Unfortunately, the topic of sexual identity is still largely taboo in our society, and for individuals who are LGBTQ, it can sometimes be difficult to confide in the people they normally trust. Having a sibling with an LGBTQ identity can inspire a wide range of emotions, and even if you have the best intentions, you still might not know what to do or to say. But when the topic of sexual identity inevitably emerges, here are a few things you ought to keep in mind:
LET THEM COME TO YOU
Coming out is something that an individual should have the absolute freedom to do at the time and place that they feel the most comfortable with. No matter how “obvious” your sibling’s sexual identity may be (Hint: it probably isn’t as clear as you might think), it is never a good idea to prejudge them and to start making assumptions.
They are who they are, and 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 not only violating a very fragile piece of who they are, but you are 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, your parents, your cousins, or anybody else without their permission. Even if their sexual identity is something they are completely comfortable with themselves, it should still be up to them when (and if) they want to tell anybody else.
By maintaining your sibling’s very valuable sense of trust, you are beginning to build the foundation of support that they need. If you treat their very livelihood as if it were just a piece of hot gossip, then you are sending the message that not only do you not really care, but you are also not the support system they are counting on. If they can trust you now, at the very beginning, then they will know that they can trust you in the future with whatever other troubles or confusions may 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 because you are imposing your own definition of “what” a gay individual ought to look, act, and feel like. If you react by saying, “I always knew your gay”, once again, you sending the message that this is something you have 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
Even if everyone in your family is completely tolerant of all kinds of people, we unfortunately still live in a world where non-hetero sexual identities are burdened by the fact that 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, and 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 and be able to pursue the life that they want.