By Hayley Van Allen
National Coming Out Day will be celebrated for the 30th year in a row on Thursday, October 11th of this year. Whether you are a straight ally or a member of the LGBT* community, it is important to remember to respect and support those who are coming out to you or others for the first time.
Coming out is a process that’s different for everyone. Most LGBT* people, first come out to themselves, which can be anything from a sudden click of understanding or years of deliberation and/or denial. After this, some will come out to close family and friends, some will chose to stay in the closet for any number of reasons, and some never feel a need to come out, because it feels unimportant or maybe just obvious. For those who do decide to come out, the act of coming out never really ends after the first time. It becomes a lifelong process of coming out to new people, a constant assessment of whether or not the person in front of them is safe to come out to.
NCOD was originally intended to be a form of activism following the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987, however some believe that the day now only serves to aid heteronormativity. They argue that by encouraging the act of coming out, the day reinforces the idea that being gay or bi or trans is different and abnormal, rather than normalizing the existence of people who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. Straight people don’t have to come out, so why should members of the LGBT* community?
While these arguments make sense, NCOD still hold value for the LGBT* community. Even just basic acceptance of trans and non-binary individuals is contested across the country. With the current political climate, coming out is an act of rebellion and bravery in a way that it wasn’t just a few years ago. Additionally, increased visibility still makes a difference, whether for people who didn’t realize that some of the people they care about are LGBT* or to help make closeted individuals feel safer and more comfortable to come out.
If someone comes out to you on this NCOD or any other day, it is important to remember, above all, that this person has placed their trust in you, and you must show you deserve that trust. Check in with them on how “out” they want to be and respect their choice. It doesn’t matter if you are a straight ally or a member of the LGBT* community. Everyone has a right to come out their own way, in their own time.
Here are a few quick “dos and don’ts” if someone comes out to you, for allies and members of the LGBT* community:
Don’t come out as a certain identity as a joke. Making light of coming out does nothing but discourage and harm the people around who may have been considering coming out to you that day or in the future.
Do come out as straight or cisgender if you want to help normalize the act of coming out for your friends and family who aren’t really given a choice.
Don’t tell your friends or family that you “still love them” or that you “love them no matter what”. This unintentionally implies that being LGBT* is something bad and not necessarily deserving of love.
Do thank your friend/family member for trusting you. If someone comes out to you, they are placing a large amount of trust and faith in you. Show them you appreciate it.
Don’t talk about how obvious it was. Don’t tell them you already knew. Don’t make a joke along the lines of “it’s about time!” or “finally!”. Figuring out someone’s sexuality isn’t some sort of game or challenge. For LGBT* individuals, coming out to yourself and others can be terrifying. Don’t make it harder.
Do tell them that you will be there to support them however they need you.
Don’t ask your friend if they have a crush on you. Just don’t.
Do ask (non-invasive) questions if your are unsure about something. If you do not know what a specific word they have used means, it’s ok to ask. Additionally, while some people come out to everyone at once, others come out in gradual stages. Make sure you know how they want to approach coming out so you can best support them.
Image Credit: American Atheists