Unfortunately, the topic of sexual identity is still largely taboo in our society. For individuals who are LGBTQ, it can be difficult to confide in the people they normally trust. Having a sibling with an LGBTQ identity can inspire a wide range of emotions. Even if you have the best intentions, you still might not know what to do or to say. When the topic of sexual identity inevitably emerges, here are a few things to keep in mind:
LET THEM COME TO YOU
Coming out is something an individual should have the absolute freedom to do at the time and place that they feel the most comfortable. No matter how “obvious” your sibling’s sexual identity may be (Hint: it probably isn’t as clear as you might think), it isn’t smart to prejudge them or make assumptions.
They are who they are. They will share this very personal component of their lives when they are ready. By confronting them, or forcing them to come out to you, you are violating a very fragile piece of who they are. You are also wrongfully sending the message, “we are going to do this on my own terms.” In this case, being patient is an important and necessary sign of respect.
REMEMBER THAT THEY ARE TRUSTING YOU
If your sibling does decide to come out to you—especially if you are the first one they have told—then they are entrusting you with an important element of themselves. It is not your job to tell your other siblings, parents, cousins, or anybody else without their permission. Even if their sexual identity is something they are completely comfortable with, it is still up to them when, and if, they want to tell anybody.
By maintaining your sibling’s very valuable sense of trust, you are beginning to build the foundation of support they need. If you treat their livelihood as if it were just a piece of hot gossip, then you are sending the message that you do not really care. You are also not the support system they are counting on. If they can trust you now, at the beginning, then they will know they can trust you in the future with whatever other troubles or confusions emerge.
LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGEMENT
If your sibling decides to come out to you, it is very important that you do not judge. If your first reaction is, “I would have never guessed you were gay,” you could be damaging an already fragile situation. You are imposing your own definition of “what” a gay individual looks, acts, and feels like. If you react by saying, “I always knew you were gay,” once again, your sending the message that this is something you prejudged in the past.
When your sibling comes out to you, it is about THEM. Do not make it about yourself by weighing in your own prejudgments, attitudes, or opinions. Even if you are very supportive of LGBTQ rights, don’t try to console them by saying how “cool” it is to have a gay sibling. Simply say—without judgment—that you love them, you care for them, and you can be a trusted resource of support.
LOVE THEM UNCONDITIONALLY
Your family may be tolerant of all kinds of people. But, unfortunately, we still live in a world where non-heterosexual identities are burdened by the fact they will inevitably be treated differently. A perfect example of this is the fact that LGBTQ people are even expected to “come out.” Instead of existing as they are, a human being, and having to constantly explain themselves through the adoption of role-producing labels.
Though being LGBTQ can be a beautiful and wonderful thing, it is not always easy. Your sibling will need your love and support along the way. Love is the most powerful and unconditional resource you can give to someone who needs it. As a member of their family, they are counting on you.
Naturally, you play a very important role in each of your family member’s lives. By being patient, trustworthy, open, and loving, you can help your sibling love themselves for who they are. They will be able to pursue the life that they want.
Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).