How to Support a Loved One When They Come Out

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A transmasculine person with a furry blue coat drinking coffee with a friend.
When a friend or family member comes out to you, greet the news from a place of love and offer them space to share.  (Zackary Drucker/Gender Spectrum Collection)

For Kody Meginnes, coming out has been a multi-step process. Before he let the world know he was a transgender man, Kody first came out as a butch lesbian.

“I was very in the closet to myself,” he told me, recounting his first coming-out experience. “My best friend helped convince me I was a lesbian.” The year was 1992, and Kody was in the military, stationed in Hawaii and identifying as a woman. One day a non-commissioned officer who had taken Kody under her wing invited him for a beer. When it came time to pick Kody up, he was greeted by a car filled with four other women.

“On the way to the bar, everyone in the car was talking about hot women,” recalled Kody. “I said something off the cuff about men, and everything just stopped. Everyone in the car looked at me like, ‘What?’” It was then that Kody’s friend explained to him that they were on the way to a gay bar.

“I didn’t want to be around lesbians,” Kody said, “so I found this Tetris arcade game in the back and parked myself there all night.” But eventually Kody left his game to grab a beer, and then it happened. “This woman grabs my shoulder, turns me around and kisses me—and I kiss her back.”

Rattled and confused, the next day Kody grabbed several rolls of quarters, walked down to a pay phone and called his best friend. “I’m telling her that I couldn’t believe I kissed a girl last night, and she’s like ‘I’ve known you were gay for your whole life. I’ve been waiting for you to tell me.’” Kody started thinking about the kiss at the bar, realized he liked it, and suddenly he came out. “I told her, ‘I don’t think I can say I’m not gay anymore!’ and we laughed, and that was it. I was out of the closet.”

Now a licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified gender specialist by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, Kody specializes in helping other LGBTQ+ individuals in their journey. In honor of this year’s National Coming Out Day, I spoke to him for tips on how allies can support anyone in their lives when they come out to them.

An LGBTQ+ person only gets one chance to come out for the first time

A good first experience of coming out can be of immense importance to an LGBT person. “There no doubt in my mind that when you come out of the closet and get a positive reception, you get a leg up,” said Kody. “By contrast, a bad coming-out can be like a nuclear bomb to your self-confidence.”

Kody stressed that it’s important for allies to understand just how important it is for an LGBTQ+ person to feel love and acceptance when they first come out. Try to understand that this person is standing before you completely naked, at their most vulnerable state. Do your best to honor all of the trust that they’re putting in you at the moment, and give them the good coming-out experience that they deserve.

Know that you were chosen for a reason

Because coming out can put someone into such a vulnerable position, most LGBTQ+ people are very careful about who they come out to, Kody explained. “It’s most likely that you were chosen because your friend felt seen by you and felt loved by you, and they are hoping that they get to keep having that.”

While that may sound like a lot of pressure, Kody emphasized that you can trust yourself to know what to do: “You’ve shown them that they can count on you, and that’s why they’re coming out to you.” Be the good friend that you’ve always been, greeting the news from a place of love. Be curious and respectful about what they’re sharing, and give them the space to share.

Ask your friend what they need

Kody explained that when someone comes out to you, it’s very common to put pressure on yourself to know the exact right thing to do. You might also assume that you know what your friend needs. Both things couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Instead, Kody recommends that you gently and respectfully ask your friend, “What do you need from me? How can I make your journey better?” He added that a lot of times allies feel like they shouldn’t bring up the “pink elephant” out of respect for their friend, but that this can make an LGBTQ+ person feel isolated and overwhelmed. “It can put a lot of pressure on your LGBTQ+ friend to always be bringing things up and asking for support.” As long as you’re not overdoing it, check in with your friend about how their journey is going, and make it clear that they can rely on you if they need something.

Realize that coming out is an ongoing process

Just because your friend came out to you, that doesn’t mean they’re done coming out. For most LGBTQ+ people, coming out is something that they have to manage for the rest of their lives. It’s a never-ending balancing act between visibility and safety.

Claiming that visibility can be powerful. Kody told me how, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2019, he came out to his whole union of school counselors. “I was feeling particularly angry that day because of all the trans people who had been murdered that year, and I wanted people to know that they worked with a trans person,” he recalled. “So at the end of the meeting I stood up and told everyone that I had something I wanted to share with them. In spite of what a bad day it was, being visible really helped me to get through it.”