What to Say and What Not to Say When Someone Comes Out to You

As a gay woman, I’ve been pretty fortunate in having people respond relatively positively when I came out to them. It was incredibly nerve-wracking to tell people at first, though it’s gotten easier as time has gone on.

However, I have heard some horror stories from friends and/or clients coming out to people in their lives and I cringe at some of the things that were said or done, especially by people that consider themselves Mormon. So in honor of Pride Month, I wanted to take some time to remind people of things they shouldn’t say or do when someone comes out to them.

Things NOT to say:

I don’t mind that you’re gay/trans/non-binary, as long as you don’t act like it.

It is not your place to judge. Also, putting aside the focus on sex, the person you’re talking to IS acting on their orientation, just like you are! Sexuality and gender identity are part of how we are in the world, which impacts our lives. Also, the individual likely knows the church’s stance on queer individuals better than you do. You don’t need to educate them on it.

Why would you choose this?

The person didn’t choose it! Gender and sexual orientation aren’t something that people choose.

You’re going to stay celibate, right?

The expectation for many people who grow up religious is to stay single. However, that isn’t feasible for everyone. The person you’re talking to may not know their plans, or if they do, they may not want to share them with you. Also, asking about someone’s sex life so casually (and when you don’t have that level of relationship with them) is incredibly rude!

I don’t agree with your lifestyle.

What “lifestyle” are you referring to? It’s just their life! The lives of a queer individuals are just as diverse as the lives of heterosexual and cisgender people. Also, if your mind automatically jumps to sex when asking about lifestyle, that says much more about you than the individual you’re talking to. Sure, there are promiscuous queer individuals, just like there are promiscuous non-queer individuals. Also… it’s not your job to judge anyone for their “lifestyle.”

It’s just a phase.

This is incredibly invalidating. People don’t generally come out without having gone through a lot of thought first. By the point they tell you, they know it isn’t a phase. Gender and sexual orientation are a part of how somebody is, and not a phase they pass through.

You’re not actually gay/trans/queer.

Again, this is incredibly invalidating. Trust that the person you’re talking to knows themselves better than you do!

What made you gay? Is this because you were sexually abused or watched porn?

Molestation and/or watching porn do not cause individuals to change their gender or sexual identity or orientation. And people don’t have an answer as to what made them gay any more than you would have an answer about what made you straight.

This must be some disease or addiction.

No. It is NOT a disease or addiction.

What a terrible trial. God must trust you a lot to give you this.

Avoid this because, by the time they come out, many queer people don’t view it as a trial any longer. It’s just part of their lives. If anything, their trial may be more having to deal with the hurtful things others say to them as they come out.

Why do you even want to come out? Why do you want to talk about your sexuality?

A person’s sexual or gender identity is part of them and by them telling you, it’s a part they want to share. Heterosexual people talk about their sexuality all the time when they talk about their crushes, girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, etc. When someone opens up to you, they are inviting you into a part of their lives that they haven’t let you see before. With that inviting you in, they can stop hiding and that can be very liberating.

Starting to act awkward around them after they’ve come out to you.

They are still the same person they were before they told you. They were queer before they told you, too. They’ve just let you come to know them better.

Here are some things you might consider saying instead:

  • Thank you for trusting me enough to share that with me.

  • What can I do to support you?

  • How has realizing your orientation impacted you?

  • How can I be a safe place for you?

  • How can I show my love for you better?

  • Doing anything to show love, appreciation, and validation.

If you are struggling with a loved one who has come out, or if you’ve come out and people have reacted poorly, remember that the providers at Symmetry are more than happy to be a place to help you through what’s going on. You are not alone!

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