Parents experience it, too.
Wow. This is hard. Or maybe it’s not. But, it’s probably hard. If your child has recently come out as identifying on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, you might have said this is hard to yourself. Although we desire our children to grow up and live the way that feels right for them, we also create certain aspirations for them. These aspirations may not align with the LGBTQ+ community and hurl you into unexpected territory. Processing that your child might not fulfil your dreams or expectations of growing up “normal” (not saying LGBTQ+ individuals are not normal) might be hard. It may feel like a grieving process or just a minor bump in the road. But, no matter what, you love your child and want them to be happy above all else.
Now you’re trying to figure out what to do next. What do you say when they do come out? Who should you tell? Who can you talk to when you don’t want to share your possibly judgmental questions or statements with? There are some basics that you should know about. Age is just a number, so this can happen whether they are five or fifty.
Be careful of rejecting
Even if your child is an extremely rational person, they may have the fear that you’ll reject them. The best thing that you can do is simply remind them that your love for them is stronger than whatever feelings you have about their gender or sexuality.
Suicide risk and depression for those identifying with the LGBTQ+ population have extremely high numbers as compared to the general population. LGBTQ+ identifying youth often are rejected from families and they have the highest homeless population of any other homeless youth across America. What this means is that for many youth coming out to their families- whether they are supportive families or not- they fear that a major part of who they are as a person will be rejected by the people that love them most. They may even fear for their safety.
Rejection can have many forms from outright being “kicked out”, telling your child that you don’t support them, or telling them not to tell certain people that they are LGBTQ+. Your child may suffer rejection from others in their life such. This cause all sorts of anxiety for the child. They need your support.
Be aware of “outing” your child
The coming out process is hard enough when one person (your child) must do it. Now, they have to worry about being “outed” by others they have told. This includes you. When a person first comes out, they have a heightened sense of awareness of who knows and who doesn’t know.
The best thing for you to do is talk about who you can tell or talk to and who you shouldn’t. For many youth, being outed can have disastrous effects such as being rejected from friends, the church they may attend, or being rejected by some family members.
On a more practical level, discussing sexual or gender identity is not something most people talk to acquaintances about. Think about it: most heterosexual cis-gender (people whose birth sex aligns with their identified sex) people don’t go “Hey co-worker Tom who works downstairs, I need you to know that I am sexually attracted to the opposite sex.” Although this sentence is absolutely ridiculous, many parents do share their child’s personal information in seemingly harmless ways.
These harmless ways could look like parents gathering before a soccer game and Martha’s mom says she’s going with Tim to Homecoming. You, as the parent of a child who identifies as LGBTQ might say, Oh, Annie is going with Tina and they are getting matching dresses! Since soccer is recreational and people can go to any school, maybe Annie was “out” at school but not at soccer.
Parents don’t need to disclose their child’s sexual or gender identity to people who don’t need to know. You wouldn’t want your sexual fantasies shared with everyone you know to be judged. Before you tell anyone (after gaining consent from your child) it would be good to ask yourself what will my child benefit from if this person knows who they are sexually attracted to (identify as…)? Again, it’s ultimately up to the person you’re talking about to out their gender and sexual orientations. If you feel the need to tell others, it’s shows that you respect your child when you ask if it’s okay to tell others. Every parent wants what’s best for their child but not everyone will agree on what’s best. You may be proud and think that it’s best to share their identity with the world; however, the child has to live with the consequences most intimately. Permission is important.
What if you are not ready to tell others?
On one hand you may want to share you perfect child with the world, but on the other hand, you may need time to process it yourself. Eventually, you want all your friends to know, but you’re still trying to figure out what this means for both your child and you. If your child’s telling people and you aren’t ready, you need to talk to them about. Unfortunately, being a sexual minority (which identifying as LGBTQ+ is a sexual minority) can be a difficult pill to swallow for others. Even more, you may not be yet equipped with what to say when people begin asking questions. What would you say if a person came up to you and said, “Ya know, I always had this feeling he was gay” or “What does he mean he wants to be a girl? Could he just be gay?” You may not even know what appropriate responses are to these questions or statements. What people will find is that people are very curious about others’ circumstances and LGBTQ+ identities. People want to understand sexual minorities and say things that they think are harmless in an effort to gain awareness and knowledge or to prove they’re not any type of phobic against sexual minorities. If you aren’t prepared for answering questions or telling others, you may want to speak with your child about this. Keep in mind, it’s important to let your child know that keeping it to yourselves right now is not a forever thing. Making your child feel like it’s a secret that they identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum may feel like rejection. This can cause even more difficulty with owning their sexual identity. Framing the situation so that the parent has time to think about what they will say or do (just as your child contemplated telling you for a while) will allow the child and parent to both feel respected.
Who should you talk to?
It’s probably not appropriate to talk to your child about your uncertainties regarding their LGBTQ+ identity. This could be interpreted as a form of rejection. Who can you talk to? Maybe your child said they weren’t ready for you to tell your friends or maybe you aren’t ready.
Either way, you may need a space to process or gain knowledge. A great resource for parents is the Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays- also known as PFLAG. Although the name represents only two identities, the foundation has expanded to include all identities on the spectrum. The foundation was established to help support those who are directly involved with LGBTQ+ individuals like you. A word of caution is that you can still accidently “out” your child by becoming involved with local parents. If your child says that they don’t want you saying their name, then it’s best to give them that privacy even if it’s in an accepting place such as PFLAG. Finding a place that is accepting to discuss your thoughts and ask questions may help you along your journey of acceptance and understanding of your child.
When your child comes out to you, it may be a very emotionally charged situation. This can cause all sorts of feelings within you as well. You may or may not have expected this conversation, but either way, there’s an adjustment period. Finding a counselor to assist in the adjustment period can be seen as a positive step. You may not know exactly what all of this means or what to say but you need to convey the message that you love them as your child above all else- whether you agree with their decision or not. Your child and you need to talk about who the both of you can tell now, and who should be told at a later date. You child probably spent a lot of time preparing for this conversation and feared being rejected or misunderstood. Just the same, you are also going to need time to process their outing. Talking to others who are in a similar situation, such as the parents at PFLAG will help you make meaning of your child’s identity. Something important to point out is that your child told you. They felt safe enough to be their true self with you. They trust you. That is love.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Molly Lyons- Intern
Molly is currently in her final year of the Master of Science in Clinical Counseling at Central Methodist University (CMU) and is a student intern at The Counseling Hub and Boone County Mental Health Coalition, where she will assess and provide mental health interventions and resources for individuals and groups in Boone County schools. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in General Psychology with a minor in Child Development from Central Methodist University directly before enrolling in the counseling program. Prior to pursuing her counseling degree, Molly received an Associates of Science in Early Childhood Education from Moberly Area Community College.
Molly has experience in the Counseling Center at MACC's Columbia campus, providing counseling services for students around the topics of identity crises, school-related stressors, depression issues, and coping with anxiety. Molly has co-facilitated Safe Zone trainings which introduce its members to the LGBTQ+ community terminology and basic information. Molly has also completed on online course in LGBTQ+ Counseling Competencies (College and Career Readiness) through the American Counseling Association (ACA). Molly is an active member of both the ACA and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD).
Molly enjoys working with diverse populations and seeks to always be open to new learning experiences. She works best with individuals who are trying to discover who they are and how they relate to their world, as well as others in their world. Molly believes that a person’s external factors can provide both barriers and resources towards growth and that one must discover these in order to thrive.