We have all used this GIF at least once in our chats, whether it is to express shock, despair, or just plain melodrama.
It carries a comic element that makes Kirron Kher’s character very endearing. But in reality, if someone were to react to their child coming out as gay like this, it wouldn’t be funny. At all.
The Coming Out Business
When someone does not identify as straight (heterosexual) or does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth (cis-gendered), they are faced with the difficult choice of whether or not they would want to express this to their loved ones and the world. This process of revealing one’s true identity to others is known as coming out.
A cis-het individual does not need to come out because they are already in line with what society assumes is their true self. But for people belonging to the Queer community, it is a decision that they have to face at some point in their lives. Coming out is a very complex and drawn out process. Coming out to one’s own self is one of the hardest steps in developing a positive identity. It involves a lot of soul searching and introspection and a good healthy sense of self-appreciation and acceptance, which involves conscious unlearning of the cis-heteronormativity and queer-shame that society implicitly conditions people with. Coming out to others involves other risks and difficulties depending on who that person is coming out to , how engaged they are with them, how much power they have in the relationship, and how accepting they are.
Coming out is a never-ending process
Coming out is not one bold step an individual has to take after which everything is back to normal. A queer individual has to come out several times throughout their lives. Sometimes, one has to come out more than once with the same people because it is difficult for others to accept and change their perspective. Typically, one may have to come out to themselves, parents, siblings, relatives, close friends, partner, classmates, teachers, work colleagues, new friends, neighbours, officials, and so on. As you must have realised, it can get extremely difficult especially if you don’t know how the other is going to react to this information. The uncertainty of not knowing how your identity is going to be received is very scary, and can deeply affect an individual. Therefore, when a loved one comes out to you, here is what you need to do.
Your secret’s safe with me
When a loved one comes out to you, the first and the most important thing you must keep in mind is that this is a huge sign of the trust that they have in you. Acknowledge the honour that comes with being told about somebody’s innermost truth. The second and equally important thing you must do is try and understand where they are in their journey of coming out. It is OKAY to ask them if this is confidential (How many people know?), and then assure them that this information is safe with you. You must, in no situation whatsoever, breach their trust by outing their identity to others. Understand that this is a journey that they have to make, and you can only support them. Ask them what they need from you in terms of support. And always remember, their gender and/or sexuality is just one aspect of their multidimensional personality.
Do’s and Don’ts
There are a few very essential lines that one must never cross when someone comes out to them.
Rush them or hurry to fill in the silence.
Ask about their sex life, or their partners, bodies, or surgery.
Dismiss their reality as a phase, reaction to bad experiences, or “attention seeking behaviour”
Take it personally or assume this means that they have a crush on you.
Force them to come out to others.
React immediately, instead, take your time to respond mindfully.
Ask respectful questions to show you are interested.
Be honest when you are unsure or you don’t understand or don’t know what to say.
Ask them if there are ways in which you might have made them feel uncomfortable or unsupported in the past and how you can change it.
Ask for the name and pronouns you should use for them henceforth, especially if they come out to you as trans or non-binary.
Apologise for when you make a mistake, and move on. Don’t make it so big that they have to spend time reassuring you that it is okay.
Processing the news
It is understandable that you will also need time to comprehend and process this new information, and think about what this means for you and your expectations for your loved one. For many people, especially parents, coming out can change many plans they had for their child’s future. Although it may seem like you are losing all those dreams, understand that these expectations were yours alone, and not their responsibility to fulfill. Be mindful to not express disappointment in their presence, and make sure to process all of these emotions before you can share it with them in a healthy manner. Focus on what you have in front of you, and start afresh. Remember, gender and sexuality are only on small part of the whole individual that you have always cherished and loved, and them not being straight or cis-gendered does not make them a stranger to your affection. There are queer affirmative therapists who can also help loved ones process and fully embrace the queer identities of their children/partner/sibling/friend/relative. Reach out to them if you feel overwhelmed by the change.
Mind the Labour
While it’s understandable that this information might be new and unchartered territory, it is unfair to depend on your loved one to be your sole source of information on all things queer. Avoid bombarding them with questions that might make them feel overwhelmed or even vulnerable. Instead, take it upon yourself to learn as much as you can about Queerness from trusted sources.
Listed below are some resources for your own use, or for you to share with anyone who you think would benefit from this information
Unnati has an interesting knowledge of memes and Bollywood trivia. They likes to express themselves through their poetry, art, and dancing. Being a queer feminist, they change their hairstyle every few months as a way of breaking out of the dichotomy of gender, and reclaiming their own body. They are equally passionate about literature and biology as they are about mental health, and tries to keep acquiring new skills and information wherever they go.