I’d be surprised if the majority of this wasn’t meant jokingly or rather was the result of genuine unawareness that it could be hurtful. Let’s establish this, because I do not think that people intend to upset those who are close to them, especially when they come out (though sadly, that isn’t always the case, I’m just giving y’all the benefit of the doubt.)
These ten statements are things people usually reach for as a means of showing someone that they accept them, though they are objectively doing the opposite. Some of them can pack a very specific punch, one that goes right to all the repressed feelings that are still lightly tainted with embarrassment and shame and isolation. There’s no pointing fingers here, just discussing ways that we could all stand to be a bit more accommodating to those who are already displaced by a society who is rigidly (and unfairly) stuck on what’s acceptable, what’s okay, and what’s normal.
1. I never would have guessed! (Or the worse version: you look so normal!)
There are so many layers in this one simple statement and none of them are flattering, as it seems to be intended. There’s an assumption here that gay people look gay — that sexuality is something that’s connected to identity and appearance — none of which is the case. Worse, it implies that you assume people are straight until proven otherwise, which very clearly sets LGBTQ members in the “other” category. The “other than normal” category, you know the one.
2. I just don’t know how you [do something sexual] with [person of the same sex]. I could never, I can’t imagine.
Please just take a moment to imagine how that would make somebody feel, to know that you are thinking of them and their desires as dirty, gross and weird. There are few more uncomfortable things you could say to someone in the LGBTQ community than “I respect you, but I could never do that.” I’m sure the respect is appreciated (if it’s even offered) but the reality of it is this isn’t about you. Nobody is asking you to be queer too. You have no place importing your subjective opinion into the conversation, especially when it plays right into the person’s potential (and probable) fears.
3. But it is a choice. You choose to come out, to act on your desire. Regardless of what you feel, everything is a choice.
So people shouldn’t choose love if it’s not the kind of love that makes sense to you — and should therefore live alone or with someone they don’t really care about.
4. Oh, my friend is gay!
I’m sure you know many LGBTQ people, some of which you are aware of, some of which you are not. This is not proof that you are open-minded. I have actually heard this statement followed up with: “hate the sin, not the sinner.” (Yes, seriously.) Aside from that one extreme instance, this isn’t comforting in the way that you probably intend it to be. It doesn’t translate as evidence of your acceptance, rather it shows that element of someone as being defining of who they are in your life. (Imagine meeting a white person and saying, “I have another friend who is white too!”)
5. When are you, [a bisexual], going to choose?
First of all, sexuality is not categorical. That said, if you’re bisexual, you don’t “turn” or “choose” to be either straight or gay depending on who you end up with. You’re bisexual, and you will always be bisexual unless one day you feel you should identify otherwise.
6. But you’ve dated other people (of the opposite sex) in the past? (Or any other argument insinuating that you aren’t actually LGBTQ as opposed to just confused/in a phase because at one point you did something that was decidedly cis.)
Coming out (and more importantly, realizing who you are) is a long and often painful process. There are many reasons people block out and hide and deny and ignore who and what they are. What matters is how people identify (who they know they are at any given moment in time) as opposed to what they’ve done or who they used to be, or maybe more accurately, who and what you’ve already become comfortable with.
7. How are you going to [do something that is only understood when it’s heteronormative, such as have a baby?]
It’s very interesting when this is the follow-up question to someone saying (or showing) that they are LGBTQ. It’s as though people have to justify their plans for a heteronormative lifestyle for their homosexuality (or whatever they identify as) to be acceptable. I can absolutely guarantee your asking about how they plan to reproduce (or any other question along those lines) is not the first time they have considered it, and more importantly, nobody owes you an explanation for how they’d do things that seem desirable to you.
8. This is going to take some time for me to get used to.
People don’t change when they come out to you, your perception of them does. In my book, it is unacceptable to make someone feel as though who they are is their burden because it’s something you have to reconcile in your mind. If you need some time to adjust, that’s okay, but do so on your own terms. The people who are important in someone’s life should not care who they love, and if they do, they shouldn’t be important at all. Consider that the next time you tell someone you have to adjust to their (implied) weird and foreign ways.
9. I would totally go gay for you.
I know that’s meant to be flattering, but that’s not really how it works. Why is “I would be sexually attracted to you” a compliment? What does it even mean? It comes across as “I would go gay for you but I do not want to be in a gay relationship; this is to say you’re ok with me, but your sexuality/lifestyle isn’t.” Now, are people likely aware of this when they casually and jokingly say that? No, of course not. But just because they aren’t aware doesn’t mean it’s not affecting the people they’re saying it to.
10. Oh, I always knew, I could always tell you were different.
Imagine what that would be like, saying you just “always knew” to someone who most likely spent some part of their life hiding their sexuality and having somebody find out be their worst nightmare. To go even further and say that you knew because they were different is even more insulting. Growing up LGBTQ (whether you’re aware of it or not) most times brings with it a lot of angst, insecurity, self-hatred and pain because of the society that we live in. The best any one of us can do is take our responsibility in dismantling it, and showing people how to be kinder to others in their every day lives.