Very recently, I was caught off-guard by one of my close friends who came out to me as gay, while we were in the middle of dinner at a restaurant.
Stunned, I gulped down the food. I assumed my friend expected a strong reaction out of me, instead. But I simply said: “Gimme sometime to digest this!” (I guess I got too carried away by the food.) We didn’t talk much after that for the whole evening.
That night, I slept over it. Then, realisation dawned. And I had things to say, not just to my close friend, but to all of you as well.
Many of us will, like I did, face a “coming out” situation – whether we’d like to face it or not. Perhaps a dear one coming out to us. Or even some of us coming out to our dear ones.
Here are my thoughts on how a heterosexual person should respond when someone comes out to them as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
This is all the more important in the Indian context since we know how unpleasant the scenario can be for LGBT people here in terms of social acceptance.
It probably hits you the hardest when the person coming out has been close to you for years, and you’ve been absolutely unaware of their sexual orientation all this while.
Man, that strikes like a bolt of lightning.
A volatile reaction is not unexpected. The surprise may even turn to ire. But this is the defining moment. Harsh reactions would certainly hamper the relationship between you two. If you value your friendship with this person, here are some points to keep in mind.
Sure you’ve been made privy to additional information about your friend, which you were previously unaware of. But why should his/her sexual orientation change anything that currently exists between you two? He/she is still the same person you’ve known all along.
We all have secrets. Not all secrets mask our personality, our humanity. The top ten things that made my friend my close friend didn’t have “sexual orientation” among them. So I guessed nothing was really going to change!
Out of everyone, if my friend chooses to tell me first, or even just tell me something that is so private to him/her, I would be honoured.
It’s a big step for your friend. For anybody to believe and trust in somebody else. So value that decision, and take it like the honour it is. They trusted you. Let’s not prove them wrong!
That which everybody should generally do more. And more so in this situation. Your friend is already going through a lot of internal turmoil and agitation. They just need someone to share their feelings with, to speak their heart out, obtain emotional support. So don’t bombard them with questions and your assumptions.
If something worthwhile comes to your mind, speak out. Ideally, words that attempt to calm your friend. Words that will reassure your friend of your unconditional support. No big speeches, please.
Also means “happy”. So while you are doing all that listening, don’t sit like a zombie, emotionless, expressionless. You may not speak at that moment, but you can certainly respond through your expressions. Trust me, that’s a lot easier than finding the right kind of words to say!
Have feelings of happiness on your face. A smile, definitely. Laughter, no. Nod. Look into their eyes. That’s the most assuring. And if you are comfortable then, don’t forget to sign off with a warm hug. I think hugs make everybody happy, irrespective of their orientations.
(Also, try reacting a little less surprised or less happy for someone who breaks this news on Social Media. I’m still figuring out that part)
More than your friend is. Because, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s not your job to spread the word about your friend’s sexuality. Not unless your friend is OK with it, and the two of you have that understanding between each other. Either way, let’s not be the speakers for something that isn’t ours to tell, unless the situation compels it.
That’s all I have for now. But I would like to conclude with a few additional pointers.
a. If your friend is of the same sex as you, do not assume that your friend fancies you.
b. Please don’t ask silly questions.
c. This would be a good time to cultivate some general knowledge regarding the LGBT community. Know the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.
d. Importantly, continue doing what you’ve been doing with your close friend – being friends with him/her.
e. And it’s never too late. You can still make up with your friend =)
Know you’ve found that special friend in your life, when you can share anything, absolutely anything, with that person. Please be that person to your LGBT friend(s).
Credits: An earlier version of this post appeared on Raveen’s blog. Orinam thanks his friend (the one who came out to him) for sharing it and Raveen for permission to adapt it for this site.