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What NOT to say when someone’s coming out to you

By Tanya Lara Published Jun 02, 2021 9:16 pm

When she was six years old, my Gen Z cousin asked her mother, “Mom, am I half boy?” Unlike her sister, she didn’t like playing with dolls, she didn’t want to go to ballet school, she didn’t like dresses.

Four years ago, when she was 17, she came out. Her relationship with her emotionally unstable father got so strained, so angry and toxic that she wanted to run away from home and take her mom with her.

We, her cousins whose ages ranged from teens to 40s, rallied around her—literally—as we were around the kitchen counter during one of their “staycation” weekends in my house.

In her hurt and anger, she couldn’t see what her cousins could see as clear as day—that her mother (our aunt) had enormous love for her it could encompass the divide with her dad, that it would help her ride out the adversity that was going to dissipate eventually.

I told her, “You cannot run away from home and then come back to ask for money. If you’re going to leave under these circumstances, you have to get a job and pay for your own schooling.”

Coming out can be a traumatic or stressful experience.

She didn’t run away.

Today, she and her dad are back in their loving relationship. He’s even taken to calling her by the male name she’s adopted; he’s accepted her wearing his leather shoes, and growing facial hair.

For many LGBTQ+ people, coming out is traumatic, especially when they come out to their parents who can be in denial, angry and confused.

For some, especially with older gay men, there was no need to “officially” come out “kasi obvious naman.”

“My dad said to ‘fight it off,’ as if it was something I could fight off.”

A gay friend, 50, tells me, “Wala naman akong dramatic moment eh. Nag text lang ako to a good friend and sabi niya, ‘Okay.’ In my family, we never talked about it, they just knew.”

Another gay friend says, “There was really no coming out before, but what really got to me were the malicious comments about why wasn’t I married yet or when was I going to start a family.”

He was also told by his mom that he wouldn’t have a future if he “persisted on being what he was.”

“My dad said to ‘fight it off,’ as if it was something I could fight off.” He added, “Perhaps I would have had a more conventional life had I tried to keep it to myself, but imagine the misery I would have inflicted not only on myself, but on people around me. Ang dami naman na nag-asawa na bading. I don't know what their motivations are, tapos lolokohin lang nila mga asawa nila. I can’t live with that.”

What not to say

“To some people my relationship wasn’t real because I was with the same sex.”

One thing every LGBTQ+ needs when they do come out: love. What they don’t need to hear: stupid statements like “You’ll grow out of it” or “Sayang, ang pogi/ganda mo pa naman.”

Here are some things not to say when someone comes out to you, according to young people who have recently done it:

“It’s a phase” or “It’s a choice.”

Matteo, 21, says, “When people say that, it’s as if they know me or know what I’m going through. But more than words, what really hurt me was how I was treated rather than what was said to me, especially at my former religious school.”

“You’re going to hell.”

Gab, 20, says, “They’re equating my being gay with being a bad person. I also don’t like it when they assume that I want to have man-like stuff and features like a deeper voice, or commenting on my body weight. I’m uncomfortable too when they imply or assume that I want bottom surgery.”  

“Girlfriend lang naman hindi boyfriend.”

Habibi, 19, says there was a time when she was out with her friends and a boy tried to get physical with her. When she told him explicitly that she was in a relationship, he said, “Girlfriend lang naman hindi boyfriend.”

“This made me feel invalidated and disrespected because to some people my relationship wasn’t real because I was with the same sex.”

“Are you sure about that?” “I don’t think you’re actually gay.”

Lucas, 18, says she was once told that “it was just a phase” and that she would end up marrying a man. “”I have never been so quick to disagree with something my whole life.”

“Don’t tell anybody else.”

Two gay friends were told this when they came out. “It’s as if it was a dirty little secret that wasn’t obvious in the first place,” said one. “They didn’t have a right to tell me who I could or could not tell.”

What someone coming out really needs from you is a safe space for honesty and love. “Make them feel that they didn’t make a mistake coming out to you,” adds Lucas. 

Acceptance

We’re accepting of LGBTQ, for sure. It’s about time we put that into law.

In the past decade or so, things have changed tremendously. Gay couples are finally allowed get legally married in many countries, they have the same rights as heterosexual couples to adopt children, and given the same parental and spousal benefits at work.

In the Philippines, the law—which is a true measure of equality and protection—is far behind even when we believe that Filipinos, more than other races, accept LGBTQ+ as equals in society.

A Pew Research on the Global Divide on Homosexuality—first conducted in 2002, updated in 2007, 2013 and 2019—found that in Asia Pacific, the Philippines (73%) is only second to Australia (81%) in saying that homosexuals should be accepted in society. As expected, the acceptance is low in Muslim countries across the world such as Indonesia (9%).

Wealth, religion and political ideology also play a role. “In many countries, those on the political right are less accepting of homosexuality than those on the left. And supporters of several right-wing populist parties in Europe are also less likely to see homosexuality as acceptable,” the study said.

“In general, people in wealthier and more developed economies are more accepting of homosexuality than are those in less wealthy and developed economies.”

We’re accepting of LGBTQ, for sure. It’s about time we put that into law.