It used to be that kids waited until after high school to “come out.” Now, they are revealing their sexual orientation as young as twelve while living at home. So, the parent is not dealing with his child’s sexual identity from afar, but under the same roof, on a daily basis.
Breaking the News
Studies have shown that most coming outs don’t go well. While some parents may react well to the news, most are caught off-guard and respond, in a split second, with less-than-accepting words. The shocking news may stir up a well of emotions such as denial (he can’t be; he’s too young to know!) or guilt (I knew he shouldn’t have played with his sister’s Barbies!), shame (What am I going to tell my friends?), fear (what if he gets AIDS?), loss (he won’t have a bride or biological children!).
• What your child wants to hear is: “Thank you for entrusting me with this information. It’s a compliment that you were so honest with me.”
• Give your child a hug and tell him you love him unconditionally. You are still his/her parent.
• Don’t try to change his sexuality so you can feel better. Put your child first so you can support him or her. Your child has probably already dealt with all the overwhelming feelings you’re experiencing for a long time and knows he/she is disappointing you. Your child is probably being picked on in school so put your own feelings aside.
• Ask your child if he/she wants you to tell others. Don’t “out” them without their permission.
• Have him/her educate you about homosexuality.
What To Do
The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University familyproject.sfsu.edu. found that positive family attitudes and behaviors protect kids against depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.
If you’re finding it difficult to overcome your prejudices or alter your expectations (it takes time), psychiatrist Jonathan Tobkes, M.D. (www.jonathantobkesmd.com) suggests the following:
• Individual therapy. Ask the therapist beforehand his opinions of LGBT people and their lifestyles.
• Talk to a trusted friend or family member who’s “been there.”
• Find a support group such as PFLAG ( Parents of Lesbians and Gays) http://www.pflag.org. with nationwide chapters.
• Read as much as you can to learn about being gay. It will help you debunk stereotypes of the gay and lesbian lifestyle and help you understand what your child is experiencing.
• If your initial discussion didn’t go well, remember that you can always revisit and try to open up the dialogue by saying, for example, “you know, you really surprised me when you… and I didn’t react well, but I just want to say that I love you and I’m always there for you!”
• Keep the dialogue going! Use reassurance, support, interest, and good listening.
For more advice, see author Wesley Davidson’s blog: http://straightparentgaykid.blogspot.com
Ms. Davidson is writing a book for straight parents of gay teens with psychiatrist Jonathan Tobkes, M.D.