Saturday, October 27, 2012

LGBT teens Are Speaking...Are You Listening?


As parents, we hope that we engender trust between ourselves and our children such that they feel that they could tell us anything. After all, we have been there, done that and bought the t shirt too boot. Because of what we may have done when we were young...or even just because we know whats out there...we want to be able to steer our kids through those things in perhaps a better way than we navigated them ourselves. Sex, bullying, drugs, hell...even life on the internet are all things we have to talk to our kids about in order for them to have the tools to face them as competent individuals with solid life skills. We give them the best of our experience and set limits and consequences for behavior in the hopes that we are being the best parents that we can be. Being a parent myself, I understand this all too well.

But...Being a part of a family who's lives are all over the internet put us in conversation with all kinds of people from around the world. One of those groups are teens and preteens who are struggling with the knowledge that they are gay. Some have already come out...some are still working that out...but put together, these kids have a voice and a message that I think many parents need to hear. It's not often easy to hear it, but it is vital that we do with an open heart because our kids lives may depend on it.


Having mentored more than a few kids online the first question that most parents have is, "why is my child talking to adults online?! Who are they and what do they want?!"  As a dad, I understand and I don't ever take offense when a parents first response is alarm. I would react the same way. But what the these parents often don't understand is that their kids went to the internet to explore a part of themselves they did not feel safe talking about at home. It's these words not said that I think parents most need to hear.

This weekend I was talking with a young man who had come out to his family and his friends and not having an easy time because of it. The truth that was supposed to set him free hadn't lived up to it's promise. Instead, his parents have signed him up for a therapist that is supposed to "convince him of the harms of homosexuality". In other words... ex-gay therapy. He describes his parents lovingly, but also as religious and  his admission to them has sent them into crisis mode. There attempts to convince him, instead of protecting him from a perceived harm, have sent a clear message to him that who he knows he is inside is not acceptable to them. A wall has come down in which it was no longer ok to even say the word gay out loud. I remember this all began with an out of the blue Facebook post that simply read, "how do I come out to my parents?" followed a short while later by..."too late....that didn't go very well." Indeed it did not, nor is his story unique among those we receive  Too many kids get this response making it a real reason to second guess coming out to your parents.


Not long before that, another young man who reached out to us via YouTube who's story ended a little better. He had barely come to terms with his sexuality. He knew that he was gay but was having some shame about it. He had an otherwise great relationship with his mom and wanted to tell her...but for fear of her potential response, put it off and agonized over the question for weeks until my husband recommended that he write her a letter and slip it into her current favorite book where she would have to see it. He wrote the letter...and it was beautiful.  It was full of so much insight and heart that I am convinced that it would have reduced any parent to tears. And there he was with this beautifully written letter in his hands...and yet he still held onto it for a few more weeks until he could work up the courage to slip it into her book. Ultimately, she read it. they talked, and both of them grew closer. But even in this situation where a young person has a pretty close relationship with their family and coming out ended well...he still had to struggle to understand how he would tell her...IF he should tell her and he had a great deal of uncertainty how she would react. There were many things he could not say to her when he was struggling to deal with it himself and it took talking to someone else to help him get enough confidence to begin to open up to her.

There are kids that are cutting themselves, some that talk about running away, and others who are just lost in an emotional pit of loneliness and despair because they don't feel like they have anyone to talk to about there feelings around being gay. For LGBT kids, there is the real fear that if they open up to their families or friends that those people may not stand by them. And if we can not rely on our parents and friends to love and accept us...where do go? Who do you turn to?

In addition to this is the fact that most of the kids I talk to, want to do what they see their straight friends doing...dating and fall in love. That's a tricky thing to do when your still in high school. How do you know who's gay?...Do you take the risk of asking someone out?...what happens when it doesn't work out like you hope? All issues over and above what your average love-seeking straight teen has to deal with. In a recent conversation I talked to a young man who had asked another boy out only to have it go wrong. the boy was not gay and he was completely broken up about it. Not only had he put himself out there and taken a rather huge risk...he had lost a friend also. The whole event had done nothing but underscore his feeling of isolation, loneliness and shame. As most of his friends had probably dated and broken up countless times...all he was looking for was the same chance and for that he felt such intense shame. As I told him..."for what? for wanting the same things his straight friends had? What was to be ashamed of in that?" He took a risk and it didn't pan out, that takes great courage! I wish that LGBT kids in high school would understand that... their feelings and the way that the world reacts to them doesn't say anything bad about them...only about the world we live in. Sometimes, knowing that alone can help someone begin to build an identity based on the courage and strength that they will need to face life's hardships. How much better would it have been to be able to take that hurt home to a mom or dad that would hug him and let him know that he was ok? Isn't that what other kids get to do?

The point of the post is not to encourage you to ruthlessly patrol your child's online accounts. As a parent, you need to be aware of those anyway. I only hoped to get across to you that an lgbt child may not feel safe enough to talk about these things at home and as parents, we can do something about that. Sometimes they are hurting immeasurably and looking for answers online to questions like....why they are the way that they are?, what will become of them growing up gay?, are they ok?, how do they tell people? how do they know who's safe to tell? how do they find someone to date and love?...and what do they do now? Considering how much all of us google our questions now it should come as no surprise that our kids do to.


But, with so much uncertainty about what would happen if they opened up to their parents or their friends, they look elsewhere. They put their hearts out there on Facebook and YouTube in places that they feel they can find those answers and they look for the world in which they feel they belong. If we say we really love our kids unconditionally, that place ought to be right in our hearts...but oftentimes, I hear exactly the opposite.

Being a parent...but not their parent means that I have a certain perspective and a whole lot of limitations in how I handle what I hear and what I advise. But the best thing I or anyone else can do in that situation is just be a good listener first. Not everyone who reaches out to us want's their problems solved for them. Most just want connection and to know they are not alone. They are looking for someone to listen to them and to tell them that they are...A) completely normal and....B)not alone. That is the bulk of advice someone like me will ever hand out to your kids. As someone who has been in exactly their position but also someone who is a stranger to their lives....I know that I can never replace the love and acceptance that can come from you...their parent. If I feel like it's safe and they aren't likely to face being disowned or worse, I recommend that they give their parents a little credit and talk to them about it...but sometimes that's not possible, as in the case of the boy who's parents are now taking him to a reparative therapist.


As one of those people who your kids go to when they feel like they can't talk to you, I wish that all parents would understand that all these kids are looking for is love and acceptance from the people they hold most dear. In the absence of that sense of absolute safety, they will reach out to other sources....if we really want our kids to trust us and be able to tell us anything, than issues of sexuality and sexual identity need to be included under the banner of, "I'll love you even if ". It may rub our sensibilities the wrong way but I don't understand when parents shut down the conversation and just refuse to acknowledge where it's coming from in their kids. Shutting down and condmenation will NOT make it go away...nor will restricting their internet access or hauling them of to some quack for therapy. All that will happen is that you have proven to your kids that you are not a safe person to be honest with and to protect themselves they must continue to hide....and THAT is the opposite of what we hope to engender in our children isn't it? Or would we rather they just tow the line and not rock the boat?


So while it might freak you out that your teenager might be reaching out online for a sense of identity and belonging...before you fly off the handle, consider why it's happening and what's really going on. Your children are not being indoctrinated into some imagined lifestyle ..they are reaching out for help and understanding because they have gotten so little of that. They need to know that who they are isn't bad and as parents, we have a choice...we can either shut down and refuse to hear it, or we can stretch our hearts a bit more and listen. I know it's tough, but I have heard mountains of heartbreak from LGBT kids such that I wish every parent could be privy to it. If they can't talk to you at home, they will talk to someone like me and I will do the best I can to tell that they are ok....that they will get through it...and that there is nothing wrong with who they are. Wouldn't that message mean so much more coming from you?

Your kids are talking and what they have to say is pretty incredible. We raise our children with the best that we have to give them. If we tell that that we love them no matter what, then we have to live up to that. We need to remember that we may not like some of what we hear...but it's up to us to be the grown ups.The alternative is to leave them alone in isolation trying to work it out for themselves and living with a pain none of us wish our children to endure. That pain is not there because they are gay...it's their because the world treats them different and wrong for that difference. Repeating that same message is not protecting them from that world...it's only reinforcing it's message.Your kids are talking...are you listening?

Until next time dear readers.....


24 comments:

  1. Your advice is good for parents of all teenage children. Not just LGBT. I am a parent of teenage children, but have just have opted to let them tell me what they want to and I won't judge them. My6 oldest is now 23 My youngest is 6. I was open with them and we made it through it. now to get through it with my 2 youngest.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Unless a parent is socially progressive and therefore fairly safe to tell, an LGBT teen attempting to come out to that parent needs to also treat the conversation as a bigot intervention. But that doesn’t mean being combative or harsh. But it does mean frontally and immediately refuting the misinformation which inspires parents to cart their kids off to a hate coach therapist, disown them, throw them out of the house or attack or kill them. With a matter of fact tone of voice, he should indicate he didn’t choose, nor does anyone else, choose to be gay. Rather it’s something they discover they are. No one is stupid enough to choose or decide to be something that makes them a second class citizen or exposes them to discrimination, oppression, violence or worse. Furthermore, scientists have discovered, at least for males, that gay orientation is caused by the brain not absorbing enough testosterone in the womb. This is a relatively rare occurrence, but it’ll happen to roughly 5% of the general male population, which means that it CAN happen to anyone and, when it does happen, no one is to be blamed for it any more than being condemned for one’s eye or skin color.

    If a teen wants to come out to a parent, I think he SHOULD go to the Internet first to get his facts straight and to be well prepared. Otherwise, that coming out is likely to be botched.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hey dave! its good to see you posting again.

      Delete
    2. No real scientific study has ever linked low testosterone levels to homosexuality... That's a myth made to perpetuate the stereotype that "Gay men aren't real men/manly enough." It is also a myth that was made to make homosexuality look like a disease or disability, which it ISN'T. There has never been a conclusive study that proved a the source of homosexuality - at least, there has never been a study that held up against any sort of critical scrutiny or peer-based review.

      Delete
  3. Hey guys, just wanna let u know. The time is come, my dad have come to talk to me. He wants to talk now. Lol... Its time... I'm a little scared. I am going to show ur blog to them too. Hope it helps.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sam,

      Be respectful and matter of fact with him, but stand your ground and don’t act like there’s anything wrong with you, because there can’t be when you were born that way. If your dad understands spoken English well, have him watch the epigenetics and homosexuality video. It gets to the point quickly and convincingly in just about 6 minutes. If the information on twins doesn’t prove a biological or genetic link, I don’t know what does. Your dad has more or less known for some time, but the fact that he wants to talk about it is a hopeful sign that he’ll listen to you. Someone else here I’ve talked to also has a father who knows but who will NOT listen and as a result that other individual has a very unpleasant stalemate with his father to live through.

      Sam, you’ve been there for me through my illness and now I want to be there for you as you talk to your dad. Please keep in touch with me through private email and I’ll try to help where I can.



      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. i did almost exactly as you are with my mom, my dad and i never had that conversation (i have mixed emotions on that). i had already 'come out' to mom but its a hard thing to find the words to express what 'gay' means for us individually sometimes.

      remember, there is no thing wrong with you for being gay; and you may have to lead your dad to a place of acceptance on the topic.

      may you blessed be on this leg of your journey and may it carry on through the next.

      Delete
    4. I hope it helps to Samuel. Just know that we have all been there and we are rooting for you. Let us know how it goes..../hugs
      Bryan

      Delete
    5. Hey guys! U WONT believe it!

      I talked to both of my parents and they totally understood! O.O

      I mean, i KNOW its impossible that one intelligent person that loves and cares about u dont understand that there is nothing wrong about being gay after u show them what the science says and what even the bible actually says about it. But i just NEVER thought that my parents would rather believe me than believe in what the church says. I mean, they have ALWAYS believed in EVERYTHING the church says. But i guess i was HUGELY wrong...

      We expended the whole last night talking. It was about 2am when my dad came to talk to me cause i was until late in the computer, and ended bring up the subject. So i told him that the problem is that he didn't understood me, and that this church that he and my mom believes to be the only true and right church in the world is DEFINITELY wrong about what really means to be gay. So he told me: "Explain it to me then. I will listen to u. Tell me everything that u know." And i said: "Wow, like, now!? Its a bit late, no?" and he said: "No. I love u. U are my son, and u have nay information that may help us understand it better u should tell us. Its time. U prefer talk to me alone, or u want talk to ur mom too?" I was like: O.O "Humm!?..."

      So i said to him that i would rather talk to both of then. It was in the moment that he went to call her that i posted that comment.

      Its really incredible right? I mean, i have always being afraid to talk about it with them. I have talked ALLOT with my brother, and i know that they have had overheard us talking. My mom knows about me since I was 12, she even took me to a christian psychologist to "cure" me, and after that she always thought that, even if was not "cured", i had it "under control". But she NEVER talked to me about that after taking me to that psychologist, until about May this year, when she noticed that i was still having some "homosexual tendencies", after she read some personal things that i had written. But i wasn't ready to come out completely to her yet, so i was able to convince her that i had it "under control". I guess i should have had the guts to tell her everything back there, it would have saved us allot of suffering and awkward moments in the family that have happened since then. The problem is that back there i was only starting to understand what really is to be gay, and i hadn't all the information that i have now. So i guess this way actually was the best.

      Anyway, the funny thing is that the problem now is NOT that fact that I'm gay, but the fact that they expect me live my life according to the principles that this church believes, not this specific one about homosexuality. They understand now that the bible NEVER condemn a true and loving and committed relationship "between persons that are equal"(in my mom own words, I loved when she said it in that way :D ). But they expect me to still live according all the life stile principles that this church have, and i confess that I dont believe anymore in all that this church says, so... I dont know. I guess we will have to see how to work that out...

      I know it doesn't happen with everybody. Not everybody has the chance to have understanding and loving parents. So I am REALLY grateful for them.

      I also want to, again, thank u guys, Jay and Bryan. U guys really have made the difference in my life, and u guys were essential in this process. Thank u!

      Also want to thank all u guys from this online community, from where i learned so much and got so much strength, specially from steeldrago and Dave. I love u man, and u know that! Thank u!

      Kisses and bear hugs for all!
      (""\(*-*)/"")

      Delete
    6. Sam,

      I’m just ecstatic it went so well for you. I sent you a couple of private emails of additional points you could make depending on how the conversation was going and was a bit concerned I might not get to you in time, but you were already very well-prepared. Yours is the coming out success story we all hope for. When you’re well-prepared and in command of the real facts, it inevitably changes how you sound. Someone speaking with self-confidence inherently makes him sound more believable.

      I, for one, am glad for any role I played in arming you with accurate information to make your case. Maybe you’ll be a lawyer someday! :-) I have yet to watch that video you gave me about what the Bible really says loving and committed relationships and, hearing how persuasive it was with your parents, I should go back and find it to watch. I believe it’s on your channel.

      I also hope someone else here I’ve mentored who is having a difficult stalemate with his father will be inspired by your success and will be more willing now to take some risks to extricate himself from his quagmire.

      Again, I’m glad I could help and I love you too.

      Big bear hugs back,
      Dave

      Delete
    7. awesome sauce, very cool. kudos to your parents for choosing their love of you over the dogma of their faith.

      you are your own person, there is truth in some of the teachings of 'that church' (i assume/believe catholic). dont deny yourself faith in more but if you dont feel it now it will be there if and when you do.

      Delete
    8. Congrats Sam!....You never know how these things are going to turn out. I guess you are one of the lucky ones :)
      Bryan

      Delete
    9. Yeah, we never know... I still dont really believe it... I mean, they are actually taking my side against the church community! I NEVER, nor even in my craziest dreams, thought it could happen! Both of them continue studding the subject, and the more they do, the more they get convinced that something must be done to people get to understand it and that themselves need to do something to change people views about it! O.O

      And they are not catholics, Brian(steeldrago), they are Seventh day Adventists. Its a very fundamentalist christian church...

      Any way, i cant believe things got so amazingly well... The only problem, like i said, is that they expect me to still believe and follow everything else that that this church says, and that i should work to help the people of this church to understand that they have a misunderstand in this subject, but i dont believe anymore in everything this church says, and i'm not going to continue support them... But i didn't told my parents that... I guess i have another coming out process to go with them...

      But again, its not enough said: Thank u guys! All of u! U guys really made a difference in my life!

      Delete
  4. i like this.. i hope there are more messages like this to parents who are not that much open with this kind of relationship or problems that children are afraid to open because they are just afraid to lose their loved one...

    ReplyDelete
  5. very well said Bryan and i absolutely agree. Parents these days need to understand that their kids are doing. The thing is, i have been alone pretty much and been holed up in my room with a computer. They thought i just liked to be alone. At times i do, but it would have been nice to have them talk to me, listen and communicate. I'm not talking about kneeling down and talking to me like i did something wrong. I can understand that some parents can be freaked out that some strangers are talking to their kids. But the thing is, kids will talk to people. My family may be learning i am Bi or gay, but i still am not too certain they are 100% alright with it but who knows. I'm told they accept me but i am dubious. The reason is this; some do not think LGBT needs marriage or they thought that LGBT already have rights. In some parts they do, but not all. Also, they shouldn't have to move because a state doesn't accept them. It's not that simple and what about those who cannot or do not want to move? Just because the state doesn't accept doesn't mean it can't change. But i hope they would understand a little better if they would socialize with LGBT people.

    ReplyDelete
  6. i was in a class working on one of my degrees, one of my classmates made the comment 'i dont want to have to explain that to my son' regarding seeing a same sex couple kiss. she typifies many people's attitudes here. considering that this is a person whom i went to grade school with, i cannot say i was surprised yet i was upset because being a parent is not at all about you. it is not so you can play dress-up with a living doll. i mean, if that is why you do it, how are you going to react when you suddenly discover your 'doll' has a mind of it's own and is calling you on your bullshit (and they do, often by doing as you do). i have seen that reaction, both good and bad, from moms and dads i have known. in my opinion the point of being called 'dad' (or 'mom') is to be of service. there is fun stuff, absolutely, but there is also the times when you must be prepared to be the 'bad guy' and occasionally people enjoy that part a bit too much.

    we all have fantasies about how we will be as parents, especially the whole 'i wont be like my mom/dad when i have kids!' yes, we make decisions about what we believe to have been our parents shortcomings with us then we get kids who are completely different people than you could ever expect and in ways that we would rather not we discover why mom or dad did as they did on probably a good portion of what they did. then there are the other ways that we find ourselves imitating mom and dad, the ways that we have to really work to not be especially if we have parents that are horrible in some way(hate of any kind, addiction issues, mental illness issues etc) the bright side is that we also find ourselves imitating mom and dad in ways that we felt were awesome. and its a whole other thing (for them) when your parents get to see you become parents yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  7. During a conversation about one of my students, my mom once said, "It's important for a teenager to have a close relationship with an adult other than their parents." I'd never known that was something she believed, but looking back at my own teen years, I can see it now and appreciate this quiet bit of parental wisdom on her part. I think if I were a parent, I would hope that other person would be someone that I also knew and trusted--another family member or the parent of a friend--but even then it would still take faith and restraint to hold my role as parent a little more loosely and trust another person to support my child in their fledgeling independence.

    It sounds like this has become a role that you two frequently play in the lives of gay teens. As I read your blog, I wondered if you have heard from the parents of kids who have been mentored by you (either directly or through this blog and YouTube) who are grateful their kid had solid role models to turn toward.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @whitmanspider actually, we have gotten a thanks on a few occasions....but usually there are some rather concerned questions first. Which i understand...i think i would be WAY worse if it were Daniel or Selena :/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. there are the obvious questions of 'who are you that i should allow you to speak with my child?' and the figuring out the 'gay' questions; what have been the unexpected questions that really challenged you(or just touched you above the rest for some reason) as parents yourselves and as mentors to other people and their kids?

      Delete
    2. I can't speak for Jay because he would have a lot to say about this. But just for myself, I would have to say tha...as you are explaining why and how their kids came out to us and talking about what their fears are for their children, you are also walking parents through alot of the same fears and feelings their kids just went through in coming to terms with their own sexuality. It seems that both parent and child walk a very similar path on the way to acceptance. We are not just coming out as gay people, they are also coming out as the parent of a gay person and they usually have not had the benifit of several months or years to come to terms with that. There is a lot of time not only talking about their childs feelins but also the parents feelings. Its kind of a coprocessing.
      ...at least thats my observation.

      Delete
    3. The questions make complete sense. On that front, I suppose it's helpful that when vetting you, parents also have access to a large collection of your videos.

      I hadn't thought about the parallel processes aspect. Makes sense, though.

      Delete
  9. for me, just think of privacy... and the right to express their selves.
    Also, respect.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The latter is an effective offer particularly if free shipping stores you will be living considerably in the metropolis or don't have any time and energy to pick up your purchases. Delivery prices usually are very expensive specifically for much larger objects and inter-state deliveries. Although not all retailers feature free shipping and those wholesale ties that do mostly supply it only for just a few days or weeks. What exactly would you do if you would like waive the delivery expenses however , wedding dress shopsyou commonly are not capable or maybe the promo just finished?

    ReplyDelete