3 Rules to Support Your LGBTQ+ Loved OneJun 01, 2023
At this point in my career, I’ve lost count of the number of times a patient of mine has told me about the hurt and trauma they experienced when they came out to someone they loved, and received anything but support.
This kind of experience has long-lasting, negative effects on one’s sense of self. It has the kind of effect that often takes a lot of time, effort, tears, and therapy to heal.
So what if I told you that you had the power to prevent this occurrence? What if I told you that, if you keep these 3 things in mind when someone you care about comes to you, it could change their lives for the good?
This blog outlines the 3 most important things to keep in mind when someone in your life comes out to you as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender, queer, or any other non-normative identity.
It’s important to know that what they’re needing most of all, is a safe place to share who they really are. If someone comes to you to share their identity in this way, they are needing more love, not less.
Do not pass judgment, or show it in any way.
Imagine you are trying to tell someone something you’ve done that you feel ashamed or embarrassed about, and you don’t know how they will react. Would it help you if they were shocked, disgusted, uncomfortable, or angry?
Your loved one anticipating the same reaction from you. This is a vulnerable, often scary thing for them to do, so as much as you can stay calm, the better. It’s ok to have feelings about it, but those are yours to manage. It is not up to your loved one to manage your reactions for you.
Keep it confidential.
Another concern any of us have when sharing sensitive information about ourselves is that we can trust the people we tell to keep it to themselves. This doesn’t mean you have to carry the weight of a “big secret”, but see it as allowing your loved one to control whom they tell and when.
Again, this is a sensitive topic and they are judging how to keep themselves safe while sharing their truth with trusted other people. It is their identity to share, not yours, so keeping their confidence is part of their safety.
Tell them you love them. Tell them you love them unconditionally, if that is your truth. This person is worrying they may lose your love if they don’t fit within a certain identity, so letting them know you not only accept them, but love them for who they are, is very healing.
Many of you know from working with me that the Nurturer sees us, and especially our Adaptive Child, as lovable, whole, and enough, not matter what. Be the nurturing parent to this child before you, and let them know you love them. You can do that with words, as well as with actions.
Treat them as you normally would treat them.
What does your relationship with this person normally entail? Humor? Hugs? Curiosity to know more? Your loved one is still the person you knew before they came out to you, so it’s ok to use some sensitive, well-timed humor, or to show affection like you normally would.
One patient told me that when he came out to his mother, he opened with “We need to have a serious talk”, and at the end his mother feigned wiping her brow and said, “Whew, I thought you were going to tell me you were vegan.” And they laughed, because that’s how they normally maintain their bond.
Get to know their partner.
If your loved one has a partner, show interest in the ways you would with anyone who presents their partner to you. Theirs is a normal relationship, just as your own, if you have one.
Asking about their partner, or planning to meet them will show your loved one that you support their freedom to love whom they love.
Is your person polyamorous (a.k.a., in a relationship with more than one person)? Ask them what that is like for them. What is nice about that kind of experience, and what is difficult? Again, like any relationship, there are pro’s and con’s, and if you ask in a curious, supportive way, this shows you are loving and accepting of who they are.
It’s ok that you don’t know everything there is to know about your loved one’s identity. And they don’t expect you to know. As with any conversation you would have with someone who is living differently than you, it’s ok to ask questions.
Be aware, though, that the way in which you word questions may be perceived as judgmental or non-approving. For example, rather than asking, “Are you sure this person is right for you?” you might say, “Are they treating you well? That’s what is most important to me.”
Be observant of their non-verbal cues when asking questions
You may see in their body language or facial expression if and when the questions become overwhelming for them. If that’s the case, you may want to hold your questions for another time. Remember that this first interaction is more about them feeling safe and loved, rather than you understanding completely. There will be plenty of time to speak to them about all this in the future.
It is not their job to teach you all about LGBTQ+ culture
It can be exhausting for people who belong to a non-normative group to have to explain themselves to others. Imagine if, with every person you knew, you had to deal with questioning looks, or had to justify why you love whom you love? You’d be worn out every day!
So it’s important that you learn true, research-supported facts about this community. I would not recommend anything on YouTube, or ordinary internet searches, because those are rife with ignorant opinions.
Instead, you can start with my Therapy Matters Newsletter from June, 2023, or take advantage of the information and resources at The Safe Zone Project.
I’m thrilled you have taken the time to read this blog, because it tells me you are dedicated to supporting someone in you life who needs love, safety, and understanding. If everyone could provide that kind of warm reception to just one person in their lives, imagine what this world would be!