Here at Your Other Brothers, we’ve shared advice for coming out, but what if someone comes out to you? I’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of pointers and things to keep in mind when someone comes out to you. I came up with these suggestions with straight friends in mind, based on observation and past experience. But with some wisdom and consideration I think they can be adapted to a variety of relations — family, coworkers, students, etc.
So, your friend has texted you something enigmatic about meeting up and has been weirdly picky about where to meet. Maybe REALLY weirdly picky.
After some complex diplomacy during which you somehow divined that you weren’t supposed to bring your significant other, here you two are, sitting in Chick-fil-A or a bar or the dorm common room or a coffee shop which neither of you love but is mutually convenient (it probably has the word “Bean” and/or a facile pun in its name), and your friend has just worked up the guts to tell you that he is gay or she is lesbian or same-sex-attracted or bi or something.
It may not be a surprise to you; you may have suspected it since day one. Or it might be a surprise!
(In which case: Surprise!)
Either way, I’d advise against your mentioning how surprising or unsurprising this admission is. Here are four bits of advice I can offer as someone who’s been in your friend’s position many times.
1. Listen humbly.
Probably the best first thing you can say to someone once he’s said all he wants to say is: “Thank you for trusting me with this.”
You may want to add, “I feel honored,” if it’s true.
Ask questions without an agenda.
How long has he recognized this part of himself? Was it difficult for her to come to terms with? What made him decide to come out? Is there anything else she wishes you’d ask?
What you ask the other person, exactly, doesn’t matter as long as it’s not asking him or her to speculate what the future holds or is directed toward resolving his or her sexuality against, say, your faith.
What matters is that you give this person the chance to talk it out.
Your friend probably has a lot of thoughts and emotions bottled up after longing for someone to talk with about this stuff. You have the opportunity to serve by listening and prompting.
If you are worried about your questions offending, simply say that, and say that you welcome pushback on your questions.
Your friend is probably more worried about losing your friendship than you are about offending him. Asking questions will develop a conversation which will help reassure him of your love and support.
2. Offer to plan to talk about it again.
One of the most disheartening things in coming out to someone is for this someone to act like it never happened the next day. Back in my coming-out-to-individuals days, this happened a few times. I don’t think those people didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I think they just didn’t know what I was hoping for, or perhaps they didn’t want me to feel like my coming out had changed our relationship.
But I was hoping for something new or different.
Your friend would not be coming out to you if she were happy with the status quo. You may be leery of making her feel reduced to her sexuality by talking about it too much or to the exclusion of the other things on which you’ve already built your friendship. This is wise.
However, don’t leave the burden on your friend to bring up her sexuality over and over again. Perhaps a good way to navigate this balance is to ask her when she’d want to talk about it again.
You don’t need to set a singular or regular appointment. Just get an idea for how often you can check back without either of you feeling like it’s dominating your relationship.
Which brings me to . . .
3. Accept that some things might change.
Like I said above, your friend wouldn’t be coming out to you if he were happy with the status quo. Over time, you can discover how your friendship can grow and change to support him.
While you may want to promise your friend your continued friendship, I would encourage against promising him, “Nothing will change.”
I think this sets up unrealistic expectations on both sides. Maybe some things in the friendship can change for the better now that you know him better!
4. Look for good ways to incorporate touch into this time.
I wish more people (especially men) understood how powerful their touch is. In a coming out situation, touch can be powerfully healing and reassuring.
When you’re not straight, it’s so easy to feel like your body is unwanted, evil, toxic — that you’re unwanted, evil, toxic. The amazing thing about touch is that it can dispel this lie on a level too deep for mere words to reach: gut-deep, bone-deep.
I don’t have many practical recommendations here if you’re not both guys. Certainly, if you are a male but the person coming out to you is a female, this is something to treat very carefully.
But if you are both guys, I’d say there is like a 98% chance he is desperate for touch from you that will dispel that toxic lie — but he may not ask for it.
If touch is not currently part of your relationship, when you think things in the conversation are wrapping up, ask if you can give your friend a hug.
Hug for as long as you’re comfortable and then for five additional seconds (ten if you’re a REAL man).
If you’re the praying type, ask if you can put your arm around his shoulders while praying together.
If you neglect touch, you risk labeling the encounter as just a meeting of minds and not a meeting of whole people.
And there you have it! The best advice I have to offer when someone comes out to you. Now get out there and have some awkward conversations!
Has someone ever come out to you, regardless of your own sexuality? How did you respond to this coming out? What other suggestions or advice would you add to this list?
Haha loved this blog Ryan. I laughed out loud when you mentioned that “friend specifying an oddly specific place to talk” which is what I totally did when I came out to my straight friend. I said I wanted to talk to him about something important, but not until during when we go on this hike. I think a lot of these tips are helpful, especially to straight people who might not be entirely sure how to act. Touch is important too. Unfortunately I think a lot of people get it in their minds that touch might be damaging for you when its really the opposite.
Thanks! Hahaha I love all the awkward stories about this.
Yeah, I wish more men were more aware of the power of their touch. I think some need to be more aware of how powerfully harmful it can be, but most I’ve met need to be more aware of how powerfully life-giving it can be.
Good stuff, Ryan. I feel like this community can add a ton of solid insights and perspectives based on the numbers of times we’ve all come out and shared our deep, dark secrets with so many. The bit about physical touch is huge. When I came out to a ministry supervisor years ago, he hugged me not once, not twice, but three times throughout the process. Good, long holds, each one. I’d never felt so affirmed in all my life. To this day it’s probably the most powerful touch I’ve ever experienced with another man.
My pastor once led a group on counseling and how counselors are trained not to be surprised by anything. Whatever the client shares, regardless of how truly shocking it is, that expression of surprise should never be translated outwardly. I think it’s solid advice for anyone in any situation when someone comes to you with a serious conversation. You can feel as surprised as you want on the inside, but outwardly it’s vital to translate that s/he is just as loved — if not moreso — than ever before.
One of the most surprisingly awkward responses you can get is “Wow! I never would have guessed!”
Like, what are you supposed to that? Thanks? Sorry?
I’ve decided next time it happens I’m going to toss up some finger guns and say “Gotcha!”
I agree with you all that physical touch can be exactly what a guy needs when he comes out to another guy.
Just last week one of my friends came out to one of the pastors of the church he was visiting. That pastor responded by affectionately giving my friend physical touch.
My friend is definitely going to stay at that church now!
If you’re not touching anyone you’re not loving like Jesus!
Can someone send this to my friends so they can be ready?
I think 2. is the biggest one for me. I’ve barely had anyone bring it up again. I understand that they may be afraid to, but it would mean so much. And if I bring it up, I feel like I’m forcing the issue.
Touch is a tricky one, especially if they aren’t the touchy type (plus they may be preoccupied trying to process stuff as it is). But I know continuing in whatever methods of affection may have existed before the reveal in the weeks to come is HUGE for me.
Yeah, there was a period of time where my sexuality was all I wanted to talk about with certain of my friends. I guess I had a lot to process. Also, I didn’t think they had a full view yet, which made me want to keep the conversation going. But it felt like in order to stand by the idea that I’m more than my sexuality, I needed to chill out about bringing it up. I could have probably initiated more of those conversations (I don’t think the average person should be concerned about dominating the friendship with that conversation in the long term), but it also would have helped if the people around me initiated more too.
Sometimes people would ask me, “How can I be walking with you?” If I could give 18-year-old me advice on how to answer that, part of it would include asking them to initiate that conversation every other week or so.
I agree that touch can be tricky, and certainly requires discernment and discretion, but at the end of the day I can’t help but believe it’s fundamentally good–a tool and a blessing given to us for caring for one another.