Watching Ellen Page come out to the world on camera took my breath away. You could see how scared she was; I was amazed at how vulnerable she made herself. I was proud of her. Then I turned to Twitter and Facebook and the reactions there made me sick to my stomach. It reminded me a bit of a high school hallway full of pointed fingers and snickering, when all this amazing young woman wanted to do was something honest and really brave. Instead of congratulations I saw a lot of people making bad jokes, saying they already knew she was gay, or bemoaning her speech.
In my thirty years on this good earth, any number of people have come out to me, and I’ve considered myself lucky every time. It’s a hard thing to do. I didn’t even come out to myself until my late twenties. Here’s a short list of key things to remember when your friend, coworker or family member comes out as being bi, lesbian, trans* or gay:
Thank Them—A friend coming out shows they trust you and you are a safe person. Live up to that as graciously as possible.
Don’t Question It—By the time they come out to you, they are certainly sure. You do not need to check. If for some reason it turns out to be “a phase”, you can be just as cool about that, too.
Be Thrilled—Even if you’re shocked (or bummed out that a guy you think is hot is off the market), treat it as happy news. The more positive you are the easier it is for your friend to tell more people.
Let Them Have This—Sure, there is always going to be a guy who makes a splash by dropping the Homo Bomb during the curtain call of the community theatre’s version of Into The Woods. Or by throwing a party and pulling every single person individually into a private room to tell them one by one. You know what I think? By gum so they should! Hold your eyerolls, please. Soon enough they will be shacked up with a long-term partner, a mortgage and a Standard Poodle. They’re going to pretend to care about your engagement, you can pretend this is a big deal for you, too.
Don’t Say “I Knew It!” Everyone likes to be the wise, all-knowing butthead who crows that it was “so obvious” that someone was gay. Get over yourself. It’s not only rude, but it’s the reason that people don’t come out of the closet in the first place. No one wants to hear “I told you so” about their own sexuality.
Don’t Out Them—I was once accidentally outed by a girl so eager to prove she was cool with my being queer that she didn’t recognize my look of horror as she shouted across a busy bar, “Hey aren’t you dating this girl I know?!” Don’t be that guy. Ask who knows, and whether or not it’s open for public consumption. Even if you feel it’s no big deal, remember it’s not always safe for people to be out to everyone at once. Just because you know doesn’t mean their family, their employer or their peers do.
Don’t Set Them Up—I know you want to be a good wingperson but it’s likely your newly-minted queer pal needs to dip their toes in the gay water by themselves before you set them up with your coworker’s queer cousin you’ve never met but you’re SURE is great for them.
Be A Good Ally—If your friend asks you to go to a gay club with them, go. If your friend is a bit secretive or shy about some info, then drop it. If you find out someone isn’t being supportive of your friend, give that person hell. Read up about the LGBT community and how you can be a good supporter.
Don’t Pry—If your friend wants to tell you something, make it clear you’re into knowing whatever they want to share, but don’t push it. It’s a bit creepy to ask, for example, about the state of your trans* friend’s genitals, or what sex acts your lesbian pal has done “so far”. Even if you guys tell each other everything, wait for them to divulge before you dig around for the prurient details.
Bake Them A Cake—Everyone likes cake. I mean, obviously don’t write “You Big Homo” in rainbow letters and deliver it to their office. Unless they ask you to.
Carry On As Normal—The more “normal” being gay is, the less traumatic coming out will be for future generations. If we can all just smile, say congrats and move on with our day, coming out will one day be as normal as mentioning you’re half-Dutch, married, or left-handed. Just kidding—left-handed people will OF COURSE always be shunned by our society.