5 Minute Rule: There is a brief initial window to prove that I am safe and comfortable to be with
Imagine what it’s like to live a life where every time you meet someone new, you feel the tension that at some point you may need to disclose something that will put the relationship in jeopardy. Sometimes we talk about someone “coming out” as if it’s a one-time event. But the life of someone that is LGBT+ lives a life of continually coming out and consistently has to assess who is safe to tell, when is a good time, and if he/she wants to put the friendship or relationship at risk. LGBT folks are conditioned through their experiences to expect rejection, whether overt or covert. Psychologically, anyone that has dealt with a significant amount of rejection, particularly in such a sensitive issue as sexuality, will develop strategies to minimize these experiences and protect themselves. This has less to do with being gay and more to do with being a hurting human being.
You May Be Tested
Hurt people will develop tests, often subconsciously, in order to mitigate risk and unnecessary vulnerability. For example, someone may say something related to LGBT issues and then watch your face, your eyes, your body language. Do you fidget? Back up? Go silent? Change the subject? Or just generally look uncomfortable? The way you initially react in these first moments will either invite the person to tell you more or let the person know you’re not interested or uncomfortable. A man may actually act more feminine (or a woman more masculine) as a subtle way of wanting to know, “Are you going to push me away like all the others?” It’s critical for anyone who shares something vulnerable with you that you take a step in rather than away, keeping eye contact, and ask neutral, non-leading questions that communicate, “I want to know more about what that has been like for you”.
Resist the idea that someone might be “throwing their sexuality in your face” as they talk about their night out, their partner, or anything that would communicate LGBT Pride. Sometimes these are tests to see if you’ll shut down or take a step in. It may seem unfair to you, a straight person, to be tested if an LGBT person knows nothing about you, but remember that people that have been bitten by shame & rejection more thoroughly test the waters going forward. If people feel the need to test those around them, our hearts should be stoked to compassion and curiosity about how that has come to be rather than declaring what ought to be.
So be curious, be compassionate, prove you are worthy of their confidence, and work to build trust. Find out how to practically do this with LGBT people in next post: #3 Build Trust.
This blog is one in a series of 30+ tips for relational effectiveness with LGBT people. Find the condensed list HERE. These relational tips are from a handout acquired from “Lead Them Home”, a Boston based ministry that equips the church on LGBT issues. These blogs have been expounded upon with permission.
These tips, along with numerous other insights, are found in an excellent resource called “Guiding Families” available HERE.