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So your Child is “Coming Out” — Here are some Do’s and Don’ts

A young woman snoety knows has experienced her friends’ frustration as they approached their parents about “coming out.” Here are some guidelines for parents from their childrens’ perspective …

This post is to help parents deal with their son or daughter’s “coming out.” It’s based on my [the author’s] experiences and those of various friends.

VERY CLEAR DON’TS

1. Don’t treat it as a phase
I spoke with a friend’s mother who said her only regret was her belief that, perhaps, my friend was simply going through a phase — that she was “just experimenting.” Fortunately, the mother never said this to her daughter. Another friend’s parents consistently did, and this resulted in the feeling that they’d never fully accept her sexuality.

Whatever you feel, don’t vocalize your thoughts that experimentation might be the case.

2. Don’t ask if you did something wrong
Parents tend to blame themselves for their childrens’ life choices – but don’t try and peg what it is you did that caused your child to stray from your heterosexual example. The nature vs. nurture argument is now considered antiquated (except to the far right wing). Sexual orientation is now known to be based in genetics and not in the way one is raised. Besides, this is about your child, not about you.

Using the word “wrong” anywhere during this experience will only have negative consequences.

3. Don’t wait to respond
Your child has many ways of telling you about his/her sexual identity: Face-to-face, phone, email, etc. Regardless of the medium, remember that you are the grownup. If it’s a phone call, and you’re speechless, muster up the where-with-all to remind them (as you always have) how much you love them and how that will never change. If you receive a surprise announcement in your inbox, don’t hesitate to write back. Will this really affect how you feel about your child? If the answer is “no” (I hope it is), then you have plenty of time to mull this over, AFTER reassuring them that you are supportive.

It’s taken your kid a lot of courage to tell you this, the least you can do is acknowledge brave actions with an equally brave “I don’t care because it doesn’t change who you are.”

VERY CLEAR DO’S

1. Do worry
What parent doesn’t? You don’t need to suppress any worries, fears or concerns for your child’s well-being, but you also don’t need to voice them. You have every right to feel what you feel, but your child isn’t your support group. Your spouse, your friends, parents of other LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) kids can be. You need to be your child’s supporter, not vice versa.

Look into Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) for support and answers to your questions.

2. Do ask for help
If you feel unprepared to give your child advice or are confused about issues relating to the LGBT community, there are plenty of resources available to you. If you have any gay friends who could provide mentorship for your child, talk to both parties to see if they are interested. Check out your local LGBT Center for information, meetings, etc. But also give your kid the benefit of the doubt. Depending on what age they discover this and decide to tell you, chances are they may have done their own research.

Whatever you do, just have an open and honest dialogue about everything. You’ll be able to sense how willing they are to take suggestions/accept your attempt at helping to educate them.

3. Do share any similar experiences
If you ever questioned your sexuality, tell your child!

If you ever dated or had a relationship with someone of the same sex, your child will probably be: 1) surprised; and 2) relieved to hear they aren’t alone.

4. Do emphasize that you love them
Because you do! And I can tell you from experience, if we’re made to feel guilty or left guessing after such a major statement, it’s pretty painful.

Even though we think deep down inside that you’ll always love us, it’s important to hear it.

“Coming out” is a highly pivotal and celebrated moment in the lives of the LGBT community. At the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) screening of the premiere of the Showtime series The L Word this January, a celebrity guest speaker encouraged the audience to come out if we hadn’t already done so, in order to continue the fight for equal rights among the queer community. The company I was with didn’t hesitate to point out that of all the people in this country, those attending Manhattan’s official premiere party for the one lesbian show on television were probably the least likely to be closeted. However, all of us at one point or another did face the fear and potential rejection or judgment of our loved ones when we decided to tell our friends and family about our sexual orientation.

Those who live in less populated, liberal places such as New York are more likely to risk the loss of acceptance and support from their loved ones. It’s harder to find a community in rural places; your options are incredibly limited. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance, no matter where you live, to try and be the most open-minded you can be when it comes to your child’s sexuality.

Reserve your judgments and take into account the absolute truth that your son or daughter is no different because they’ve chosen to tell you something about themselves. I would consider it a pat on the back that your child wants to be honest and open with you, and in some way expects and hopes for the unconditional love you’ve always shown. Give it to them!

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2 Comments
forrestmoses says: June 1st, 2008 at 11:02 pm

most important… don’t say…”I love you anyway”…that is insulting… anyway what? even if I am two headed….. being gay is not a disease.. it does not change anything… It is just BEING… being human does not demand a separate love… just a normal everyday love… It is not about being accepted… Just encourage being open and loving and thoughtful… You do not hear heterosexual asking for love because they are heterosexual… duh. oh mom.. I am straight… How dull… how boring…how ordinary… Mother should say: “I know dear.. but even though you are boring… I will always love you…” Forrest

Amanda says: June 2nd, 2008 at 6:01 pm

As a parent of a young woman who came out this year, I agree that you want to respond quickly and with support. Life is hard enough to face without feeling that your parents might abandon you over the subject of your sexuality. I love all of my children unconditionally and hope that they will be happy with whoever they choose to be their life partner. And, yes, it is a compliment to you and your parenting that your child wants to share their life honestly and openly. Why jeopardize the relationship over something that really has nothing to do with you?

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