It can be difficult for a parent to witness their child growing into a sexually active adult navigating the ups and downs of first love, but for some it’s borderline devastating when their child reveals they are gay or lesbian. Love and relationships are confusing enough without worrying that your parents will disapprove of not only how you choose to love, but who.
Whether you have religious objections, worry about the intolerance your child may face or just plain don’t approve, it’s important to remember that for the most part you both want the same thing for them: to be in a happy, healthy relationship. As confused as you are, your teen or young adult is probably battling even more turbulent feelings without the burden of choosing between their sexual identity and your love for them.
As an ally, I don’t expect anyone to hang a rainbow flag over their head because of my belief that it’s really no one else’s concern who someone chooses to love, but it’s important for parents to keep in mind that sexual preference is only one part of your child’s identity. They’re still the same kid that once thought it was a good idea give the goldfish a bath in dish soap. In a world of Internet trolls and real-life bullies it’s easier to catch prejudice than the common cold. What your child needs most is to know that home is one place where they will never be belittled or made to feel like there are abnormal.
Coming out to parents is a life-changing moment in a child’s life that will either give them the courage they may need to be confident embracing their sexuality in the world or be the beginning of a path of uncertainty, insecurity and shame. Here are some tips that will coming out a little easier for both you and your child:
Avoid making assumptions.
Teens and young adults coming out are claiming a sexual preference, not an act. Don’t assume your child is sexually active just because they are revealing they are attracted to the same sex (although, it’s not a bad time to have “the talk” if you’ve been putting it off). Gay does not necessarily equal promiscuous.
Understand that no one is to blame.
Many parents often wonder what they did wrong when they’re child comes out, instead of recognizing everything they did right by encouraging your child to stay true to themselves and making them feel comfortable enough to come to you. Your son is not gay because he was raised in a home with single mother and two sisters. Your daughter is not gay because she was a survivor of rape or molestation. Sexual preference isn’t anyone’s fault or anything parents can control.
All teens, LGBTQ or not, have a lingo all their own and it’s important you ask questions about things you don’t understand. What’s the difference between “transgendered” and “transsexual”? What does AG mean? Is it okay to call people “queer”? Your worries may be worse than the reality of your child’s lifestyle, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about terms or behaviors you’re unsure of.
Re-evaluate your values.
It’s easy to cast judgment about situations that don’t affect you. If you have any issues with homosexuality, you may look at it much differently when dealing with your own child. Does this mean you have to compromise your values to support your child? Not necessarily, but it is important to truly understand where your objections are coming from. Your child is a separate individual who should be applauded for having the courage to stand by his/her beliefs, no matter how different they may be.
Make sure your facts are straight.
If your son comes out as gay, it doesn’t mean tomorrow he’ll be walking in drag shows and blasting Lady Gaga in his room. If you are confused about what “gay” actually means, check out What Does Gay Mean? on Mental Health America. Or go right to the source and ask your child what being gay means to him.
You are not the first parent to have a gay child, nor will you be the last although it may feel that way. You don’t have to tackle conflicting feelings on your own. Look into support groups like PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to get support from other families who are experiencing similar situations.
Toya Sharee is a program associate for a Philadelphia non-profit that focuses on parenting education and building healthy relationships between parents, children and co-parents. She also has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog BulletsandBlessings.