For most gay men, coming out is one of the most important and pivotal events in their young lives. Even though this event can be particularly stressful and challenging, gay men may look to women in particular to assist them through this process. Here’s how women can help:
1. Keeping a secret. Even before a gay man comes to terms with his sexual orientation, a female friend is usually the first person to “know”. Similar to a mother in this respect, women are pretty good at noticing certain patterns in a man that do not line up with the stereotypical straight male. Because female friends have this hunch early on, they might be more mindful of the topics that they discuss with their closeted gay friend. Rarely are female friends motivated to “out” their gay friend without their friend’s consent. Genuine female friends allow gay men the time and the space that they need in order to make their cathartic transition.
“Matt probably is gay, but he hadn’t told me. That’s the hard thing: there’s a difference between knowing and ready to embrace it. That’s why I think ‘outing’ is a terrible thing. I don’t think it’s constructive, and it could damage the relationship. I mean if you’re in private and the question comes up you can ask, but I never felt the need to.” (Cathie in Straight Women, Gay Men: Absolutely Fabulous Friendships)1
2. Creating a safe space. When young gay men discover that they like boys, their gut instinct is usually to tell their female friends before anybody else. Gay men know and are somewhat confident that their female friends will be the ones to accept them for who they are regardless of their sexual preference. Also, if gay men notice that their female friends are non-judgmental, accepting, and supportive towards other gay men who are “out,” they may be more willing to come out themselves.
3. Being proponents. On average, women’s attitudes towards gay men are much more positive than straight men’s attitudes2. Not only that, but straight women seem to prioritize helping their gay friends through the coming out process. Some women may be passive, sympathetic observers for their gay friends, but others may actively support their gay friends through their transition. However, this is not to say that women “force” their gay friends out of the closet; rather, many women encourage their gay friends to be who they are. If gay men know they have a supportive friend and ally through their transition, they may be more willing to come to terms with their sexuality and make friends with other LGBT individuals.
1. Hopcke, R. H. & Rafaty, L. (1999). Straight women, gay men: Absolutely fabulous friendships. Berkeley, California: Wildcat Canyon Press.
2. Herek, G. M. (1988). Heterosexuals’ attitudes towards lesbians and gay men: Correlates and gender differences. Journal of Sex Research, 25, 451-477.