There are many ways of reacting to a loved one "coming out" to you. Simply put, your reaction is either positive or negative.
I once had a friend, Alex, who came out to his mom first. She would listen and ask questions as often as she could take it all in. He suspected it would be more difficult to talk to his dad. Alex was right. Immediately after doing so, his dad wouldn’t speak with him and even stopped acknowledging his presence in the room! Eventually, Alex was cut off financially for a time and no longer welcome in the home.
This was the dad's effort to "protect" his family from what he didn't understand which gave the appearance of homophobia. In reality, the family suffered when he cut off Alex from it and Alex suffered too. If amends aren't made, Alex may find himself in need of help or guidance and his dad may have accidentally conditioned his son to not come to him when he needs the guidance. Thus, his son will find influence from outside sources. This should make the qualified parent wince a little.
Though people may react poorly, there could be reasons that (don’t justify, but may) explain why they do so. In Alex's case, it turns out that his dad had a gay sibling who happened to have drug issues. The problem is that the dad equated his brothers' drug issue with his sexuality, coming to the conclusion that homosexuality means drugs. Lucky for his dad, Alex understood this which helped him better cope with the misunderstanding and his heartache.
Other forms of reacting poorly could include (though aren’t limited to):
-Responding with unsolicited religious doctrine
-Telling him that it’s only “a phase.”
Tip for gays who are coming out: the reaction you want could depend on how you come out (for example, “Mom, I’m gay” versus “Mom, I’m gay and uhhhh this is my partner” could get two different reactions).
Tip for everyone else: Loving someone doesn’t mean you must also support his or her actions or values. So, if someone you know enters into a same-sex relationship and that's not something you would do, it is possible to continue to love and associate with them. The perfect example of this principle? Uh Jesus! He must do this all the stinkin' time! He continues to love us when we do things He wouldn't, and He does so without supporting those things.
3. Love unconditionally
The best example I have of these three L's is a personal one:
I was on the phone with my parents, staring out my second story window of BYU-I approved housing. Only a few months ago, I’d accepted that I’d never be straight and sank into a deep, dangerous depression. It was about 9 months since I returned from my mission. I’d grown snarky, irritable, and with little motivation over the passed few months.
We were in the middle of a typical conversation: studies, friends, the ward, etc. This time, I began complaining heavily about the university, homework, church, my depression…anything I could, really. I blamed everything else for my unhappiness. Eventually, it escalated enough to where my parents and I were frustrated and emotional.
Through her tears, my mom asked, “What's changed over the past few months? Why are you so different?”
I was extremely emotional and coming to the end of my ability to pretend I was in a mold I’ve never fit into. On an impulse, I shattered the image that I’d worked so hard to maintain.
“It’s because I’m gay!”
The short pause on the other end seemed like an eternity. I felt utterly defeated—like stating it somehow made it more real. But when I heard their voices again, I wasn’t prepared for the response.
“How long have you…have you known?”
Questions. No anger? No judgment? No…putting distance between us?
Still crying, I replied, “I’ve known since I was like four.”
The next day they drove across a couple states to—what felt like was—my rescue. Years of secret hidden pain, suicide, self-loathing, and doom for my future and soul finally seemed allowed on the outside. For hours I sobbed in my parents’ arms as I went into more detail about all my questions, doubts and fears...
Would any girl ever love me if she really knew? What if I left the gospel path? How come the Plan of Happiness doesn't include me? Why am I gay? Would I ever be like everyone else, or get to have what everyone else has? Would I never get to be a dad? Why can’t God just take it all away? When will I get my relief?
My parents didn’t have the answers and they didn't need to! They simply listened, learned, loved unconditionally, and wept with me. They handled everything perfectly.
Moral of the post? Listen, learn, love unconditionally, and leave the rest to The One who gives the test. That's what we did and I eventually had all my questions answered. Future posts will explain a few of them.