October 11th is Coming Out Day, and in light of that, its important to understand what today is all about. Coming Out Day, which has been observed by thousands of LGBT-identified people and allies all around the country and world, is an important day for reflection and celebration of all the LGBT people in our lives, as well as those who are making their identities known for the first time. Because of that, here are some helpful tips to observe when an important person comes out, especially since respect and acceptance is one of the biggest assets one can have in these situations.
1. Accept, Respect and Understand
Today, LGBT people face discrimination, fear and rejection in so many different aspects of everyday life, and we live in a culture and society that tells us to hide our “weaknesses.” When someone comes out to you, they probably chose you because you are understanding and compassionate. But sometimes, they are just tired of constantly trying to hide and conceal their identity, as such hiding becomes a burden. If someone comes out to you, its important to understand the struggles that come with such an admission. Its also important to understand that a person who comes out is someone who places their trust in you; their trust that you won’t judge, belittle or disrespect them and their identity. At the end of the day, its best to understand and accept because that person is at their most vulnerable, and it is up to you to be their shoulder to lean on in such a trying, emotional situation.
2. Communicate and Validate
In any emotional situation, communication is key, and coming out is no different. In today’s world, communication can be conducted hundreds of miles apart, especially since social media and cell phones are becoming a growing medium for coming out. Communication and validation are extremely important, as they show the person coming out to you that you really care. If a person comes out to you over text, its important to express how important to you they are, and how you respect them for who they are. And remember, emotions aren’t properly represented in a text message, and oftentimes, texts don’t convey what they truly are supposed to mean. At such a vulnerable time, it is crucial to be as respectful as possible, so one has to make sure that if a person comes out to them over text, they respond with messages that are thoughtful, emotional and genuine.
3. Educate and Move On
If someone comes out to you, say, as pansexual, and you are not familiar with that identity, the responsibility falls on you to figure out what that means. Clarifying, or inadvertently invalidating someone’s sexual or gender identity is harmful and consequential, as it shows the person coming out that their identity isn’t relevant, or that it isn’t valid. No identity or person ever deserves to be characterized like this. Also, if you aren’t familiar with an identity or term, its best not to make assumptions, especially since assumptions of any kind are oftentimes accompanied by shifts in perception, ultimately leading to stereotypes or inaccurate expectations. Education is crucial, as it further assists one in their goal to understand, accept and embrace a loved one’s sexual or gender identity.
Finally, don’t linger on one’s coming out for longer than a few days. Characterizing someone by their gender or sexual identity is harmful and invalidating. Remember: just because someone is LGBT-identified doesn’t mean that their life is completely characterized by that. It just means that they are accepting of their identity, and you should be too.