Friday, October 11, 2013

How To Not Be A Total Dickhead to Someone Coming Out of the Closet

I wasn't planning on publishing this for awhile, because it contains a little bit of personal stuff and I've been trying to psych myself up in case of backlash. However, I was just reminded that it's National Coming Out Day, so I think it's time to put it out in the world. Please share this post with others, not just because I want more blog traffic, because of course I do, but because education is a good thing and there are so many people afraid to reveal who they are to others for fear of being shot down emotionally, or even physically hurt. For those of you coming out today, or struggling to come out, or who have been out for awhile, I love you and you are awesome. Never stop being your badass self.

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Recently, I came out to someone as bisexual*. I've known this person for a year but it was never really relevant, seeing as for the last 6 years, I was in a monogamous relationship with a man. However, I am single now, and I happened to mention that I'm not exclusively interested in guys. Not a big deal. Slightly nervewracking, but it went okay. She listened to me for a bit, then she thought for a few minutes, then she said, "Well, that's cool. I'm not against it or whatever, but I personally am not like that." 

I was annoyed. Whether or not she was like that was not the point of the conversation. My own sexuality wasn't even really the point of the conversation, it just happened to come up because we were talking about getting me dating again. I never questioned her sexuality--she has explicitly stated her straightness in both words and actions. And that's fine. She is allowed to be straight just as much as I am allowed to be bi. But coming out to someone as straight is rather anticlimactic, since it is the norm and all, which is why it generally isn't done. For her to turn the topic back on herself as I was revealing a sensitive bit of personal information to her was dismissive and rude.

These sorts of things happen a lot.. It isn't all the screaming, "You are dead to me" explosions, although those are unfortunately frequent. Sometimes it's a lot more subtle. Sometimes the person being told is really trying to be positive and supportive, but doesn't know how. Maybe you are guilty of saying something a little dismissive yourself. If you have, no worries, I'm here to give you some guidance on how to handle the situation with dignity and respect the next time around.

Here are some big DON'Ts when someone reveals to you that they are queer:

1. DON'T assume the person has a crush on you. Straight people don't have feelings for every member of the opposite sex. The same is true of us queer people. Lesbians don't have feelings for every girl on the planet, gay men don't have feelings for every guy on the planet, and bisexual people don't have feelings for every single person they see. 
There is a great "For Better or For Worse" cartoon where one of the main characters' friends reveals that he is gay. The MC freaks out a little bit and asks his friend if he has any feelings for him. The friend says, "No. There is a huge difference between love and friendship. And right now, I really need a friend." The same is probably true of the person coming out to you. Be a friend. If they do have feelings for you, you can decide what to do when they decide to reveal them.

2. DON'T say things like this:
"I don't have a problem with it, but I personally don't swing that way." 
"I don't agree with it, but I don't judge people." 
"Trans people freak me out, I'm sorry, but I'm totally cool with it." 
If the word "but" is in the sentence you are about to say, don't freaking say it. This person has chosen to share something extremely personal with you, and when positive statements are negated by saying "but" and turning the topic back to you and your opinions, you are not respecting the sensitive nature of what they have just told you.
They are not asking you for your opinion. They are not asking about your sexual orientation. They are asking you to accept them for who they are. Respect them. Don't hijack the conversation.

3. DON'T ask if you can watch (if you are a straight man whose female friend just came out to you as a lesbian). No. You can't. STFU.

Now here are some DOs.

1. DO listen. You may be the first person this individual has come out to. You may be the millionth. Regardless of the number, it is still EXTREMELY uncomfortable to admit that you are outside the norm to someone whose reaction may or may not be volatile. This person may have been abused for revealing this information, verbally, emotionally or physically. Be a positive coming-out experience for them, whether that means staying up talking with them until 3 am or just nodding and saying, "That's cool. I accept you."

2. DO get educated. If you are not familiar with the LGBTQ community, do your research. Ask your friends questions (but not too many questions--the goal is to educate yourself, not have someone else educate you). Realize that not all gay men are flamboyant, not all trans people feel "trapped in the wrong body," and not all bisexual people have multiple partners. Get involved in activism. The best way to show your queer friends support is to be an ally.

3. DO get over it. If you absolutely cannot bring yourself to accept the fact that your friend/family member is queer, then first off, major points for reading this blog post and not bailing. Secondly, please read it again. Even if you go and pray for their soul later, you will be able to congratulate yourself for being a decent human being if you can approach someone else's coming out with compassion and, you know, not telling them they're a bad person. Because honestly, we get enough of that on a day-to-day basis, and being bashed never really helped anyone's self-esteem.
They are not going to change. It's up to you to find ways to deal. Get involved with PFLAG. Consult a counselor. Work on being the kind of person anyone can approach with their problems. I guarantee you'll be happier, and the people who do come out to you will cherish you as a dear and wise friend.



*Some of you who follow this blog already know this about me. Some of you are probably like, "Oh, I didn't know that about her. That's cool I guess." Some of you may be upset. If you fall into the latter category, feel free to unsubscribe, I have no hard feelings toward you. However, I do request that you feed homeless people and adopt babies in the time you now have freed up from no longer reading my blog. You're welcome for the community service, world. 

5 comments:

  1. Thank you. Because, y'know, you are awesome.

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    1. Thanks! And you're welcome. :)

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    2. Thank you so much for the good article. It's very informative. I've always heard that being bi means you just have a chance of being rejected by more people. LOL I have always been attracted to people of both sexes but didn't know that was considered bisexual. I assumed it meant you've had opposite and same-sex lovers. I've had a dismal life as far as my relationships with men go. I now regret I never hard a love affair with a woman. When I was young it WAS a case of "you're dead to me" or being run out of town on a rail. I have NOT come out as bi because I don't want my women friends to think I'm reached the age when a relationship, sexual or not, is off the table. I can see why a bisexual person ought to come out, though. Hinting around just doesn't work. (See there I go talking about myself. Sorry. Any old shoulder in a storm, huh?

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    3. Thanks for sharing your story! "Bisexual" is really just a label, so if you've never felt the need to come out, that's totally fine. Coming out is about sharing something personal about yourself, not a matter of whether or not one "should" come out and tell the world how they label themselves. It's a choice, and it can be a very empowering one.

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  2. About the above comment. There is some of the text missing mergng two sentences which makes little sense. I mean to say I don't want my women friends to think I'm hitting on them. (Or maybe I do?) Congratulations for coming out on Coming Out Day. I guess I missed it again this year. LOL

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