The question: There's a group of us who hang out, and we are pretty sure that one of our friends is gay. We don't care, we just wish he wouldn't hide it if that's the case. Should we ask him outright?
The answer: Coming out is a deeply personal process that can be immensely difficult and challenging. I'm happy to hear that among your group, your friend's sexuality is irrelevant (in a good way) and a non-issue when it comes to how you view him. It sounds like you will accept and support him when he does choose to come out.
Whether you should ask him outright is a tricky issue. On one hand, there's something to be said for communicating to him that you accept him regardless of his sexuality. However, you need to balance that openness with the need to not put him in a position where he's forced to come out when he's not ready. Asking him outright may put him in awkward position, and you need to respect that he will come out when he feels he is personally ready to do so. He may also feel that it's important that he first comes out to certain people in his life – like his family – before anyone else, even your group of friends.
Consider the myriad challenges your friend may be facing. He may be going through the personal challenge of accepting his own sexuality before he comes out to others. He may be unsure how to tell those close to him. He may not be sure what reaction he will get from family and friends – those that he cares about and whose opinions matter to him.
The best thing you and your friends can do is ensure that you are mindful of actions that may inadvertently create an unsupportive environment. Pay attention to the language you use and the jokes you make. It often stuns me how frequently people, just in day-to-day conversation, with no malicious intent, use words that can alienate someone who is gay. Also, take some time to learn more about the experiences people have when they first come out, so you can better understand what your friend may be going through. PFLAG Canada has links to a range of resources and support agencies that you may find helpful.
Pay attention to your friend's behaviour: It may be indirect communication he is giving about his sexuality. Think about your responses to him. Not uncommonly, people "test the waters" with those close to them before they come out, by observing how people react to seemingly neutral situations or stories.
Whenever the opportunity arises, let your friend know what he means to you and what qualities you value in him. If it is appropriate and not awkward, try to convey that you would accept him no matter what.
When he does come out, offer to support him however you best can in coming out to other friends, family or coworkers. And, most importantly, let him know how you feel – which is that his sexuality makes no difference to how you view him and your friendship.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
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