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Coming out. How to react when a loved one “comes out of the closet”?

Coming out. How to react when a loved one "comes out of the closet"?

Image source: © canva
Maja Kozłowska,
06.10.2023 17:15

Coming out involves voluntarily revealing one's gender identity, sexual identity or minority-specific values or views to others. For non-heteronormative and non-cisgender people "coming out of the closet" can be a long and difficult process.

Coming out is sometimes referred to as "coming out of the wardrobe" in Polish (not a closet, as it is referred to in English). It refers to the abandonment of a safe hiding place and one's safe space. Disclosing one's orientation or gender identity to those around them can be a huge challenge for LGBTQ+ people. It involves fear of non-acceptance, fear of being treated differently and fear of rejection.

Coming out for non-heteronormative and non-cisgender people is a process that actually starts with self-awareness and internal acceptance of one's orientation or identity. Those close to them can support queer people in coming out and therefore, in the long run, in living according to their beliefs and in harmony with themselves. On the other hand, they can also significantly hinder this process.

Coming out should not be confused with outing. We speak of outing a non-heteronormative or non-cisgender person when someone reveals his or her orientation or identity against the will of a member of the LGBT community.

How to make it easier for relatives or friends to come out? What can be done to make LGBTQ+ people feel comfortable?

First of all, it is crucial to understand that for LGBTQ+ people coming out is an important and often difficult decision. Even if someone guesses that a person around them may be non-heteronormative or non-cisgender, they should not in any way pressure, persuade or make allusions that would hasten the coming out process.

If someone decides to come out to you - congratulations. He or she has obviously found you to be a trustworthy person.

We would like to remind you that coming out should be the result of an independent and considered decision by the person concerned.

And how should one react to make a person close to them feel comfortable when coming out?

  • Firstly – we should not question the identity of the LGBT person. Coming out can also be difficult for friends, family or partners - not only for the person concerned. If the other party is currently uncomfortable with it, they can communicate this too, but without slandering the person coming out with being indecisive, making excuses, seeking attention or "following fashion".
  • A nice gesture would be to express willingness to understand. We are human - we can’t know everything and we don't need to. If someone outs themselves as a non-binary person and we don't understand it – it’s a good idea to ask for clarification.
  • It is hugely important to respect the other person's identity. This is especially true for non-binary people. It is worth asking them about their pronouns or the preferred name. Conversion may take time - willingness is most important.
  • Every form of support counts - both verbal and physical. It's a good idea to show it right from the start with gestures like offering help, a word of encouragement, offering to talk, or even a hug. It is important that the LGBT person does not feel alone.
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