How to be a good friend when someone you love comes out
“Oh my god, you’re gay? I’ve always wanted a gay best friend! This is so cute, we can go shopping together and everything!”
Before I start, can I just say that I totally get where that reaction is coming from. If you haven’t pieced it together from the title yet, we’re talking about coming out about your sexual or gender orientation. But in a change of pace I’m going to offer some advice to you — the friend on the receiving end of someone coming out. It can be a bit of a shock sometimes, finding out that your bestie likes the same gender (or both, or none) even if you’re pro-gay rights. And so to the person whose automatic reply is to spout the above quote, don’t feel bad. Of course you think you’re being supportive; you have no problem with gay people, in fact you LOVE them!
But that’s kind of the problem.
As much as I know you’re trying to be awesome and accepting, by sticking the label of “gay best friend” on your mate, you’re kind of limiting your friendship. In my case, being a Gay Best Friend (or G.B.F.) makes my identifying factor whoever I choose to crush on (or cultural stereotypes you’ve seen on TV), and not the fact that I have, say, a pizza addiction. It also ignores the fact that growing up outside of heteronormative expectations comes with a separate set of issues on top of the ones we already face as teenagers. Sometimes our friends think they understand what it’s like to be LGBTQA, but it can actually be a bit more complicated than you might assume. I’m fortunate that primarily my biggest concern was unrequited love from boys on the football team, but more than 85% of queer youth are likely to hear anti-LGBTQA comments in school, with 26 anti-LGBTQA slurs on average per day. There’s nothing worse than the first time you’re called something nasty (trust me).
So what I’m trying to say to all those amazing friends who are present as a friend comes out: don’t oversimplify their experience. Just listen, and don’t make assumptions. Here are a few more things to keep in mind:
This is kind of a no-brainer, right? I would hope that you’d support your friends regardless of their sexual orientation or gender, but with LGBTQA pals it’s also about recognizing we don’t always have the same opportunities as you. My best friends are the ones who wanted to come to pride marches with me, or gave bullies a piece of their mind when I was probably too upset to do it myself. Have your friends’ backs regardless of their sexual orientation, but also because they might need extra support.
Just because your friend might identify as other-than-straight, that doesn’t mean everything you have in common is thrown out the window! I’m more likely to talk to my guy friends about which video game to buy next, than I am about what I look for in a boyfriend. But that doesn’t mean when the conversation comes up they shy away from it, just like I wouldn’t care if they talked about a cute girl in their classes. If it wasn’t an awkward friendship before the coming out, it shouldn’t be afterwards.
This is all about avoiding the GBF thing, which can make your LGBTQA friends feel kinda like crap. If your male friend isn’t into shopping sprees, don’t assume he will want to tag along just because he’s gay. If he is, don’t cozy up to him purely because you want a shopping buddy. You wouldn’t want to be used for something other than an awesome friendship, and the same rule applies in this sitch. If you’re the kind of person who “loves” gay people because you’ve watched Glee and need a Kurt in your life, it’s important to remember that Kurt is a fictional character and real gay people are as unique as their thumbprints — and so are you!
Finally, Be Grateful
If your friend is telling you something this personal, it can only mean great things for your relationship. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it is important — your friend is comfortable enough in their sexuality or gender to tell someone else. They clearly trust you a ton, and LOVE you enough to confide in you. And that means you’re already a pretty great friend.
Josh Broadbent is an aspiring writer/actor and an advocate for LGBTQA issues. He also likes to think of himself as a fledgling advice guru when it comes to growing up LGBTQA, breaking down binaries and feeling totes amazing! You can check him out on Instagram.