Last night I had the opportunity to attend a class put on by our adoption agency on building a healthy identity. It's subject matter was to discuss the ways in which we traditionally define masculine and feminine and what do you do when a child you may be fostering...or in the process of adopting...does not fall within those lines. We talked a great deal about coming out as gay or transgendered and the difficulties that come with first admitting to yourself that you may be gay, bi, trans, or unable to apply any label to ourselves that feels right at all. And once that self discovery is made, how incredibly hard it can be to tell a parent. hell...some of us know about ourselves early on and we still can't tell our folks until we are in our twenties, thirties, or older.
The instructor who gave the class offered it from the perspective of a mother with a transgendered child. And yet...even with that knowledge I walked into that room expecting to have to fill in some blanks for people....and it was me that got schooled instead. We watched a short movie about gender issues and when it was over, the time came for questions and discussion. "Here we go", I thought. And then....one by one the other foster and adoptive parents began raising hands to tell their own stories and offer their own remarks. Nearly to a person, the entire room echoed with accounts of acceptance.....and it blew me away.
why should it surprise me so much? Well...When I came out to my parents it ended up being a mixed bag of acceptance and rejection and everyday I talk with young gay people who's stories are not always happy endings. I had expected a lot more questions and some resistance...it was a little bit of a happy shock to find so much love in the room.
but as these things do....it got my wheels spinning and I thought maybe there are some parents out there who might benifit a little from the things we discussed and who might have questions of their own. Understanding some of what motivates your child to stand before you and say, "I'm gay." with fear and hope in their eyes may...at the very least help help both parent and child navigate these uncharted waters with more grace.....at most it can save a life. So what is going on in our kids heads? Do they understand the full impact of what this decision will mean for them?....and how the hell do I respond to this? I love my kid...but....how do I deal with this?
I think that is a great place to start. Unless your one of those parents who claim they always knew and were just waiting for the day you would come bursting out of the closet...most parents are caught off guard when their child comes out to them and their first focus of attention is on their own emotions. No matter whether you ultimately come to a place of acceptance their WILL be feelings that will come with hearing those words from your child. Why is she telling me this? Can she possibly really have any idea that she is attracted to girls? How can my baby boy who I held in my own hands from the day I brought him home in the hospital...whom I have always seen as perfect the way he is....be standing in front of telling me that he has always felt like a woman inside? How is this possible?!.....and how can he be sure? He couldn't decide what to eat for breakfast yesterday and I'm supposed to believe he is sure about this! If she thinks she's a boy then does that mean that she's gay not too? If my son is gay, what will this world do to him? I don't want him to face that. Is this the influence of something else?....like T.V. or the internet?
Is she sure?.....how does he know this? has he tried it....oh hell, what if he has.....is he o.k.?....is it my fault?....why couldn't he tell me sooner?
These are a few of the emotional reactions any reasonable parent has when their child confronts them. None of them are wrong and you may not be able to help having them....emotions just come and we are left to deal with them. But you need to know a couple of things.......1) you child just battled to accept themselves before they ever gathered the courage to tell you and.....2) They are NOT 100% sure you are going to still love them after you know.
We all pick up messages as we live our lives. Our kids are no different. And you can not grow up in America without getting the clear idea that being gay is a terrible negative to be avoided at all costs. I don't care how many gay affirming characters they may see on t.v., those messages have to fight against all the times they hear(or may be called) faggot at school. They have been paying attention at church and have know what being gay is looked at as a grievous sin in the eyes of the church. They were listening when you said in a moment of ignorance that you would not want any of your kids to be gay.....I know I was listening when my father said that to me before he knew.
They have struggled with these messages already. The have fought with themselves already. They may have driven it deep and pretended it wasn't there. Some may be able to understand and accept their difference from a young age...but many of us fight it tooth and nail. We have refused to accept it and struggle to look and act just like we think we are supposed to until something inside us breaks down and we can't hide from it any longer. By the time we have come to you we know the cost and we are already paying it within ourselves....and likely at school too. Standing in front of you to say those words probably took weeks of building up the courage...and months or years of building up the courage to admit it to ourselves.
And once those words "Mom, I'm gay" have left their mouths the silence that follows will be filled with the memory of every time you tucked them in, every time you bandaged a scraped knee, every hug, and every "I love you". Their whole heart is standing their before you and wondering if you meant it. "will you STILL love me?" You have been their protector for as long as they can remember. You are their ultimate source of love and security in the world. They are risking all of that to tell you. that is why I will always consider it not only an act of honesty...but an act of trust and love.
And you may not be the first one they have told....Thats just a fact. A close friend will probably be the first to know. They may even have told a sibling and possibly reached out online for help in order to find understanding and strength. It can hurt not being the first person they go to for help, but you have to understand how much they might fear what your reaction could be. All the others they have been coming outs not only help build a base of support for them but are also kind of like practice runs for "the big one"...you.
As a kid, you fantasize how your parents are going to react in certain situations based off the nearest comparable event from the past. They will think, "Mom got really pissed when my sister (fill in offense here)...she's really gonna flip out if I talk to her about this. And dad always said how much he hates gay people...he's gonna kick me out for sure. If he doesn't kill me first." What they can't know is how you will really react. My own father condemned gays his whole life and made them the butt of every awful, soul killing joke. I thought coming out to him would be the end of our relationship. Yet, he cried in his beer ....sulked for a couple of years....and then mostly got over it. My mom I expected to be easier. She ended up being the one who said that she was sad that I was going to hell and our relationship was never the same again. Kids sometimes prepare for the worst because we simple do not know whats going to happen. It can take months...sometimes years to build up enough courage to face such a risk....and the world is littered with the unhappy endings of kids living on the streets because their parents kicked them out.
So when you are doing your level best to struggle with your own emotions and asking yourself an endless parade of questions....remember the struggle it took to bring them to you and how much is on the line for them. This is a matter of survival for them and the only "choice" involved, is in their decision to tell you.
and their is something I wan't to make clear to the parent's whose kids have come out to them as transgendered. Their struggles for self acceptance and their risk in telling you is the same but acknowledging that the gender that you feel like inside does not match the one they see outside does not make them gay. The gender that you identify as is a separate thing from which gender you are attracted to and that is a critical point to make when you are trying to wrap your mind around this. But no matter what you may see on the outside....the core person you have always known is still there and will ALWAYS be there. They are still the child you raised, no matter what may happen on the outside....never forget that.
And finally, your child may face challenges because of who they are. Your instinct to protect them from it is a mark of being a loving parent. However, this is one thing you can not protect them from by attempting to isolate them from it. It's their life and their challenge. It is a feature of being gay/bisexual, or trans in the world we live in. Hopefully, evey generation that goes by knows less of this but for now...it just is. They know it and have probably already been dealing with it in school. The only way to really protect them from it is to walk down the path with them.
Now that they are out to you....nothing will change...nor should it. Your son may still be the sullen, silent teenager he was before.....and he still may not be able to dress himself worth a bean. Your daughter will still love everything she did before....sports, animals, and her friends.....and be the sweet child you have always known If, one day a son is standing in her place, what you have known about them all along hasn't changed...only the outside did. None of us change because we come out to you but now you know more about us than you did before is all....and yes....it's OK to cry. We did a lot of that too
Have your feelings, your reactions, and your questions. That's natural. but make sure your child KNOWS you love them....even if it's hard for you to fully accept right now. It's the one thing they need to know more than anything. They are trying to show you who that are....and to meet silence or rejection wont feel like just rejecting the gay parts of them, it's rejecting their whole being.
At least once a week I get an email from a young person who feels like they can NEVER tell their family. It's sad that so many kids feel that way. So many kids go homeless when their parents kick them out, so many commit suicide. So many children and parents never talk to each other again because their is too much hurt and shame between them....and it never has to be that way. Hold your kids and hug them hard. Make sure they KNOW how much you love them...because we all need to hear it.
Until next time dear readers.....