynamics of a sexual and gender identity spectrum. As acceptance and understanding becomes more of an expectation, we have a responsibility to offer support and respect. For more on help and understanding when someone you care about comes out, contact us! We are here to help.