What to Do When Your Child Says: "I'm Gay"
Important advice for parents of homosexual children.
Posted Apr 18, 2011
When parents learn that their child is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, they can experience a range of emotions. That could include self-blame ("Did I do something wrong?"), grief ("The child I thought I knew and loved no longer exists."), worry ("Will my child be discriminated against? Get AIDS?"), religious confusion ("Is my child damned to spend eternity in hell?"), and stigma ("What will people think of my child? Of me?").
Conversely, they might also be experiencing relief ("Now I know what's been bothering my child for all these years!").
Or, like most parents, they may experience combination of these feelings.
So now what should you do?
If this is your experience, first take a deep breath. (Good advice when first confronting any difficult situation, right?)
Second, tell yourself you will get through this. And you will. As a matter of fact, you might someday look back and find that you are grateful for the experience of having a gay or lesbian child.
Yes, you read that right, grateful.
How do I know? Well, in my study of 65 families of gay and lesbian youth for the book, Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child, I found that some parents get to the point where they believe that the experience of having a gay child actually made them a better person—more open-minded and sensitive to the needs of others, particularly those in other minority groups. Others grew to be proud of their children's sexual orientation. Yet others found that their relationships with their children grew to be closer, stronger, and more honest than ever before.
If you just found out your child is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, you may be thinking that such ideas are preposterous. Well, based on my research and clinical experience with parents just like you, here are some steps you can take that you will likely find helpful.
1. Find someone to talk to—but not just anyone. As I state in the book and also in an earlier posting, the parents in my study were helped by talking to a trusted friend, relative, coworker, or even a casual acquaintance. These trustworthy confidants let them vent but also corrected some of the misperceptions they absorbed from society, such as that gay people are lonely, unhappy, promiscuous, not family-oriented, unable to have children, or destined for an unhappy life. They also reassured parents that they and their child would be OK. So, look for someone to share your painful feelings with, make sure they are open-minded, progressive, and accepting of LGBT people.
2. If you do not have someone like this within reach, consider a professional therapist such as a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Members of each of these professions follow a code of ethics that requires them to be knowledgeable, respectful, and tolerant of LGBT people. However, for good measure, before you begin, ask the therapist his or her opinions of LGBT people and lifestyles.
3. Contact Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). This is a national support and advocacy group primarily for parents of LGBT people that has hundreds of local chapters, so there is likely to be one near you. For the families in my study, nothing helped soothe their guilt, sadness, and worry like talking with other parents, all of whom had been in their shoes and managed to get through the tough times.
4. Get educated. The PFLAG website has links to books and articles that tell the truth about LGBT people. There are also a bunch of other good resources/books that I list below that you can buy, including my own.
5. Let your child teach you. Know that your son or daughter came out to you, most probably because they love you and are seeking a more open, honest relationship. They may have something to teach you about LGBT people and also about acceptance and love.
The fact that you have read this far means that you are willing to take the initial step to reach out and get yourself information—and this is a good indication that no matter how badly you feel now, you will eventually feel better. Keep in mind that you have begun a journey and like all journeys, it is important to keep moving. Godspeed.
List of Helpful Books for Parents of Gay and Lesbian Children
- Straight Parents Gay Children: Keeping Families Together (revised edition). (Bernstein, R.A., 2007.) New York: Thunder's Mouth Press.
- Love Ellen, A Mother Daughter Journey (DeGeneres, B., 1999), New York: Ross Weisbach Books.
- Beyond Acceptance: Parents of Lesbians, and Gays Talk About Their Experiences. (updated edition) (Griffin, C. W., Wirth, M. J., & Wirth, A.G., 1996). New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Something to Tell You: The Road Families Travel when a Child is Gay. (Herdt, G., and Koff, B. 2000.) New York: Columbia University Press.
- Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child. (LaSala, M. C., 2010) New York: Columbia University Press.
- Fortunate Families: Catholic families with lesbian daughters and gay sons. (Lopata M. E., 2003) Victoria, B.C., Canada, Trafford
- Mom, Dad, I'm Gay: How Families Negotiate Coming Out. (Savin-Williams, R. C., 2001.) Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
- Transgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working with Gender Variant Youth and their Families. (Lev A.I. 2004). New York: Haworth.