The first time a friend came out to me, I had no idea how to react. Consequently I’ve always remembered that uncertain experience with a tinge of regret.
Though I felt I was being supportive at the time, I’m sure my reaction could have used some serious improvement. Here are some tips to avoid feelings of discomfort and to be the most supportive friend you can be.
Don’t act like you ‘knew it all along’
Maybe you always had some speculation that your friend fell on the LGBTTQ* spectrum, but this is not the time to express that. If your friend asks you whether you knew already, they’re allowing you the freedom to voice your thoughts, but reacting like it’s not new information can de-legitimize the experience of coming out.
Your friend might really appreciate a hug, if you’re both comfortable doing so. Ask first. Offer support in other ways, too. Be available to talk on the subject further if that’s what they need.
Direct them towards resources on campus or elsewhere. Keep being the kickass friend that you are, and don’t act differently in light of this news. Spend time with them as you normally would and offer a willing ear.
I can’t stress this one enough. Everyone varies in their level of openness; some people may want to talk at length about their emotions and feelings, and others may just want to blurt it out and move on.
Pay attention to their body language and facial expressions. Are they eager and excited, smiling and happy? Do they look nervous and confused? Look them in the eye and vocalize that you’ve understood what they’ve disclosed. Listen to them and let them know you’re happy to talk if that’s what they want.
In the beginning of my coming out process, I wasn’t ready to talk at length about my sexuality. After opening up to a few people, I wanted to have big, exciting discussions. Everyone is different, and your friend might feel differently as they open up to more people.
Say ‘thank you’
A friend may choose to come out to you for many reasons, but if they’ve chosen you, they are giving you a huge level of trust. Thank them for trusting you and thank them for telling you. Mean it.