Today, YA author Janet Ruth Young is stopping by my blog to advise on how best to react when a friend comes out to you.
When a Friend Comes Out: It’s Not About You by Janet Ruth Young
A couple of years ago I was working on a coming-out scene for my novel Things I Shouldn’t Think. I discussed the scene with two gay women friends to get their reaction, and to find out what it had been like for my friends to come out to the important straight women friends in their lives.
What I learned surprised me. Hands down, their friends’ most frequent response had been along these lines:
“Does this mean you’re attracted to me?”
“Do you have a crush on me?”
“Are you telling me this because you’re sexually interested in me?”
I didn’t take this tack in my book, because that direction didn’t fit the characters I was writing about, and I already had other plans for the scene. But I was bowled over by what I had just learned. I think I asked, “Can people really be that self-centered?” And the answer was, “Yes, they can be.” Again and again and again.
Now granted, my friends are both in their fifties now. And maybe the responses they got when they first revealed their gay identities are not the same responses that a twenty-year-old or an eighteen-year-old would get today. (I’d like to know whether younger people have had the same experience.) But both of them emphasized how common this was. Repeatedly, the listener thought that this disclosure was some kind of an advance. That the whole point of coming out was to hit on someone.
Let’s try to imagine the thought pattern of someone who reacts by saying, “Are you attracted to me?” He or she may be speaking from
1. poor logical skills (If you are a gay woman, you must be attracted to all women; since I am a woman, you must be attracted to me.)
2. arrogance (If you’re a guy attracted to guys, then surely you must be attracted to me, because I’m something special!)
3. misperception of the occasion (The coming-out part was just a preamble. This conversation is leading up to a declaration of love.)
4. anxiety (I have to know whether you’re attracted to me, because now I’m starting to reevaluate all those times you saw me in my underwear.)
5. awkwardness (Are you trying to find out whether I’m gay too? If so, I’ll have to make this conversation about me by declaring whether I am or am not.)
Well, call me naïve, but I’ve always thought the coming-out moment is a time to focus on the confider, not the confidant. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest some responses that keep the focus where it ought to be. As with all forms of reflective listening, open-ended questions are always better than those with limited, yes/no answers.
How did you realize you were gay?
How long have you known?
How did you decide that this was the time to come out?
How do you think your life will be different, now that you’re telling people?
What is it like to be telling people?
How are people reacting?
How can I support you?
Maybe later the listener could ask, “Is there someone special you’re attracted to?” If the comingout person says, “You!” that would really be something, wouldn’t it?
But maybe it’s kind of silly to expect it.
I’d love to hear from this blog’s readers about times you’ve come out to others, or vice versa. Did anyone reveal that they had a crush on you? Did you want them to? What helpful ways have you responded to someone who needed your support? What tips do you have for teens who are just starting to reveal their LGBTQ identity?
Thank you, Janet, for this helpful guest post! Be sure to check out Janet's website, and Things I Shouldn't Think! I must say I haven't had a friend come out to me as such, so these aren't questions I can answer, but how about you? And what do you think about how people can automatically react when told?