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What Do I Do When Someone Comes Out to Me?

Most people in our society have been taught to fear, despise, or hate people who are LGBTQ. All of us have been exposed to a vast amount of negative, derogatory, and inaccurate information about people who are LGBTQ. When someone comes out to you, they share the information about their sexual orientation or gender identity with a keen awareness of the risks involved: the risk of losing their relationship with you, the risk of being rejected, the risk of being misunderstood, and many other risks. Unless you have given some indication of your feelings or beliefs about sexual orientation, they may have no way of knowing in advance whether your reaction will be positive or negative. There are a variety of contexts in which someone might decide to come out to you.

What are some situations in which someone might come out to you?

• They may have chosen to come out to you because you are a close friend, roommate, or family member, and they want to have an honest and genuine relationship with you.
• They may feel you are a person who will be understanding and accepting, and so trust you with this very personal information.
• They may not be sure how you will react, but they prefer to be honest and are tired of putting time and energy into hiding their identity.
• They may decide to come out to you before they really know you, in order to establish an honest rela tionship from the beginning.
• They may come out to you because some aspect of your professional relationship makes it diffi cult to continue to hide their sexual orientation.
• They may come out to you because you are in aposition to assist them with a concern, determine their access to certain resources, or address policies which impact their life.

When someone comes out to you, the news may come as a total surprise, you may have already considered the possibility that this person might be LGBTQ, or it may not be important to you one way or the other.

How might someone feel after someone comes out to them?

• Scared
• Wondering why the person came out
• Shocked
• Supportive
• Disbelieving
• Flattered
• Uncomfortable
• Honored
• Not sure what to say
• Angry
• Not sure what to do next
• Disgusted

The way in which a person who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer chooses to come out to others often reflects how they feel about their sexual orientation. The more positive responses the person receives to their news, the more comfortable they will feel with their identity, and the easier it will become for them to come out to others in the future. How you react to their disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity can help them out of the closet — or keep them in.

What persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer have been told about their sexual orientation . . . and what you should not say:

• You’re just going through a phase.
• It’s just because you’ve never had a relationship with someone of the opposite sex.
• You can’t be gay — you’ve had relationships with people of the opposite sex.
• You can’t be a lesbian — you’re too pretty!
• You’re just depressed.
• You’re just confused.
• Maybe you can find a therapist who can help you get over this.

Ways you can help when someone comes out to you:

Remember that the person has not changed. They are still the same person you knew before; you just have more information about them than you did before. If you are shocked, don’t let the shock lead you to view the person as suddenly different. Don’t ask questions that would have been considered rude within the relationship before their disclosure. If you would like more information, ask in an honest and respectful way. If you show a genuine and respectful interest in their life, they will most likely appreciate it.

Some good questions to ask are:

• How long have you known you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer?
• Are you seeing anyone special?
• Has it been hard for you carrying this secret?
• Is there some way I can help you?
• Have I ever offended you unknowingly?

Don’t assume in advance that you know what it means for them to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Every person’s experience is different. They may not want you to necessarily do anything. They may just need someone to listen. Consider it an honor that they have trusted you with this very personal information. Thank them for trusting you. Clarify with them what level of confidentiality they expect from you. They may not want you tell anyone at all. They may be out to others and not be concerned with who finds out. If you don’t understand something or have questions, remember that persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer often are willing to help you understand their life experiences. If you find yourself reacting negatively, remember that your feelings may change. Try to leave the door open for future communication.

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