The process of coming out is stressful for gay men. After coming to terms with themselves, they spend the rest of their lives deciding when and where to share their sexuality. However, the discomfort is not theirs alone.

It can be a very awkward moment when a friend tells you he’s gay. Your past conversations are replayed, moments of physical contact are questioned, and your understanding of him is challenged. In fact, moving forward will entail either an exciting journey of shared discovery or the uneasy ending of a friendship.

What’s important is to understand that you are not alone. There are over nine million people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in the United States.  In other words, you are among millions of people who have heard the words “I’m gay,” and found themselves searching for the appropriate response.

From the first conversation through the days that follow, these steps will help you navigate the initial discomfort of a friend coming out.

1. Listen to his story. 

When your friend tells you he’s gay, listen. As uncomfortable as his words may be for you, imagine how he feels saying them. Therefore, give him the courtesy of your undivided attention.

Resist the urge to retreat to your phone to surf social media or tinker with your car keys as you plot your escape. Instead, actively listen by concentrating on what he says, and do your best to understand without cutting him off.

Also, watch your non-verbals. While coming out, your friend will be on guard for every response from you. Those include anything from the slightest changes of facial expressions to violent outbursts.

If possible, sit or stand facing your friend. Maintain eye contact and remain as calm as possible. Moreover, a pat on the shoulder or another kind gesture can go a long way toward relieving the tension you both feel.

2. Don’t make him coming out about you. 

After listening to what he has to say, make your responses to your friend about him, not you. This isn’t the time to voice your disapproval of gay people or boast your religious beliefs. Rather, this moment is about your friend.

He has probably been debating with himself for months or even years about when to tell you he’s gay. Moreover, you may be the first person with whom he shares his truth, so your response will undoubtedly set the tone for how he expresses his sexuality to others.

Additionally, your friend has come to you because he feels safe with you and wants to be honest with you. Don’t assume he did so because he wants to have sex. Honestly, you aren’t attracted to every girl you meet, and gay men aren’t attracted to every person with a penis and a beard.

Finally, saying, “I’m cool as long as you’re not too flamboyant,” is problematic. What that means is you’ll only accept him being gay if he expresses it on your terms. Again, keep the focus on him, at least in the first conversation.

3. Relieve his anxiety.

Anxiety stems from living in the future and having uncertainty about the unknown. Before coming out to you, and even after that first conversation, your friend may feel incredible fear and worry about how you will react.

Even if you smile and offer affirmative responses, he will second guess himself and replay the conversation in his head as he wonders if he did the right thing. Therefore, you can help him by sending reassuring messages or calling him soon after.

You don’t need to bring up the topic if you’re not ready. In fact, continue your friendship with a ‘business as usual’ approach by talking about something you both enjoy. Remember, he’s still your friend, and the only difference between him today and who he was before he came out is you now know his sexual preference.

4. Ask questions. 

We’re curious beings who want to know more about our world and the people in it. Naturally, that includes our friends, and when a gay man comes out to you, there will be many questions.

Asking your friend to explain details about his life is a great way to ease the tension and lighten the mood of your conversations following his coming out. Yet, what you ask is important.

Feel free to ask him about the LGBTQ community, his other friends and if he has spoken to his family about his sexuality. Ask him about certain situations in the past and his life as a gay man.

Do not, however, ask him about his sexual role as a top or bottom, unless you usually have such frank communication or he invites that discussion first. Really, there are certain things he may not be ready to talk about with you, a heterosexual man.

Also, don’t question the nature of his sexuality. If your friend says he’s gay, accept that. Don’t try to convince him that he’s probably bisexual because it will make you feel better.

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