My parents “discovered” that I might be gay when I was 14. I left a Yahoo! chat conversation with my first mutual crush open, and my mother (being the vigilant snoop that she is) happened upon it. Now, don’t get me wrong — I absolutely think monitoring your children’s online activities is an ok thing to do. However, based on my own experience with my parents, I recommend calmly discussing any “questionable” behavior instead of attacking your child when they are expressing their inherent sexuality.
My parents spent two hours lecturing me on the evils of “lasciviousness,” masturbation, and (of all things) premarital sex with girls — because surely this whole “gay thing” was just a phase. Well… it turns out it wasn’t. When I think back to coming out to my parents, I can summarize the entire ordeal (and it was an ordeal) into five simple points.
Don’t freak out
If you have been open and honest about sexuality with your child (which my parents were not, obviously), and the appropriate ways to express sexuality, then that’s half the battle. I’m an African-American from a very religious and socially-conservative family, which combined makes for a sort of programmed response. Of course, many progressive parents vow to never have a programmed response to an announcement like this. That’s wonderful, but pre-planning your hypothetical response is only part of it.
It can be challenging: you don’t want to make your child feel bad or dirty, and you also don’t want your child to feel odd or out of place. You certainly don’t want your kid to feel like you believe being gay is this huge overarching label of otherness that he or she now has on their forehead. Being gay is a big part of who your child is — but it’s not the only part.
Reassure your child
As a parent, you have to reassure your child that these feelings are perfectly natural — because they are. When my parents found out I was gay they gave me books to read that talked about “overcoming” homosexuality. Coincidentally, these books were written by an “ex-lesbian” who oddly enough met her life partner at an “ex-gay” ministry meeting. I also wasn’t allowed to go certain places or sleep over at friend’s houses because they were afraid I might “spread the gay!” We all know that’s impossible, but even the most well-intentioned parent could treat their child’s potential crushes as if they were nuclear waste because of society’s norms and the reactions of other parents.
If you tell your child that their feelings are perfectly natural, you have to be consistent in the way you respond to future discussions about these feelings — especially when he or she tells you they want to date someone. Maintaining consistency is incredibly important when you have more than one child — the guidelines for dating and/or hanging out with friends should be the same for all siblings, not different for “the gay one.” Sleepovers can get tricky, but again — if you’re open and honest when talking to your kid about sex, you can handle it.
Talk about coming out socially
It should be 100% up to your child when he or she comes out in a social context — at school, among friends, or wherever. Your child should decide who to come out to and when. Ask your child if he or she has come out to anyone else, or if they want to come out to only family members. Your child may want to come out to a few friends, or he or she may want to come out to the entire school or town.
It’s understandable to worry about teasing and bullying, but engaging in regular conversation with your child can help you stay abreast of these situations. When it comes down to it, your kid most likely has a better idea about what the attitudes toward LGBT kids are in his or her school — they’ll know if slurs get tossed around and if there are consequences for those actions.
Remember that your gay teen is still a TEEN
Ok, guys: think back to middle and high school. Remember those secret crushes and furtive romances? Remember how earth-shatteringly important they were, and how no one understood (except for maybe your best friend and one other girl)? Well, imagine all that angst and no way to vent it — that’s what some LGBT kids are going through. That’s why it’s good for your child to have a core group of friend he or she can choose to come out to.
I didn’t come out to my mom and tell her there was a boy at school that I liked. I couldn’t tell anyone because I thought no one other than my parents knew. I didn’t meet my first boyfriend until the last month of high school. Middle and high school would have been so much more bearable if I had supportive parents who kept dialogue between us open. It’s not enough to just listen to your kid; your kid needs to feel comfortable enough to talk to you about what he or she is feeling. If you feel like you’re not quite up to the task, see if your child has a teacher that he or she can trust — someone who will keep an eye on him or her.
The best thing to do as a family is to get educated and involved with your local LGBT community. Safe sex, gay rights, and even queer theory can all be topics you discuss together. The point is making sure your child sees positive role models that he or she can relate to — not just people they see every day on television. Lady Gaga is great, but it’s also good to see LGBT people in everyday situations leading successful, happy lives. Getting the entire family involved is crucial — this doesn’t impact only your LGBT child.
I’m happy to say my parents’ attitudes are slowly, ever-so-slowly, changing. They aren’t where they should be, but they are better than they were. It’s my hope that this will help parents with questions, fears, or concerns about what to do for and with your child if he or she comes out to you as LGBT.