Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. How do I handle it when someone I don’t like comes out to me?: About 10 years ago I went through acting classes with a guy who has always weirded me out. Neither of us were from that city, but I easily made friends and as far as I could tell he did not. I couldn’t tell if he had a crush on me or hated me. Maybe it was kind of both. Nearly every interaction with him made me uncomfortable at an age when I still didn’t know how to say that.
Cut to present day, where we once again live in the same city. I’ve gotten a few Facebook messages from him that indicate he feels like we are friends with a shared history. Which is fine! I guess. But now he has sent me a couple messages saying he thinks he is transgender. OK, great! But once again I am really uncomfortable. Is he using this coming out as a way to force intimacy? Does he have no one else to confide in? Why me?
I honestly can’t tell if he’s harmless. Maybe this news explains why I always got such a weird vibe from him—turns out he was just figuring out his identity!—or maybe he’s seriously off. I normally am good at trusting my instincts, but this one is new. I don’t want my lack of engagement to add to his isolation or make me seem like a bigot. How do I respond?
A: “Thanks for sharing this with me! I’m really glad for you, and I hope everything’s going well.” (You might also ask what pronouns to use going forward.)
You can respond warmly to someone’s coming out without inviting further intimacy or suggesting you two meet up for lunch. Don’t waste a lot of time wondering to what degree this transition might “explain” your complicated feelings about your past acquaintance. You can also feel free not to accept any future requests to get lunch and catch up, or to decline to offer similar disclosures; you’re not suddenly ending a friendly acquaintanceship over someone’s transition so much as you’re continuing not to have a friendship with someone you barely know.
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