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Being in the closet can be very lonely and frustrating. It is the 21st Century but unfortunately, there’s still a considerable amount of stigma attached with the LGBTQA+ community. And so, coming out of the closet can mean a lot to anyone from the community. That said, you can’t deny that it is also an emotionally daunting phase of life. One that swings between frustration about hiding your identity and also anxiety about finding acceptance from your loved ones.
Coming out of the closet can seem fairly scary when someone thinks they’re alone in it. And if that someone is your friend, the best thing you can do is support them. If your friend has trusted you and told you that they’re contemplating coming out of the closet, you need to ensure that you stay by their side to offer them a safe space.
We talked to Dr. Bhavna Barmi, a renowned clinical psychologist from Delhi NCR, to understand how we can offer meaningful support to a friend who is trying to come out of the closet. Here are some things she suggests that are important to follow:
1. Create a safe space for them
Since there’s really no other way to tell if someone is working to come out to you until they decide to do so, you can ensure that you emit acceptance so that your friends feel assured about being able to trust you.
“Before they come out, nurture fertile soil in your connection for them to feel safe providing you that information,” she says.
2. Follow your friend’s cues
When a friend comes out to you, it’s important to realise that they have put in a lot of thought into it and come to the conclusion that you are a safe person. They may want to have an in-depth discussion about it or they may simply want to mention it as a part of a conversation. One of the best ways you can respond to someone’s coming out is to under-react.
“React to it as if they are just telling you about any everyday thing. Be inspiring and kind, do not become hyper-emotional, don’t question their statements, don’t talk too much, don’t take up space, and never make it about you,” she explains.
This isn’t to say that you should seem uninterested; rather allowing your friend to pilot the emotional weight of the conversation is important.
3. Be affirmative
Being positive for your friend who just came out to you is important and can be expressed in simple ways. It’s common for LGBTQ+ people to be excluded or seen differently by friends or family after they come out. It can be very authenticating for you to affirm that you value the fact that they told you and that this doesn’t change how you feel about them.
You can show you care by being supportive. For example, if your friend changes their pronouns, use them, and don’t make a huge deal out of it if you mess them up. Just get it right the next time. Support can look like many dissimilar things.
4. Ask if you can advocate for them
“Ask their consent about revealing their sexuality to larger groups. For example, if it were to come up in a conversation where the person concerned is not present, ask if it’s alright for you to mention that they identify as gay/queer/trans. The aim is to balance that expressive labour which they shouldn’t have to hold on their own,” says Dr Barmi.
For example, if your friend gives you the authorization to do so, you can propose to inform your mutual friends of their new pronouns or correct people when they slip up.
5. Check-in with your friend regularly
Another way to show your help is to be accessible to your friend. Mention that you’re available throughout multiple means of communication if they need anything.
“Doing the emotional labor of coming out to folks constantly is difficult and demanding. It can be the source of a disturbance they might hold for a lifetime. Start by being their encouragement system through it all, checking in with them continuously and making sure they feel self-assured and valid,” she concludes.