What to Say When Someone Comes Out to You & 4 Things to Avoid

Be the support system your loved ones deserve by learning how to (and how not to) respond to someone who's coming out to you.

Published February 24, 2024
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Coming out has a long (and often fraught) history in America. While there are increasingly heated debates in the LGBTQIA+ community about whether you even need to come out, it’s still something thousands of people do every year. Make sure you’re armed with the best reaction by learning how to respond (and how not to respond) to someone who’s coming out to you.

5 Tips for Responding to Someone Who’s Coming Out to You

Two different generation men friendly speaking to each other

Sure, some queer folks might hold a coming out party equipped with Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” queued up as a bombastic entrance track. But most people like to keep things lowkey. Like with anything someone confides in you, how you respond immediately afterward can have a huge impact on your relationship.

Take a page from our book to help you know the right way to respond to someone when they come out to you about their sexuality.

Always Thank Them for Sharing

No one’s obligated to tell you anything about their life, and it’s an incredible honor when someone chooses to confide in you. Show them that you recognize what this means and how important it is by thanking them for sharing.

You can say something as simple as, “Thank you so much for telling me.” Or something like, “I really appreciate you confiding in me with this.”

Be Patient and Listen

We humans are meandering storytellers. One thought leads to another, and sometimes, it takes way too long to get back to the point. The same goes for when someone’s coming out. It might take them a while to get to what they’re trying to tell you, especially if they’re nervous.

The best way you can show that you’re listening is by being patient. Don’t rush them! They might clam up and not tell you if they feel like they’re bothering you or they’re being an inconvenience.

Tell Them That You Love Them

Sexuality is one piece of the identity puzzle, and it doesn’t change your relationship with that person. If you loved them before, you’ll still love them after. And opening up about something so personal like that can make people feel really vulnerable.

Soothe that vulnerability and show your support by telling them you love them. You don’t necessarily need to go so far as to do the whole “I love you anyways” or “I still love you" thing.  These responses give a hint of derision and disagreement with their identity. You want to uplift them, not beat them down! So a simple “I love you” will suffice.

Confirm Who They’ve Already Told (if Anyone Else)

It’s really important that you ask them who they’ve already told (if anyone). We’re not in the business of outing people, and you want to make sure that you don’t accidentally do so by finding out who already knows.

You can ask them, “Since this is your information, it’s not mine to share, and I don’t want to mention it to someone who doesn’t already know. Have you told anyone else?”

Make Yourself Available to Them in the Future

No two coming-out stories are exactly the same, but a lot of them are just people dropping these little tokens of knowledge about their sexuality into a conversation. Instead of making a big deal about it then (which most people don’t want — at least, I didn’t), make yourself available for future conversations.

You don’t have to be so direct as to say, “You can always talk to me about anything.” But you can just pepper in opening questions in future conversations. Ask about their love life and open up about your own experiences. Telling is great, but showing your support is way better.

Related: How to Be a Better Ally: Tips & Tricks for Navigating the Modern World

4 Things Not to Say to Someone Who Just Came Out

Man and woman having a tense conversation

Generally, people don’t want to offend anyone. But being human is to be flawed, and there are a whole lot of mishaps you can stumble on your way into when responding to a coming out situation. So, stay on the straight and narrow by avoiding these faux pas at all costs.

Don’t Say That You Already Knew

Absolutely no one wants to have their thunder taken away by hearing “I already knew.” Chances are, if they’re coming out to you, it means they think you didn’t already know. Which — if you’re reading between the lines — means you might not have been as vocally supportive or encouraging as you could have been.

If this is your knee-jerk reaction, consider looking at your own behavior and thinking of ways you could be more outwardly supportive in the meantime. Don’t wait for someone to come out to you to make your environment a safe space to exist in.

Don’t Ask if They’re Sure

If someone’s coming out to you for the first or fifth time, never ask them if they’re sure. Sexuality is fluid, and people learn new things about themselves over time. Tastes change, for some way more often than others. But that doesn’t make any belief they have in the moment invalid.

You’re not more of an expert on their sexual identity than they are. So trust that they’re pretty sure about what their sexuality is at that moment in time.

Don’t Ask Them Invasive Questions

You don’t see this very often, but sometimes, people let their curiosity get the better of them. Just because someone isn’t heterosexual doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to ask them invasive questions about their romantic and sexual practices.

If they want to talk about that with you in the future, that’s totally up to them! But there’s a time and place, and this moment isn’t it.

Don’t Ask if They Find You Attractive

Jokey responses hardly land in serious conversations like this one. Don’t fall prey to tired old jokes like “Do you find me attractive?” Instead, a good rule of thumb is to match the other person’s tone. If they’re being serious, be equally serious. If they’re being breezy and quick, pass it off with a similarly passive approach.

So Long as You’re Genuine, It’ll All Work Out

You can practice all you want to come up with responses that are ultra-sensitive for these kinds of situations. But sometimes, you just end up working on autopilot. So long as you’re being genuine in your support and love for the person coming out to you, it’ll all work out. We LGBTQIA+ folks are pretty forgiving, so long as we’re receiving love at the end of it. 

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What to Say When Someone Comes Out to You & 4 Things to Avoid