So, do you know all the terms? It can be confusing so here is a quick summary.
Gay – attracted to someone of the same sex, often used to refer to attraction between males
Lesbian – a female attracted to someone of the same sex
GLBT – Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender
Sexual Orientation / Identity – which sex you feel attracted to. A heterosexual is attracted to the opposite sex, a homosexual is attracted to the same sex, and a bisexual is attracted to both (same and opposite sex).
Gender Identity – whether you feel male or female
Transgender – when your gender identity does not match the gender assigned to you at birth. For example, someone may be born male but identify strongly as female.
Come Out – reveal one’s sexual or gender identity
Intersex – this is different from transgender. Intersex people have both male and female characteristics. This is a genetic condition now referred to as Disorders of Sex Development (DSD). Intersex people can experience much of the discrimination also faced by GLBT people.
Queer – a term to classify all people who feel outside societal norms in terms of gender or sexuality.
Did you know that:
- 1 in 10 people are GLBT,
- approximately 1 in 4 families have a GLBT family member, and
- nearly everyone will know of someone amongst their friends who is GLBT.
You may suspect that your friend has a particular sexual or gender identity or they may have told you that they do. Either way there are a number of emotions that you may feel, including: fear, anger, sadness, confusion, happiness, relief or any number of emotions.
When someone is coming to terms with their GLBT identity it can take some time for them to process it. So, it is not surprising that it can take awhile for friends and families to also process it. This is normal.
You may even be suspecting that before they have said anything. But it is best not to push your friend into admitting their sexual or gender identity. Let them do it in their own time. Instead you can indicate your acceptance of GLBT in general terms without alluding specifically to them.
If your friend feels that they have GLBT feelings then they may feel comfortable enough to come out and tell you. Remember that by telling you about it they have probably already been on a significant journey.
How to support your friend
- What you feel about your friend’s sexual/gender identity is your issue. Own your feelings and process these yourself. Your friend is not responsible for your feelings about their identity, so don’t blame your friend for your feelings, particularly if you feel negative feelings. Allow yourself time to understand your friend’s sexual or gender identity. They spent time processing their own so it is OK if you take some time to understand.
- Allow them to talk about it as much as they want. They may need to discuss it quite a few times as they process this identity – listen patiently. You may have even known this already but let them share the experience with you.
- Indicate that you know what a brave thing it is to come out to you.
- Let them know that you appreciate them revealing this to you.
- Do not suggest that they need to see a counsellor or have therapy to ‘correct’ their behaviour (referred to as reparative therapy – which is a psychologically dangerous practice). However, if they seem distressed and are not functioning in a healthy way then you might suggest they speak to a health professional for some additional assistance.
- Don’t criticise or try and make them change to a different sexual/gender identity. Instead respect their decision and allow them to be who they are. Defend them against discrimination.
- Let them know that regardless of their sexual or gender preferences you are their friend.