We live in charged times for dialogue, particularly around sexuality. It can feel like “truth” and “charity” are in a tug of war for our attention and application. We know LGBTQ concerns are more than just “issues” that show up in our news feeds. Many of us have friends and family members who experience same sex desires or gender discordance. We value these relationships! We may know how to articulate Church teaching (if not, see here), but we might not always know how to receive the person. Here are some quick tips for a few different situations!
When A Longtime Friend Lets You In for the First Time
Say This: “Thank you for trusting me with this.”
Not That: “We’ve been friends for years. How come you’re just telling me this now?”
When I first told my parents I was attracted to women more so than men, it took some time for them to process it. That hurt at first! Then my mom pointed out, “you’ve been processing this for at least a decade. We’ve only had a day!” Opening up this part of one’s life to someone is a big deal. It has to happen on their terms, not anyone else’s. No one “owes” another person their deep vulnerability – it’s a freely given gift.
When Breaking News Hits
Say This: “How have the past twenty-four hours been for you? How are you taking all of this?”
Not That: “What’s your opinion about what X said or did?”
I’m an expert in very few things, if any. When I want to know more about a news article, I tend to turn towards someone I think has expertise. If someone has an LGBTQ experience, seeing related “breaking news” is more than just intellectual. It often hits a nerve. Be wary of turning friends or family members into “armchair experts.” Check in on morale before you request analysis.
When It’s a Young Person
Say This: “What has this experience been like for you so far?”
Not That: “This could be a phase.”
Even secular researchers acknowledge that sexual desire can be fluid over time. That doesn’t mean we know how things will go when we’re in the midst of it. Allow the person to share what they’ve experienced in the past and present, rather than set expectations for their future. I also recommend avoiding lines like “you just haven’t met the right man/woman yet” or “You said you haven’t…tried anything yet. How could you really know?” While a relationship (whether with the same or opposite sex) provides external stimuli, it isn’t the only way to arouse desire. Images, story-based media like TV or movies, or non-sexual human interactions stir our emotions and trigger bodily responses.
When You’re Curious
Say This: “I’d love to hear more of your story.”
Not That: “Where do you think this comes from?”
In reference to homosexuality, the Catechism points out that, “its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained” (CCC 2357). You may have done some reading about circumstances that can coexist with experiences of same sex desire or gender discordance, such as parental relationships, the role of peers, or past trauma. Broken relational dynamics are interwoven throughout all of our lives. Rarely is it an A + B = C scenario for any of us! This question can come off like psycho-analysis – at the very least highly personal digging – that is inappropriate in the average relational dynamic. You can, however, get to know the contours of a friend’s story simply to receive them as a person – loved by you and loved by God.
When You’re Not Sure How to Empathize
Say This: “I imagine it was hard for you to reveal an intimate part of yourself without knowing whether I would understand. I’m here for you.”
Not That: “I know how you feel, because I’ve struggled with [insert hardship here].”
Human beings are not so unique that our lives hold no similarities. Some of these may be deep and poignant. Two people single well into their 40s or 50s will have some relational suffering in common, no matter who they’re attracted to. Others have the potential to be more superficial. For example, my childhood experience of being a tomboy is not the same thing as an adult experiencing acute gender dysphoria. Be cognizant of the limits of your empathy! On the flip side, avoid building an immediate wall by leading with “I don’t struggle with this but…” Try “I’m here for you. I can’t relate to this perfectly, but I want to understand better.”
When You Want to Remind Someone of Their Dignity
Say This: “You are good!”
Not That: “You’re not gay, you’re a child of God.”
This particular phrase sets up a false dichotomy. It can lead to confusion: “If I use a cultural term for my sexual orientation, am I no longer a child of God?” Descriptive adjectives are highly personal. Shutting down a particular word or phrase could shut down conversation, especially early on in conversation. And don’t forget: uncharitable remarks are uncharitable remarks. Avoid derogatory jokes about LGBTQ terminology. If your goal is to remind someone of their inherent dignity…remind them of their dignity! God loves each of us fiercely not “in spite” of these desires, but in their midst.
Find more resources to help deepen your understand of “promoting the fullness of personal identity beyond the LGBTQ paradigm” by visiting Eden Invitation.