So, you’ve finally come out to your friends and family, or maybe you’ve just come out to a couple of friends. Regardless, you’ve opened up about your sexuality or your gender identity (or both) to someone in your life, and they aren’t exactly supportive of you. After all, if someone rejects or invalidates your sexuality, romantic expression or your gender identity (or lack thereof), they aren’t just unsupportive of that aspect of your identity, they unsupportive of you.
As someone who’s come out to my parents, who denied the existence of my bisexuality, and was immediately pushed back in that heteronormative closet, I get it. Coming out to unsupportive people doesn’t just sting, it can be devastating, and it’s OK to admit that. With young and newly-out LGBTQPIA+ people’s mental health at greater risk for depression, having a not-so-picturesque experience when you finally feel comfortable enough to tell others about your LGBTQ+ identity can put a strain on anyone’s mental health.
I could tell you that it gets better (though hopefully, it does), but I'm also not here to feed you empty phrases without giving you some tangible tips on how you can heal from an unsupportive coming out experience.
1. Talk to an LGBTQ+ support group
Coming out to someone who doesn’t accept you is a very isolating ordeal. While it can be difficult to trust anyone directly after this, your local LGBTQ+ community can help empower you. Beyond becoming your new support group or strengthening your preexisting one, your LGBTQ+ community center or on-campus office can also lead you in the right direction when it comes to navigating additional resources.
After my parents invalidated my sexuality when I came out at a young age, I felt more than a little bit invisible, especially since I personally had to revert back and say that I was just confused and was actually straight. Using the common biphobic stereotype allowed me to be physically safe, but emotionally I was a wreck. Growing up in a small farm town in Florida, I didn’t have an LGBTQ+ club at my middle school.
However, I was very fortunate that the library in the town over had a librarian that hosted a sort of LGBTQ+ club, disguised as a manga and comic book club. To be fair, it was a legitimate literary club, but a lot of the members were also closeted members of the LGBTQ+ community, and we used that outlet to vent and to learn about the community. Depending on your geographical location, you could also find a pseudo-LGBTQ+ organization or community in your town.
Whether you need to learn how to talk to your family to educate them about your identity or you need a mental health professional to talk to during (and beyond) this strenuous time, your on-campus LGBTQ+ center can navigate where to go and who to talk to, so you aren’t lost in hundreds of Google links.
If your campus doesn’t already have an LGBTQ+ center, you can look for one in a neighboring campus. If you can’t find any campus-affiliated communities or groups, there are plenty of online LGBTQ+ support groups and chat rooms. Even if you have a physical center in your area, these online chat rooms or hotlines can be beneficial if you are anxious about meeting or talking to new people because there’s a level of anonymity to talking to a friendly member of the community from behind a screen.
2. Disseminate stereotypes
Depending on your culture and upbringing, your family might be influenced by a particular set of misinformation about the LGBTQ+ community or your specific identity. This can obviously explain why some of your friends or family aren’t initially supportive of you.
Explaining your sexuality or giving your family helpful reading material on your specific LGBTQ+ identity can help destigmatize their misconceptions. Otherwise, finding a mental health expert who specializes in family therapy can help act as a moderator as you teach your family.
I don't have some personal tangents for how I elaborated my specific identity to my siblings and squandered some common misconceptions within our culture and religion, seeing as I don't feel comfortable discussing my family's closed culture in reference to how I helped explain the nuance behind specific LGBTQ+ identities. That's why I'll default to an experienced bi+ writer, Gabrielle Noel.
You'll likely be able to gain some inspiration from Gabrielle Noel's experience and subsequent article on how she helped undo shame and stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community in her family.
3. Find an LGBTQ+-friendly therapist
Because of the long-standing history of stigmas about the LGBTQ+ community and Trump’s push for medical professionals’ “religious freedom,” searching for an LGBTQ-friendly therapist requires extra maneuvering. You might not want to out yourself to your healthcare insurance provider, if you have one, but you can search for LGBTQ+ talk therapists and individual call or research if they accept your insurance company.
Otherwise, many campuses that provide health and wellness services, also offer talk-therapy to students. Some public and private universities also include mental health professionals who are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community.
Even if you don’t typically need to consult a therapist for your mental health, realizing that someone close to you isn’t supportive is going to be an emotionally stressful and traumatic experience. Mental health experts can help you cope with this and understand your grief over losing your friends if you do feel like you need to surround yourself with more supportive people.
Beyond helping your cope with intolerant people, LGBTQ-friendly mental health professionals will also help you unlearn any latent homophobia that you may have internalized throughout the years, or suddenly adopted after your friends’ reactions. Psychology Today has a convenient search tool so that you can find an LGBTQ+ friendly mental health professional in your area. After you type in your zip code, you can narrow the search to your specific insurance company.
4. Remind yourself of the positive: You did it
Coming out to someone who’s intolerant of you can feel dehumanizing. Similarly, coming our to someone who is ignorant and just needs time to reacquaint themselves with your pronouns and who you are can feel emotionally taxing for you, since you have to repeatedly give them refresher LGBTQ+ lessons.
Admittedly, it’s cliché to preach that you should look on the bright side, especially when your coming out experience is anything less than ideal (to say the least). But sometimes reminding yourself that you did accomplish something can help you emotionally recover from the experience, so you can rebuild your support system.
Whether you’re coming out to someone new in your life or re-coming out to your childhood friend after you’ve learned more about yourself and your sexuality, coming out is stressful. You never know how people are going to react—even if you think your friends and fam are the most accepting people—and coming out can release that stress. That former apprehension might be replaced with sadness and depression, in your case and mine, but opening that proverbial closet door is a stand-alone step to healing.
Sure, you’ve come out to yourself before you came out to anyone else, but being open about your sexuality or gender identity is a cathartic feeling. And you should pat yourself on the back for being about to come out on your terms.
5. Find your people
Finding out that your friends and family—regardless of how exhaustive or reductive those terms are to your specific coming out experience—are unsupportive is emotionally and mentally dangerous because part of your support system just gave way.
Searching for your new gay family is a bit tricky, especially in the wake of finding out the people you thought were your friends are only your friends conditionally. Part of what makes you, well, you shouldn’t amend those conditions. If you’re fortunate enough to have a gay bar or an LGBTQ+ community center in your district, then that’s a great place to start. Otherwise, Bumble BFF is a great way to find your people. Adding a brief “a somewhat friendly pan person looking to form an LGBTQ+ alliance” in your Bumble BFF bio can be enough to find friends who just get you; however, you can be as descriptive as you want in your friend-finding profile.
I’ve used Bumble BFF throughout my college days to find more friends that I connect with and can feel refreshingly vulnerable around about my sexuality, gender identity and otherwise. However, I truly people who just get me (i.e. fellow LGBTQ+ pals) by getting more involved with on-campus organizations and my major itself. Even though I registered for the same university and dorm as my childhood friend, I was still hesitant about opening up to people during my first year of college.
By my third semester, I was internally screeching to be open about my identity, and I took that risk again and had my second coming out experience with the people in my major. Being that my class size is small because my major at the time was less than 80-people strong, it wasn’t as intimidating as coming out to 1,500 chemical engineering majors.
You could also wear your rainbow pins on campus and talk to people in your study groups face to face. If you do live in an area where LGBTQ+ people are vulnerable to job discrimination or more subjected to hate crimes or bigotry of any kind, I don’t recommend you to don your lesbian flag shirt in a bar when you’re alone and trying to find new friends. Wearing any rainbow emblem or LGBTQ-related apparel is the easiest way to light the gay Bat signal, but it can also dual as a beacon for abuse and hate crimes – so just practice caution.
If anyone in your life isn’t instantly supportive of you after you opened up about your identity, hopefully, they just need time to educate themselves about your identity. However, if during any point in your coming out experience you don’t feel physically or emotionally safe with the people your life with, contact a 24/7 LGBTQ+ service, such as The National Domestic Violence Hotline or The Trevor Project. These helplines will be able to direct you to resources in your area to make sure you’re safe—and that you stay safe.
Regardless of what steps you need to take to make your friends and family understand your identity or how you need to cope with leaving your old, unsupportive friend behind, you still did an important thing. You came out. Whether it was your first or 300th time, you came out about your specific LGBTQPIA+ identity, and you should celebrate that. Sure, you might not feel like celebrating following unsupportive responses, but hopefully, you feel like commending yourself on this accomplishment soon.
In case nobody in your personal circle accepted you when you came out or you don’t feel like congratulating yourself: We support you, and welcome to LGBTQPIA+ community. (We’re happy to have you.)