Can I help you with the door?

Can I help you with the door?

A straight person’s guide to helping their loved ones come out of the closet

Think of the most important decision of your life: Working up the courage to propose to your significant other. Taking that ugly report card back home. Deciding to grow a Mohawk. Leaping off a cliff for that bungee jumping experience. Multiply that moment by a thousand, and imagine it playing out as you are strapped to the dentist’s chair for a root canal.

That’s what coming out feels like.

Every person has their own coming out story, and it’s different every time you tell someone new. It’s a lot like sex — sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes it feels just right, sometimes it’s a spur-of-the-moment decision, and sometimes (though very rarely) you just lie there, wondering why you decided you to do it in the first place.

Kartik, a copywriter from the suburbs of Mumbai has had it easy. He told his parents at the dinner table, over biscuits and lemon tea — he’s had this conversation many times before: over drunken texts, long distance phone calls, drinks at the bar, long winding emails and intimate dinners, and once even the men’s restroom of his favourite pub — but telling his parents is different. He played the scenario out in his head eighteen times (with outcomes that ranged from being blasted off the family inheritance to a ‘we-love-you-so-much-let’s-find-you-a-European-boyfriend-right-away’ family trip).

There was no going back after scenario eighteen. It had to be done.

There were a few seconds of awkwardness, he tells me, before his mother looked up at him and asked, ‘But what do we do with all the jewellery that we saved up for your wedding? ‘

Hugs were exchanged moments after, and they continued sipping their tea in silence. The biscuits tasted better, Kartik tells me, but he still only had two. No questions are asked; no answers are given.

But Kartik’s Hallmark movie is his alone — most coming out stories never play out, and the ones that do usually don’t fare so well. For Carl, a store manager at a high-end luxury store, coming out stretched itself out over years. Every time he did so, his parents would exchange looks of disappointment, tell him to get back to work and pretend they hadn’t heard him. He would mull about it for days and then they would start all over again the next time.

‘I just don’t want you to go to Hell, no mother wants that for her child,’ his mother said to him finally, when he came out to them the fourth time. He was taken to the church. He was taken to the therapist. He was even taken to a distant family friend’s house for a marriage proposal.

‘But it’s okay now,’ he says to me, over fumes at a friend’s house party, ‘they’ve reached a point of indifference. They know I am seeing someone, but they call him my flat mate from Delhi.’

Calls are made from time to time, random references are avoided and names are not dropped. No questions are asked; no answers are given — he might as well enlist himself in the army.

For every Kartik, you get a thousand Carls — lovers become roommates, boyfriends become best friends, and your soul mate becomes that friend from out-of-town who comes over for Sunday lunch because he craves home-cooked food. No questions are asked; no answers are given.

And that’s the problem.

For every coming out story, the questions never do. Did you know that the key to every problem is a conversation? Ask questions, but don’t expect answers to each and every one of them. Like I said, coming out is not easy — so how about meeting your friend halfway there? The next time someone tells you that they are gay, talk to them. Be nice. Be polite. Be understanding.

And just while you are at it, avoid using any of these gems:

1. ‘Have you thought about seeing a therapist about this?’
He probably has, and probably did — which is one of the main reasons this conversation is happening at the moment. Do you know how snug it is in the closet with the sweaters and the cardigans?

2. ‘No, you are not.’
Do you know what you are not? A nice person.

3. ‘Are you really sure about this?’ Maybe it’s just a phase, you never know. Remember, back when I was younger and I….’
Being able to finally feel comfortable in your skin is the best feeling in the world. Someone wanting to share that feeling with you is like wanting to share a large ice cream sundae on a hot summer day. Cherish it.

4. ‘I am just really disappointed,’
No one really needs such kind of negativity in their life — maybe you need to be disappointed in yourself.

5. ‘I think you are really young to make this kind of a decision in your life,’
I personally know men who realised that they were gay at the age of 12 and some who stumbled out at 32 — everyone has their own personal journey that they wake up to at different points in their life. Keep those alarm clocks close.

6. ‘Oh that’s great. But wait a minute, you won’t hit on me now, will you?’
No, because you clearly aren’t my type. If you were, we would not be friends in the first place — I’d just be gushing about you to my best friend.

7. ‘Do you know what? I always knew it.’
When someone comes out to you, it’s an exhilarating feeling — it’s full of the giddiness that comes with riding a rollercoaster. Telling someone that you already knew (even if you did) is like pulling the handbrakes.

8. ‘Maybe if you only started playing more sport, you never know…’
This is when I make a list of all the sportsmen in the world who are gay. Stop with the stereotyping — it wasn’t cool back in 1966; it isn’t cool in 2016.

9. ‘Haha, is this just because you’ve not had a girlfriend yet?’
Ditch the biology book when you are wondering what your gay friend does behind closed doors — love has nothing to do with how things fit, because it’s not the big 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle that we all assume it to be.

10. ‘ I don’t really know what to say right now,’
If you don’t, sometimes a hug would do — there’s nothing worse than radio silence. Be normal, the best reactions aren’t even worth remembering because they felt so natural.

11. ‘I think it’s cool, but like… how did you decide you wanted to be gay?’
The same way you decided to be straight.

12. ‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner?’
Making someone’s coming out process about you is usually not the best idea. Focusing on them and their experience instead? Let’s get out those medals of honour.

Don’t just watch your friend struggling to come out for you — hold the door open and help them out. Tip your hat as they walk by. Do you know why?

It’s going to be clearance sale season soon, and we are going to need all that space in our closet for better things.

Aniruddha Mahale