“You’re a BadAss!”
I’ve never been so affected by that statement as the other day.
Not long ago I was fighting a cold and kind of moody. My partner was being overly kind and understanding, which weirdly made me even moodier. But the offer to go to lunch at a local Mexican restaurant for some comfort food couldn’t be passed up.
While waiting for our deliciousness and snacking on chips and salsa, a young woman walked in and confidently sat a table adjacent to ours appearing to be waiting for someone. Not long after, another younger woman walked in. She appeared nervous and tentatively walked over to the table where the first woman was sitting.
My partner and I thought we were witnessing a first date but it quickly became apparent they were siblings. We went about our own meal and they went about theirs. But at one point, as though preplanned on some movie set, the restaurant got quiet. At that instant, we couldn’t help but overhear the nervous one of the two state: “I don’t think anyone in the family would understand me. I’m gay.” My partner and I both stopped mid-bite and looked across the table at one another. Without skipping a beat and without changing her composure, the older sister enthusiastically stated: “You’re a Badass! No matter what others say, I have your back.” To which my partner and I, continuing to look at one another with closed-mouth-smiles full of food (we were now unable to chew) tears silently streamed down both our cheeks.
After that moment the demeanor of the second sibling now matched the first and their conversation shifted to lightheartedness and laughter.
My partner, being a medical provider, and I working in therapy, have spent our careers holding space for others to come out — whether it’s coming out regarding gender, sexual orientation or an unconventional relationship configuration. That moment when someone shares their innermost self, the self they’ve worked so hard at hiding from the rest of the world, that self who is the very core of their being, that moment is sacred.
I wasn’t always this evolved. Thirty years ago when my own sibling came out to me I didn’t understand the significance of him confiding in me or the courage it took to do so. I was flippant and dismissive. Unknowingly, my casualness was hurtful. Here was this person whom I’d always considered a best friend, and I didn’t give him the care and thoughtful understanding he needed and deserved.
I wished I’d known then there are some important steps in supporting someone when they’re courageously coming out:
Don’t make it about yourself. I missed this step when my sibling came out. The woman at the table adjacent from me didn’t miss this point at all. “You’re a Badass!” Was her enthusiastic response and then proceeded to let her sibling guide the rest of the conversation.
Ask the right questions. People are often met with questions like: “When did you know you were gay/trans/poly, etc.” This question is moot and is as nonsensical as asking a straight/cisgender/monogamous person when they just “knew” all those aspects about themselves. Better questions to ask are: “How can I be a support system for you?” “Are there any events you’d like to attend that I can go as an ally with you?” “Is there another name, pronoun, orientation you’d like me to use when referring to you?” Being genuinely affirming is powerfully healing to another person.
Don’t ask “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” This not only makes it about you but devalues the courage that it’s taken for the person to come out in a way, at a time and to whom, they felt comfortable. More than likely, they’ve been thinking about this moment for a very long time and have circled every possible conversation scenario in their head. Trust that you’re being told when they feel safest to do so.
Recognize the bravery it takes to be authentic. We live in a world that is full of conformity. From the way we dress, the schools we attend, the people we hang out with, to the cars we drive, nearly everyone, in some way, is seeking acceptance from others. Be the one who accepts nonconformity in others. Don’t underestimate the power of sitting across from someone and reminding them they are a BadAss.
Dr. Laurie Bennett-Cook is a Clinical Sexologist with a private practice in Salt Lake City Utah. She can be contacted at DrLaurieBennettCook@gmail.com She also runs the non-profit Sex-Positive Utah at meetup.com/SEX-POSITIVE-UTAH, a community focus on education, outreach, and acceptance for people of all gender identities, all sexual orientations, and all relationship configurations.