This month at Friendship Explored, we’re here to recognize Pride Month and LGBTQIA+ awareness.
I am personally very excited for this Pride Month because it is my very first time experiencing it with a (mostly) fully realized queer identity. So far, my experience with coming out has been overwhelmingly positive.
So far, my experience with coming out has been overwhelmingly positive.
I am very grateful for this because it tells me that I have wonderful and affirming friends. However, not everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community has experienced this. I’ll never forget the advice my friend gave me when I first began questioning. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to figure yourself out all at once,” he told me. “Your personal identity labels might change, and that’s part of the experience. Everyone exists on their own timeline, and there’s no right way to come out.” Some of the fears and insecurities that I had about my identity were that I was a full grown adult person going through this identity crisis, something that is usually expected to happen earlier in adolescence. I was also afraid of being wrong, or that I was “making up” my feelings in a desire to fit into LGBTQIA+ spaces. My friend listened to my concerns, validated them, and assured me that it would all be okay no matter what.
My LGBTQ family is hugely important to me, and they have inspired me to write this blog because I want to make sure that every queer or questioning person has a safe, supportive friend to come out to and be themselves around. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have that friend right now. Message me and I will be that friend. (Contact info at the bottom of the page!)
That being said as a member of Friendship Explored, I’d like to personally honor and address friendships in regards to the LGBTQ+ community and their history. This month’s theme for Friendship Explored is “Maintaining Friendships in the Midst of Hardships.” I can’t think of a better time to address this topic than pride month. Coming out and facing possible discrimination as a sexual or gender minority can be a hardship on our friends and loved ones. A few disclaimers before we get into it. Some of the terminology used here may be unfamiliar, so feel free to refer to this handy dictionary to find some helpful definitions: https://thesafezoneproject.com/resources/vocabulary/. Here, the word “queer” is used in place of the LGBTQIA+ acronym. This term is not meant to be offensive or derogatory and is used to encompass all LGBTQIA+ identities.
That being said as a member of Friendship Explored, I’d like to personally honor and address friendships in regards to the LGBTQ+ community and their history.
What does friendship mean to the LGBTQIA+ community?
Historically, friendship and community is extremely important to LGBTQIA+ individuals. Since they often have faced alienation, discrimination, or intolerance from their families or larger society, friendships with other LGBTQIA+ or affirming people has served as the support system they needed. Thus, the idea of one’s “chosen family” became a way to describe the close friendships and community identity that LGBTQIA+ people formed. For myself and many other queer individuals, it has felt closer to a family than anything. As civil rights progressed and technology advanced, these communities became more widely accessible to people and could even exist in online spaces. For LGBTQIA+ people who live in remote areas or are not accepted in their own biological families, these online spaces represent the freedom to express themselves and a lifeline to support and resources. Thus, an LGBTQIA-affirming friendship can be of monumental importance to a queer or questioning person.
Tips for Being a Good Friend to an LGBTQIA+ Person
There has been so much written about this subject. For those interested in reading up on it, there is a lot of material and advice found on LGBTQIA+ Websites. Here I list a couple that I personally recommend: http://thesafezoneproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/SZP-Language-DO-DONT-Handout.pdf (a list of inclusive vs. non-inclusive language), https://ayr1as72agcddsn3cyd41uu9-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Coming-Out-Handout.pdf (dos and don’t of responding to coming out).
I would also like to list a few basic tips that encompass the majority of advice I have seen.
Listen with an open mind and heart. Try to put aside personal biases and stereotypes, and give them the grace of a non-judgmental space.
Avoid all jokes, slurs, stereotypes that promote homophobia. These things can be very damaging for any kind of relationship with an LGBTQIA person. If you are not sure if something is appropriate to say, err on the side of caution and don’t say it.
Never “out” someone without their consent. Sometimes LGBTQIA+ people prefer to not make their sexuality, gender identity, or intersex status widely known, and when that information is distributed to others involuntarily or by others, it’s called “outing”. Being outed can be very stressful for an LGBTQIA+ person. Refrain from introducing someone as your “gay friend”, and instead respect your friend’s wishes about how, when, and with who they would want to come out to others.
Educate yourself. Sometimes LGBTQIA+ are willing to provide information about various identities or queer culture, but it can be exhausting to be the sole source of information. If you come across a term or reference you do not understand, try a quick google search first, and so limit how often you ask questions of your LGBTQIA+ friend. Be especially wary of asking questions that are invasive or personal.
Recognize gender diversity. You can acknowledge and respect gender diversity by not assuming the gender identities of others and expecting others to assume your gender identity. Most social media sites allow you to put in your pronouns on your bio. If you feel safe in your online environment and comfortable enough to do so, you can provide your pronouns in the bio of your social media accounts. By putting your pronouns in view and introducing yourself with your pronouns when appropriate, you open up space for nonbinary or transgender individuals to feel comfortable sharing their pronouns.
Practical Tips for Reacting to a Friend’s Coming Out
I’m a staunch believer in practical tips for everyday life. If your friend entrusts you with disclosing their identity or their questioning, it might be hard to know how to react. These tips are based on my experiences, and encompass what I've seen work in my own life and my own friendships. The most important thing to remember is to listen with an open mind and heart. Some of the following dos and don’ts could be helpful for your friendship.
These tips are based on my experiences, and encompass what I've seen work in my own life and my own friendships.
First, don’t invalidate your friend’s concerns about identity. Avoid saying, “You just haven’t found the right man/woman/person,” or “Have you tried to accept being a man/woman?” “You’re too old/young/inexperienced to understand or make a decision about this.” These comments feel hurtful and assuming. Instead, just listen with an open mind and ask clarifying questions: “How long have you been thinking about this?” “Has this been a hard decision for you to come to?” “How do you feel now that you’ve figured this out/told someone about it?”
Secondly, avoid reacting immediately with exclamations such as, “I knew it!”, “I would never have guessed! You seemed so normal/straight/etc.” Or worse, “I’m sorry to hear that”, “I’m so jealous. I wish I was (blank) too”. These responses are considered rude and degrading by many LGBTQIA+ people, and many promote unhelpful stereotypes. Instead, ask clarifying questions, such as “How long have you known?” or just respond with a simple, “Thank you for trusting me with that.”
Third, don’t try to brush past it or change the subject of conversation. Instead, ask if they would like to talk more about their identity and how you can support them in the future. Be specific. If the person is coming out to you as transgender or nonbinary, listen for any changes to their name or pronouns that they would like you to respect. Even if it feels strange or uncomfortable to use a different name or address someone differently, know that it will make your friend feel respected if you continue to try using their chosen name and pronouns. It’s ok to let your friend know that you might not have all the answers for them or get it right all the time, but that you are willing to be there, support them, and grow with them in this new experience.
To Wrap Up
I hope that these tips will prove to be helpful for you and your friendships. Feel free to leave a comment or get directly in touch with me if you have any questions or need more information or support. You can email us at email@example.com and put my name in the subject line to get in touch with me specifically. Remember that you are loved and deserve to be accepted.
Jeanne Marie (they/she)