National Coming Out Day: How not to react
It’s National Coming Out Day! Closet doors up and down the country are being wrenched off their hinges and brand-new LGBTs are taking their tentative steps on the Yellow Brick Road.
If they’re lucky, it all goes well, but let’s make no bones about this: coming out is hella difficult whether you’re doing it at 15 or 50 and you – yes, you – owe it to these brand new members of “the club” to make it as easy as you can.
So to help me help you help them, here are some of the worst things we hear when we come out, and why. (Don’t worry; I tell you what you should say later on.)
1. “Sorry ladies/boys! They’re gay!”
This is a popular one in the media when someone comes out as gay and is therefore immediately unavailable to the opposite sex. Never mind that it reduces the person to little more than an object of fantasy and devalues their own personal journey and makes it about their usefulness to others, eh?
Here’s a hard truth for anyone straight who finds themselves suddenly out of range of a newly gay celebrity – they probably wouldn’t have shagged you anyway.
2. “Yay! He’s on our team!”
It’s not just straight people who get coming out all wrong, you know, so there’s no need to sit looking all smug over there, gays.
You may mean it in a sweet way, but claiming ownership of someone who’s just come out again makes it all about you, and not them. It’s meant with the best of intentions, sure, and is supposed to be inclusive, but this guy or girl has spent God knows how long thinking they’re different, and wanting to explore that. Now you’re telling them they’re part of a huge club that, let’s face it, doesn’t have the most amazing membership privileges. Let them find their own way.
3. “KNEW it! You could so tell!”
Congratulations! Thing is, maybe they didn’t know or were trying their best to ‘pass’ as straight. You’ve been sitting there all along, having worked out the mystery, well done. But this was not your case to solve. Back off, Jessica.
4. “What a waste. You could have your pick of the lads/girls.”
It isn’t a gay person’s responsibility to make themselves available for straight people to date/screw/wank over. So you’re out of contention, but there are plenty of lads and girls we’re still interested in. It’s no waste, baby, believe me.
5. “Take me SHOPPING!”
Usually one for the gay men. Look, the whole point of being gay – like 97% of the reason we want to go out with men, even above sex – is we want to avoid having to go shopping with ladies.
Yes, Gok Wan loves it, and so do a couple other gay guys you know, but guess what? Many of us don’t! Our shopping bag is small and there’s no room in it to critique your dress sense. Wear what you want; you’ll look great! And you shouldn’t need a gay man to tell you that.
7. “I know the PERFECT guy/girl for you.”
We all miss Auntie Cilla, but now she’s gone to that magical seat 1A in the sky, it doesn’t mean your matchmaking skills are required.
Not all gay people fancy each other – in fact when they first come out they’re likely to run screaming from sex with anybody – and to lump us all together is kiiiind of insulting.
Also, when it comes to our first few dalliances, we’re going to screw things up SO badly. It’s unavoidable. It’s probably best if we have these starter flings outside our social circle, not through friends-of-friends. That way, when it all goes horribly wrong we can pretend it never happened and erase them from our minds. And lives.
8. “You totally can’t tell you’re gay.”
Cool. And if you could, would it make my coming-out any less meaningful?
A lot of gay people – men especially, I feel, but apologies if I’m getting this wrong – would be thrilled to hear this. I was, back in the day. But what you are saying here is that it’s somehow intrinsically important to have ‘straight’ mannerisms or a ‘hetero’ look. Sure, it will make coming out easier at first, but we shouldn’t congratulate anyone on being able to hide it. It’s not a treasure hunt.
If you couldn’t tell, you couldn’t tell. Awesome. But we don’t care.
9. “Well, DUH.”
A rather less elegant version of “I always knew!” – thanks for reducing the hardest decision of my life to a shrug of the shoulders and making it all about how smart you are.
10. “Are you the man or the woman?”
11. “Maybe it’s a phase.”
Maybe. Probably not, though, eh? You don’t think this is the very first time we’ve thought about this, do you? That halfway down the stairs or just as you were ordering that pizza we had a lightbulb moment: “HEY! I might try being gay for a bit!”
This moment, however random the delivery, however arbitrary the location, no matter how badly put together it all feels, is not a snap decision, a moment of madness. We have ruminated, brooded and worried about this for months, years, decades even. Don’t tell us we don’t know what we’re doing. Right now is all we know.
Phase? Maybe you’re a phase.
12. “Are you sure? Have you actually… y’know?”
I don’t need to eat a dog turd to know I won’t like it, just like I don’t need to have swung on a dong to know I prefer them.
I tried being straight for years and it was interesting in an “Oh well I guess I can just pretend this is what I want for ever, because it’s only life and who cares, eh?” kind of way. But I knew something wasn’t right. And I didn’t kiss a guy until I was 22.
If someone is telling you this news, they’re pretty sure, or are looking to you for reassurance. Don’t crap on it.
13. “This will kill your father/grandmother.”
Ah well, something had to.
14. “Do you want to go clubbing?”
YES! But that’s not why we came out. Thanks for the offer, though.
15. “You’re bi? Doesn’t that just mean gay?”
No, it means bi. Sometimes I do what you would call gay stuff and sometimes I do what you’d call straight stuff, but to me it’s just stuff and it’s not for you to try to reclassify me because it helps you understand better.
And, no, being bi doesn’t make me any more likely to cheat than you. I have more options, but I’m not a dog on heat.
So I’ve smacked you on the nose and told you not to poo on the parlour steps again, but what about how you should do it? Surely I can stretch to that, right? Sure I can. A few things you can say that might make it easier.
“I’m so glad you told me.”
Be clear that you’re honoured they trusted you. They might want to hug you, they might not. Open your arms anyway and see what happens.
“Do you want to talk now or leave it for a bit?”
Often, despite best intentions, the coming-outer might just blurt it out rather than give the considered statement they’d prepared in their head. They might be shocked at what they’ve just done. They may not want to talk about it right now. Just wait, they’ll come round eventually.
“Do you need me to do anything? Or just listen?”
Don’t assume this is necessarily a problem they want you to fix. Often, they just need to tell someone, to hear it out loud, from their own mouth, to know they’re not going mad. Listening is good.
“Do you need somewhere safe to go?”
Often coming out comes with risks. Not all families are pleased to hear one of Dorothy’s pals has been hiding in the second bedroom all along. If you can, offer them a space. Whether it’s a few hours a day in your kitchen or a sofa for a few nights, it can make all the difference. Even if, on the surface of it, you think their family might be supportive, still offer. Families can be secretive, distrustful entities – all may not be as it appears.
“Who have you told? What did they say?”
You might not be the first. They may have already had a difficult coming-out with someone else. Talk over this with them and, if it went badly, learn from it and if it went well, outdo it.
You’ll be brilliant, I know it. Good luck. x
I write an online advice column for the wonderful Gay Times and am here to help if you have any dilemmas on love, life, relationships or macramé. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (marking your email for my attention) or fill in the form on this page. It’s all confidential and I’m proper serious about it – no GIFs to anything.