Dealing with a Friend Coming Out
When someone tells you that they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual…try to be aware and/or remember that:
There is no way for the gay, lesbian or bisexual person to predict your reaction accurately. You may have spent your entire life in a society that teaches you to despise gay people. The gay person has no way of knowing how able you will be to discard those years of training and respond spontaneously and gratefully to such an intimate offering of self.
It is important to understand that the person has not changed. You may be shocked by their revelation, but remember this is still the same person as before. Don’t let the shock lead you to view your friend, sibling or colleague as suddenly different or bad. You now know that this person can love someone of the same gender – you have no reason to believe suddenly that this person is morally depraved or emotionally unbalanced.
Don’t ask questions that would have been considered rude within the relationship before this disclosure. This person has the same sensibilities as before. However, you may well need to do some “catching up.” Some common questions are:
1. How long have you known you are gay, lesbian or bisexual?
2. Is there someone special?
3. Has it been hard for you carrying this secret?
4. Is there some way I can help you?
5. Have I ever offended you unknowingly?
Be honest and open about your feelings. It makes the sharing more complete and makes changes possible. If you find it hard to believe, say so. If you find you are reacting with emotional repugnance but want to learn more so you can throw off your prejudice, say so. If your feelings are totally negative, you can say that, too. It is a possibility the gay, lesbian or bisexual person has certainly considered and risked. But in fairness to yourself admit aloud that negative feelings may change, so the gay, lesbian or bisexual person will leave the door open for you to return if you are able to accept them. Gay people are accustomed to hurt, but with someone close the rejection may hurt too much and they may have to get away.
You may well be tempted to break the bond you have with this person. Though he or she has not changed, the information now confronts you and your homophobic training. A conflict may be inevitable. Just as some people develop specific phobias (height, snakes, deep water, etc.), many people take in the anti-gay messages of the culture and develop homophobia. It is a disability like any other phobia and you can get help with it through psychotherapy, provided the therapist does not share your phobia. But just as the person who is phobic about deep water may be unaware of anything more than a discomfort with an avoidance of oceans, lakes, and rivers, the homophobe may be aware only of discomfort in the presence of gay people and the desire to avoid them. If you are prone to homophobia, you will be strongly tempted to rid yourself of this previously valued relationship quickly or, if that induces too much guilt, by a slow undermining of the relationship. If you see the symptoms and want help, try to find a gay-oriented psychotherapist. Don’t risk unknowingly working with a counselor who shares your homophobia. If you destroy the relationship, chances are the gay, lesbian or bisexual person will be hurt but survive, having been prepared through life for such a reaction on your part.
If your homophobia is very mild (like the person who can take the elevator up twenty stories but does not want to visit the tallest building in the city), you can get help from reading and making social contacts with more gay people. Prejudice thrives on the lack of contradictory information. Integration destroys stereotypes. The more gay people you meet, the better your chances of ridding yourself of mild homophobia.
If you know or suspect that someone you know is gay, lesbian or bisexual and have not yet been told, appreciate the fear and anxiety that inhibits the disclosure. All you can do, usually, is to make it openly known that you appreciate gay, lesbian or bisexual people. Actions speak louder than words, however. Gay friends and gay-oriented reading material in your home do more than make announcements of pro-gay feelings, which can sound phony.
From Loving Someone Gay, by Don Clark
This article was reposted from TheUniversityHealthCenter.
Originally posted 2011-12-08 23:56:38.