Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to Support Someone Who Might Be Gay

Recently, I received the following email from a young woman in the U.K., whom I'll call Britney:

I logged onto your blog by chance today after researching some of the issues you discuss on your blog.  I don’t know if you can help me out. I’ve been really struggling to come to terms with my former boyfriend coming out as gay. We’re only 15 and he still seems quite confused, yet he’s often reluctant to talk about his feelings or to categorize himself as gay. Today he admitted having feelings for a male friend, which is a massive step for him. I don’t know what to make of it all. I guess I also still love him and I’ve been hurting a lot recently. I’m trying to remain supportive to the best of my ability. He has been really depressed, and I no longer know what to do to help him. Perhaps you could offer some experience/expertise?

After considering Britney's request, I sent her an email with five questions.  The intent of the questions was to learn a little more about her and her former boyfriend, and the situation they found themselves in, so I could better respond to her email request.  The five questions were:
  1. How do you feel about gay people in general?
  2. How do you feel about your former boyfriend possibly being gay?
  3. How does your former boyfriend feel about maybe being gay?
  4. Why do you think your former boyfriend is depressed?
  5. Did you and your former boyfriend break up because he may be gay?  
Below, you'll find the advice I gave Britney in point form.  I share it with you, after asking Britney for her consent, because both of us want to help anyone who might find herself in the same position.    
  1. Your attitude toward homosexuality and gay people will make all the difference in terms of the support you're able to provide to your former boyfriend.  If you're accepting of gay people, he will likely draw you closer and feel comfortable letting you help him during this difficult time.  
  2. If your former boyfriend is gay, know that he didn't choose to be that way.  Whether he was born gay or not isn't the point.  The point is, he is gay.  You didn't consciously choose to be attracted to boys, and neither did he.   
  3. Just because your former boyfriend doesn't fit into a stereotype you have of young, gay men doesn't mean he isn't gay.  There are all sorts of gay people--from those who obviously are to those you'd have no idea are.  Sometimes, you can tell by looking at someone, but often, you can't.
  4. The single best way you can show support for your former boyfriend is to give him the space he needs to be himself.  That is, don't pressure him to be straight and to get back with you.  That's not giving him a safe place to figure out who he has to be.    
  5. Even if your former boyfriend is gay, that doesn't mean you've lost him forever.  There are all different kinds of love, including that between close friends.  The extent to which you support him now may dictate to what degree he'll want you to remain someone important in his life.  
  6. Avoid a situation where you try to convince him he's straight and still in love with you, only to find out, years later, after you've gotten married and had children, he's really gay after all.  That would be difficult for both of you and would impact a lot of people's lives. 
  7. Appreciate how difficult a time this is for your former boyfriend.  Even if he has a good attitude toward gay people, he's having to face the possibility he may be gay himself, and come to terms with what that could mean for his life, which is a whole other thing.    
  8. Your former boyfriend may have stereotypes in his head, too, about what being gay is about, but it's important for him to remember he can be whatever kind of gay person he wants to be.  Just because he may think all gay people are alone and lonely, for example, doesn't mean that will be true for him.  
  9. Being gay now is much easier than it was even ten years ago.  Still, it will take as long as it takes for your former boyfriend to accept and love himself, a journey that is long and arduous for most of us.  You can help him through it by being there for him and supporting him in any way you can. 
  10. If your former boyfriend is suicidal, you should help him address this immediately by urging him to talk with a professional, or by viewing/reading material that will give him a more balanced point-of-view.  Be sure he accesses the "It Gets Better Project" online or reads the book by the same name.
  11. Just because one is gay doesn't mean one can't be happy.  Your former boyfriend is going through a transition period now, of discovering who he is and what that means for his life. When he comes out the other end, happiness will be an option for him, but only if he makes that choice.      
  12. True, the world in general doesn't make being gay easy.  Still, every one of us has the opportunity to be supportive, available, and encouraging.  Be there for your former boyfriend.  Let him know he can be honest with you, and you won't judge him, or anything he says or feels.                     
If anyone has additional advice to offer Britney, I invite you to leave a comment.

I appreciate the trust Britney showed in me by emailing and asking for my advice.  If you, or someone you know, needs help dealing with something related to being gay, please send me an email.  Simply click on "Send Mail" located on the upper right hand side of this page, and I promise I will respond to you.    


  1. Wow, wonderful advice, Rick...Britney, although it may not have been your first choice, you're in a position right now to really help your friend, and to be there for him emotionally at a time when he may feel very alone.
    You may know this already, but there are some support groups in the UK that may be of help:
    And the biggie, that has helped so many families:
    But probably the most important thing you can do is to be there for him, to listen, and to accept him as he is.

  2. Great list of supportive websites, Sarah. I really appreciate your willingness to help Britney and her former boyfriend during a period of redefining who they are as individuals and as friends.
    You've given her the bigger picture, and there are all sorts of wonderful organizations out there with the resources and expertise to provide assistance during this challenging time.
    Thanks so much for your comment.