This is the brilliant story of my friend coming out
For one reason or another, I did not know one of my best friend’s is gay. He told me as teenagers and I wanted to take the time to share his story with you.
With little information about how to make sure a friend knows you are there to support them, sometimes people struggle with the approach.
This friend stood by my side. I grew up with him and we walked home from school. Each family and friend situation is unique and in all the years, I have never heard a conversation like he had with his parents. On his own terms, my friend found a way to tell his parents and me that he is gay. While he is usually very blunt, he kept this close to him for awhile and it pains me to think that he felt lonely in this process.
So, in case there are others out there that might be helped with his story, this is for you.
I am sharing his story with his permission. To share a person's sexual orientation without their consent is called "outing." Also, while this is not a guide, it is meant to give a glimpse of what friends can do for each other.
Being in a rural reservation community, terms like coming out and inclusiveness did not really exist in conversations in the late 1990s. Which is when my friend's coming out happened. I have recently seen a bit more of this topic discussed or a supportive "pride/rainbow" button shared on social media.
How often do you hear this topic discussed?
If you are new to this topic, it's okay to learn basics. I still learn things too as an ally (aka friend).
So, before we get to the story here is a little background on terms. I found references which are linked as well as the end of this story.
A frequent question I hear is what is LGTBQ an acronym for?
In general, LGTBQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer or sometimes Questioning (see GLADD Glossary of Terms).
Two-Spirit and Winkte
There are terms within the Native LGTBQ, which are Two-Spirit and Winkte. As far as I know, my friend does not identify as Two-Spirit, so I do not use this within his story. Some Natives have strong beliefs regarding Two-Spirit. Community educator, Tony Enos said, "A Two Spirit person may be gay, but a gay person is not necessarily Two Spirit. Claiming the role of Two Spirit is to take up the spiritual responsibility that the role traditionally had" (8 Things You Should Know About Two Spirit People).
There is historic evidence of two-spirit people. Native Rights Activist, Russell Means said, "In my culture, we have people who dress half-man, half-woman. Winkte, we call them in our language. If you are Winkte, that is an honorable term and you are a special human being and among my nation and all Plains people, we consider you a teacher of our children and are proud of what and who you are” (Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders).
We approach this topic carefully because...
Number One Concern is Safety
There is still bullying and violence towards the LGTBQ community. According to Pride Resource Center's, Coming Out to Your Parents, "Safety is your number one concern; only come out when you are sure your personal safety would not be jeopardized." There are many possible conversations and many considerations, with safety being a top consideration.
What an Ally (Friend) can do
My approach to friends and family in their love life is to not put much emphasis on questions such as Who do you like? I may ask once or twice, but I try not to push the topic if I am the only one talking about it. So, this is part of what an ally can do. The bottom line is we seek ways to support friends and family. We may just not know when or how friends in this situation need support.
I think of our memories growing up.
As kids, we were masterminds. We figured out a way to get candy on our walks home. Sometimes these were pep talks, by way of comedy as we would cheer each other up from a long school day. At one point, he moved away and we convinced our parents that I needed to visit him in another state. Since our schools’ spring breaks were not synced, he somehow convinced the school to let me attend for a day. I have no clue how in the pre-internet and pre-cellphone age how we worked out all the logistics. I once remarked how pretty flowers were as I eyed the dry grass on our lawn. Ten minutes later he was on a bike with an armful full of flowers beaming and casually saying, “Well look what I found.” Being his friend is a fun adventure.
Coming Out: A brilliant reservation story
So, flashback to us as teenagers ready to embark our amazingness on the world. Another friend of his first mentioned his boyfriend. I quietly responded, “Oh.” She thought I knew. But, I did not know. I changed the subject because he was not in the room and I would rather talk to him about it.
When he did not talk with me about his choice in a significant other, I was worried that my friend did not think I was accepting. Is this why he never told me? At the time, I was not sure. How do you even bring up such a topic? I waited a day or two.
When I could not figure it out how to ask him, I just went to visit him. So, we talked and he brought up the friend. I complimented his friend. Then I just asked him very gently, “So, he's been your friend for how long?” He cut to the chase and said, “He’s my boyfriend.”
I asked if his mom knew. He said, “I was on the phone with her and talked about my boyfriend. Then my step-dad got on the other phone.” So the three of them were talking at the same time.
My friend continued the phone conversation he was telling about his boyfriend to both his mom and step-dad.
His step-dad was surprised at the mention of a boyfriend and said, “So you are gay? Well, nobody told me.” My friend said,”Well, nobody told me either.” We laughed at his directness in an awkward conversation.
This story has replayed many times in my head. His story helped me realize that who a friend wants to be with, does not have a set time or manner that has to be shared with others. When he acknowledged this is a confusing process, he captured this sense of entitlement that can unintentionally come from friends or family. Through his story, he put expectations about others right to know who he likes, to rest. He also added humor and realness to the conversation. He brilliantly redirected the personal conversation to his feelings.
Think of something that you hold close to your chest, and how easy was it to explain this to others? Did you want a long conversation or just fold the topic within another? When we think of family or friends in the situation, they need to decide when and if they tell others. That said, there are ways to convey a "No matter what, we are friends or family" message while not pushing the conversation directly. Allowing them the space to come out is important.
Friends or Family introducing their Partner:
In my experience, both with this friend and with other LGBTQ friends and family they have just introduced their partner. For example, "Hi, this is my boyfriend." I say, "Hello, xyz, it is very nice to meet you." They perhaps either think I might already know or that is their way of telling me. However the introduction, I think of my friend's story. I remember that this is about them opening up to a friend or family member. Please try to remember even if we are initially surprised, as long as we are supportive then Love wins.
When I contacted my friend for permission to share this story, I thought of the last in-person conversation we had. With our busy lives and distance, I only get to see him once in awhile. In those short minutes we saw each other, he had me laughing so hard my stomach hurt. He is still the kind of friend that just fills your soul. This is just one of many reasons why we will forever be friends.
What can we do?
This can be a difficult conversation for some people and each person will judge a situation and relationship accordingly. Remember, safety first.
We can educate ourselves about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equal rights.
We can support friends and family, even if it means allowing them the time and place to decide if and when they want to come out.
We can change derogatory phrases about LGTBQ. I often request a different way of speaking or remind people if something is viewed as a negative phrase. Sometimes, I struggle with how to correct this, especially if there appears to be homophobia. Again, safety is a primary factor.
Was this helpful?
If you think this is a good story then please comment here or social media "Love Wins"
If you have more time....
See the additional articles and resources below.