Remember being a teenager? The struggle, the constant feeling that your world could come to end at any moment. Trying to fit in and avoid any major embarrassment. Adolescence is full of self-discovery, apprehension, testing independence, personal growth and a desire to just fit in. Sexuality and Gender Identity is no different during this time for adolescents.
Saying the words “Mom, Dad… I’m gay”, feels like it could destroy your entire world.
When your child comes out to you it might be overwhelming for you as a parent. They might not be entirely clear with you about their orientation. They might not be entirely clear in their own minds about their orientation. Though you want concrete answers, your child might not have them. They might not be able to answer all of your questions because they might not know all of the answers at this point. The important thing for you to do is to be loving and open to what your child has to say. Let them take the lead on how they feel and what information they want to reveal in this conversation.
Most parents believe their child will grow up to be heterosexual, and you have ideas and dreams for your children. Letting go of those dreams can be hard. Allowing yourself to grieve the expectations you had for your child is an important process of supporting your child. Allowing yourself to have a space to talk about your feelings away from your child is important. Engaging with a therapist, pastor, support group or friend(s) can be a good way for you to process your feelings especially any negative ones.
Coming out as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) can be daunting, overwhelming and nerve-wracking for individuals. It is imperative to be supportive regardless of your feelings about a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. You have the opportunity to be an important part of your child’s coming out story. Keep that in mind as you navigate this new territory together.
What To Do When Your Child Comes Out To You?
A parent’s first reaction after hearing you’re their child is gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender might be denial. It might be tempting to dismiss this as a “phase” or “this is just experimental”. Dismissing their feelings and bravery of sharing those feelings can be harmful to your long-term relationship with your child.
Validating your child’s feelings is a vital step in supporting your child. Validation does not mean you agree with your child’s choices but that you “hear and acknowledge” how they feel. Validating a person’s feelings starts with being present in the conversation. Multi-tasking, while you listen to your child share with you, is not being present. Put the phone down, turn the TV off and focus on what your child is telling you, repeat key phrases or feelings your child is expressing and provide affirmations. “Thank you for telling me, I hear that you were feeling worried about telling me/us”.
Guilt and blame are two other very common feelings to have. You did not cause your child to be gay. Science has demonstrated that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity is a biological part of who they are and has been ever since they were born. Sexual orientation is an inherent trait, just like what color eyes or hair your child has.
How to Handle Any Negative Emotions When Your Child Come Out To You
Now that your child has shared with you that they are LGBT, you might discover you have biases or negative feelings you never knew you had. You might have been supportive of people in the LGBT community before because they were not your child, and you might feel differently now that the LGBT child is your own.
You have a right to your negative feelings, and you can allow yourself to feel them — but you need to move forward. Having your own space to explore your feelings away from your child is important. A trusted friend, family member or coworker could be a place to explore your needs and feelings about this.
If you are continuing to struggle with the news, seeking professional services is best. If your child is ready to share with family or friends and you are not, it is important to talk to your child and explain that you need a little more time to come to terms with what they have shared with you. Perhaps your child will understand given the fact that it may have taken them a little bit of time to come to terms with their own sexuality.
In the beginning, you might be feeling very alone, but seeking an affirming professional therapist or a support group can be helpful. PFLAG is a national LGBT group for families and is a good source for finding a supportive relationship with others. Gay, Lesbian Medical Association is another organization that can connect you with an affirming provider.
Educating Yourself is Key to Supporting Your Child After He/She Comes Out
The term LGBT gets lumped together, mainly because of the social stigma all parties experience. It is important to differentiate the difference between the LGB and the T. Lesbian (L), gay (G) and bisexual (B) are all sexual orientations one may identify with. Sexual orientation does not correlate with gender identity.
Gender Identity has nothing to do with a person’s legal sex, gender is the way in which you identify (male, female, both, none, etc.), and this may not necessarily match the sex organs an individual has. Someone who is transgender and transitioning from female to male means that he was born with a vagina, but his gender is male. (Please note the usage of correct pronouns). Using the correct pronouns for your child or any person is respectful. Calling someone by the wrong pronouns or name is extremely disrespectful and hurtful, it says that their feelings and identity is not valid to you. Suicide rates among transgender youth are extremely high. It is reported that 41% of individuals who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming have had at least one suicide attempt. This is 4x more than the national average for gender conforming individuals.
Be your child’s advocate and avoid insulting him/her or their community by making petty jokes or engaging in stereotyping the LGBT community. You may think you’re being funny, but jokes can be interpreted as passive-aggressive ways of telling him/her you do not like who they are. If you notice family or friends behaving in this manner it is important to explain that this behavior is not tolerable in your home or presence.
Before children are even born gender norms are dictated for them – girls wear pink, like dolls and playing house, while boys are handsome, rough, like sports, etc. Our culture teaches children that going against the societal norms makes you different. Coming out against societal norms can be alienating and terrifying.
Realizing their feelings for people of the same gender or even both genders can make them feel different. Having feelings of identifying as the opposite gender can have individuals feeling confused. They might not want to deal with the possibility of being gay and may try to regress those thoughts or feelings.
How To Be a Supportive Parent When After Your Child Comes Out
Value your child’s choice to come out to themselves and others and support their path in life. Acknowledge the power and impact of your child’s struggle and no matter what always be an advocate for your child. Children are not our replication or a reflection of us, but a unique individual. During this process, it is important to have empathy for one another. Your child is confronting the entire breadth of their history and fear of rejection, not only from family but also peers.
It takes a lot of courage for someone to come out, even if they are very close to their parents. Before your child can reach that point, they need to come to terms with their sexuality or gender identity by themselves. The United States operates using a heteronormative culture that stems off a binary system. Society dictates that children should be raised to fit into socially acceptable boxes for male and female. It is when they do not fit those boxes that social stigma arises and the feelings of being different manifest themselves.
It is important to not take it personally if your child has not come to you first. When your child comes out to you, this means they are willing to trust you and are willing to take a risk that you will accept and still love them for who they are. Recognize your child’s feelings and be openly supportive of their courage.
Some children will only want to share the news with their closest friends and family, while others will want to tell the world with an announcement on social media. Everyone is different. Regardless of whom they want to tell, unconditional love and support can help to prevent your child from suffering from major depression or behavioral issues. When individuals do come out they usually seek out the safest person or situation they can. This could be a teacher, sibling, parent, friend, finding support and affirmation is important when disclosing.
Research shows children whose families reject them after coming out are six times more likely to be diagnosed with major depression and four times more likely to become involved with drug addiction and unsafe sex.
Studies have shown that children who have a loving and supportive home, especially with at least one supportive parent, are able to handle many of the challenges that come their way no matter their orientation. However, depression can be a problem for children who are repeatedly bullied or rejected by friends and authority figures such as teachers or coaches.
Serious depression can ultimately lead to attempted suicide, and the risk of suicide is not something to be overlooked. It is vital to support your child after they come out, continually communicate to them that they are loved, and watch for signs they may need help from a counselor or physician for depression. Your child needs you to be their advocate.
Here is what you can do to create a safe and supportive environment for your son or daughter in order to encourage him/her to come out:
- – Have age appropriate books in your home library that talk about or show families/people different from you.
- – Do not use hate speech. Ever. Do not make or tolerate gay slurs or jokes. Let your child hear they belong to a family that is welcoming and supportive of the LGBT community.
- – Even if you aren’t comfortable discussing sexuality with young children, acknowledge LGBT relationships for the love and commitment they show. Teach them that love is love.
- – Encourage inclusive play and avoid gender stereotype play (i.e. female children are mommies and male children are daddies only). Have gender-neutral toys in your home. Do not encourage categorizing toys or colors as belonging exclusively to one gender.
- – Support LGBT causes and be aware of recent events in LGBT news/culture.
When You Think Your Child or You Need Professional Help/Support
Alder Health Services offers a holistic approach to your child’s health. We care about their physical, mental and emotional health, and we have the ability to provide all of that in a convenient location. We want them to feel safe placing their trust in us. Alder Health Services is in the South Central area of Pennsylvania and the only LGBT health care provider within a 120-mile radius of Harrisburg. Please contact us today.