Coming out: Dos and don'ts

12 March 2021

Coming out is tough. No matter who you're coming out to, there is always a risk of losing someone you love.

What should you do if someone comes out to you?

The short answer is to make them feel loved, but it’s usually a bit more complicated and challenging than that.

We are bombarded with stories of coming out going horribly. From films like But I’m a Cheerleader where coming out leads to conversion therapy to Love, Simon where coming out is weaponized, pop culture does not handle the topic well.

Unfortunately, the fictitious narratives are the lighthearted retellings. Coming out stories that are reported on are never positive. They almost always end in someone being kicked out, harming themselves or being harmed by someone else.

This makes coming out terrifying. We have no positive examples of it working so we are expecting backlash.

My coming out experience

When I came out my experience was not negative but it was not perfect either. I lost a few friends, and my parents didn’t make a big deal out of it.

I wanted to be celebrated and congratulated. As allies, my parents didn’t see that as necessary—they saw me as the Reagan they already loved, that nothing had changed. And that is not untrue! I am still the kid they loved, but a lot changes when you come out.

There is a reason why we need things like Pride Week. LGBTQ2S+ people are still widely othered and therefore are subjected to harassment, bullying and prejudice on a daily basis. Coming out in high school meant relational aggression, discomfort in locker rooms and feeling left out from high school romance. I felt like I had to choose between slow dancing with my partner and being included socially. The names I had been called in the halls were the icing on the cake.

But we aren’t in high school anymore. Coming out now has more freedom! I am not stuck with the same 100 people in my classes day in and day out so the torment of high school does dissipate—but that does not mean coming out is any easier. If you come out too late, people think you couldn’t possibly have taken this long to tell someone. TOo early and you've jumped to conclusions. Win-win, right?

So what are some tools for navigating someone coming out to you?

Do

 Take a personal approach! You know them and they trust you.

✓ Listen to what they say and reaffirm their feelings. Tailor your response to their coming out and follow their lead.

✓ BE AN ALLY! Now that you know your loved one is LGBTQ2S+, show up for them. Call out homophobic or transphobic language. Educate yourself. It is okay to ask for guidance on where to start but take some initiative, too.

✓ Be supportive. Coming out never ends and it is exhausting. I will always be correcting people when they ask if I have a boyfriend (or husband) and I may have to out myself. It won’t always go well.

Grow with them. As your loved one grows their identity may evolve, too. Continue to support them and cherish that they have shared this with you!

 Let them come to you. They will when they're ready!

Don't

Don't tell anyone else unless your loved one has told you it is okay. They deserve to control their coming out and it's not your place to spread the news.

✘ Don't ask them how they know! Demands for proof come from a place of disbelief. Suggesting your loved one is just confused is a common homophobic and transphobic tactic, and it helps nobody.

✘ Don't hijack their coming out. If you are struggling with your identity yourself and want to ask someone, don't outshine them.

✘ Don't ask them how sex works. Just don’t. :I

✘ Don't talk about your challenges to adjust to their gender or pronouns. Trans people are adjusting themselves but they don't owe anyone forgiveness for transphobia or homophobia. To be an ally is to put in the work!

✘ If someone comes out to you, don't invalidate their moment (and their mental gymnastics in figuring it out!) by saying you already knew. Your conclusion was likely rooted in stereotypes, so keep it to yourself.

✘ Don't say you didn’t expect it. That means there are (stereotypical) attributes that you directly associate with that identity.

✘ Don't make it about you!


Being LGBTQ2S+ is an extremely unique experience. There is no one way to be an identity and that’s one of the best parts. Coming out is unique too! Appreciate the thought that goes into someone's coming out journey and emphasize love!

Some people may never decide to come out. They may simply be themselves and let you roll with the punches. Coming out puts a lot of pressure on someone so if they one day have a partner you didn’t expect them to have that is okay! At the end of the day though, no matter how it comes about, just make sure you are there, you are supportive and they know they are loved.