Much as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) people are now widely established in their rightful place in many of our communities, when someone close to you “comes out” it can still be an uncomfortable journey for them and their families.
You may well feel, as I have done many times when a friend or family member of mine has come out, that you want to drop them a note to show that you care. Whether you are gay, straight or any other gender identity, the process for your friends and relatives who are “coming out” may be challenging for them – even though in our enlightened times it should not be so. Sadly what “should be” is often very different from the reality.
Whatever your gender, do you know what to write to your “coming out” friend or relative?
Much as society works towards the “should be,” in the meantime we need to deal with the reality now and write what’s best to support our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Here, then, are some ideas that may help you to write what may well be welcome in the circumstances.
13 key points to think about when writing to someone who has just come out as LGBTQ
1.If you don’t quite “approve,” shut up. No matter how much you want to be “modern” and accepting of LGBTQ people, if you’re even a bit sniffy about it that will shine through whatever you say in your note, email, letter, or whatever. If you can’t offer genuine acceptance, it’s better to say nothing until you can offer it.
2.Don’t patronise or talk down to them. It’s not like they have just been awarded a gold star for being the best soccer player in the school. If you are a straight person, remember that coming out as LGBTQ may well be a harder thing to do than you ever will have experienced. Respect them for their courage.
3.If you have found out about them unofficially, be very careful. Whoever told you may think it’s public knowledge, but they could be wrong. And there is nothing worse than receiving a message about something as sensitive as this – even if it is totally well-meaning – when the person coming out is not prepared to receive it. It also doesn’t help if they feel, understandably, that they should not need support, given that most of us no longer view such gender issues as requiring specific, abnormal attention.
4.Show that you understand it may have been tough, without going into detail. Even if you know the circumstances well – e.g. you are members of the same family – don’t rub in all the gory details of how Auntie June will come around eventually or Cousin Bob is a bigoted old f*rt so don’t pay attention to him. The person concerned knows all this already.
If you would like some professional help with how to come out, please check out this page on the UK Stonewall website.
5.If you know there will be religious implications, ask if this is a personal issue. Your family / community may feel that the person coming out is offending their Faith, but the person may not give two hoots. If they don’t, you don’t even need to raise the religion issue. If it is an issue for them, you will find out soon enough and if appropriate, you can try to help.
6.Applaud first, commiserate later. Even if the person concerned has been through a tough time, you – as their caring friend or relative – should focus on the positive first and foremost. After all, it is an achievement to be proud of, in many ways.
7.Above all, congratulate and celebrate. Recognise, as you’ve seen above, that coming out – even in the most informed and tolerant families and communities – is one of life’s milestones. Usually, your recognition of this will be welcome.
8.Demonstrate that this will make no difference to your current relationship. And how to do that? Don’t even suggest nonsense like “don’t worry, we will still be friends” or “never mind, you’re still my cousin…” of course they will be. So don’t bring it up. Instead, as appropriate, suggest that they give you a shout if they want to meet for a coffee, drink, brunch, etc., to catch up casually. (If there’s any doubt that you wouldn’t still be friends after this, you shouldn’t even be writing to them.)
9.If you’re LGBTQ and they ask you for advice, make sure you advise them responsibly. By all means share your advice with your friend or family member, but don’t ask them to carry your own baggage. Be sure to put yourself in their shoes and offer advice that’s pertinent to their circumstances – not yours.
For more articles on how to deal with difficult and/or painful issues, click right here on HWTB
10.If you’re not LGBTQ and they ask you for advice, equally – make sure you do it properly. I’m not saying that straight people can’t offer advice in these circumstances, but in that case be aware that the challenges your friend / family member may be facing are not easy for you to identify with. In that case it’s probably better to introduce the person to another of your LGBTQ friends or relatives, and seek their advice.
11.Never forget the person you like and/or love behind the “outing.” At the end of the day, that’s all that matters: the person. And whatever gender identity that person has, they are still your friend, your family member, whoever they were before their coming out. Gender identity is only one part of being a human being; there is much more to the human psyche than that. Never forget it.
12.Help the person spread the word if they want you to. As always in such circumstances, what the person wants is what matters. If they ask you to spread the word of their coming out to your mutual friends, family members, etc., do so – but send your pal a sample of what you intend to say for their approval before you broadcast it.
13.(Lucky 13?) Whatever else you do, make it 100 percent sure they know you’re on their side. They may already have huge support from their network of family, friends and more, and I hope they do. Bu they may not. So your love and faith in them as human beings can go a long way towards supporting them in what is often a very challenging – but ultimately very rewarding – journey.
What other support can we give when we write about friends who come out?
As you may have gathered above, I’m a straight person who has many connections (including a particularly close personal one) with the LGBTQ community.
All the same I would hate that anything I have suggested in the above remarks should cause offence, hurt, or even a bit of pique.
So if you feel I have been insensitive, please say so. BUT, in that case, please be so kind as to suggest how better we can communicate without upsetting apple carts across the straight-LGBTQ rainbow. (And so sorry for mixing up metaphors…)
Please share your views!