I Say “I’m Gay,” You Say “. . .”
Years ago I arrived at a cafe to meet up with someone very important to me. As I had planned, I announced, “M and I are getting married!” “Oh . . .” she replied with her face clenched. “Uh . . . congratulations.”
While this person still has an important place in my life, there is a part of me that will never forgive her for her reaction that day. Our relationship changed a little in that moment.
Today is National Coming Out Day, when people come out to you, the truths that they are sharing are much more important than an engagement announcement. No, really, coming out is more important than announcing that you’re getting married.
Getting married is something you do, being queer is something you ARE.
As the mom of a gay child I often end up being the one to talk through her identity and its significance with adults who’ve just found out. Generally, thankfully, the adults she comes out to know to say “awesome,” “right on,” or “wow.”
These adults save their questions and thoughts for me.
The common responses I get include:
- How do you know for sure?
- Don’t you think this is just a phase?
- How can she really know at this age? She’s too young to know this.
- She must be confusing her friendship with other girls for romantic attraction.
- Well, I’ll support her, but I wouldn’t wish this on her. It’s going to make her life so much harder.
- (And thankfully . . . ) That’s so awesome that she knows who she is at this age.
It will be useful to discuss my own responses to each of these statements, as I have with How do you know for sure?, but for now I would like to share the reactions that I most appreciate and that are most appropriate.
The best first responses to someone who comes out to you include:
- That’s so awesome.
- Congratulations/Mazel tov.
- How exciting.
- Thanks for sharing this with me. I am so happy for you.
(By the way, these statements are equally proper for engagement announcements)
If you have questions or concerns, ask them at the right time. Celebrate that this friend/family member/coworker just chose to share something very personal and potentially dangerous with you. They may feel vulnerable, scared, elated, proud, or more likely some combination of these emotions when they made their reveal.
Honor them and celebrate them first–then when appropriate ask polite questions.
And DON’T go tell someone else. Each person has a right to come out to who they want, when they want.
Please try to smile when you say something, because looking horrified really undermines the plausibility of “hooray.”
This is really all just good manners, generally applicable for lots of situations.