"Mom, Dad, I'm gay." Rarely are these words met with fanfare and rainbow flags flying, except in the rare instance when your parents already knew and were just waiting for you to admit it.
The more common reactions are fear, disappointment, confusion and outright anger. But the worst is when a parent's first thought is, "how am I going to save my own face once people find out Sally's a butch lesbian?" Seriously? Were Mom and Dad the only ones who didn't notice Sally's flannel shirt, oversized baggy jeans, and biker wallet and think that maybe she wasn't interested in finding Prince Charming?
But a funny thing happens when a child comes out of the closet; his parents walk right into it. The roles are now reversed and the parents are now the ones crying in the closet with the door closed and only dust bunnies and dirty laundry for company. Welcome to the new scary closet of your life Mom and Dad. Trust us, it's no picnic in there, unless you count munching on mothballs and dirty socks an entrée.
Nevertheless, we'd like to throw you a life preserver to help you float smoothly out of the closet, if and when you see fit. You see we've learned a few tricks along the way about this coming out thing that will help you.
- You're not alone and you're not the last. Sorry to sound so flippant, but it's true. We used to think the same thing until we discovered that gay people are everywhere. Logic then says, if we're everywhere, then parents with gay kids are everywhere too and there are quite a few of them ready to support you. You just have to ask.
It's perfectly OK to be upset and gnashing your teeth. Like you, we spent a lot of time being upset because we weren't like all our friends. Of course, once we discovered being unique is cool then we felt better. Try considering how having a gay child makes you more unique and see how that feels.
- You didn't screw up. You aren't responsible for anything and you have nothing to feel guilty about. You didn't rewire our DNA in the womb. There was another master plan at work and it trumped your plan.
It's OK to stick to your values and beliefs. Hey, if we didn't stick to our values and beliefs about who we are, then we'd still be in the closet. The good news for you is you can stick to your values and beliefs, but you may have to sacrifice our relationship in the process. On a positive note, if we accept that we have differences and can move on, then it can make our relationship work.
- No billboard necessary. Ironically, not every gay person feels like shouting from the rooftops "I'm gay." Ok, maybe after a few cocktails they will. Honestly, we learned to share as we saw fit, and you might as well do the same as you feel comfortable. And there's no reason to go in search of the perfect time to share that your child's gay. Just like us, you come out at the same exact time every other parent does: when you're ready.
The readiness factor. Without going all scientific and quantum physics on you, your readiness to share your story with others stems from your beliefs, perceptions, and desire to be open about your gay kid. You, like us, have a whole lifetime of formulating opinions about sexuality that are now in play. Something we learned is to get real with our beliefs and perceptions; when you are true to yourself, you will have a lot less stress than if you aren't.
- What others think is not about you, it's about them. Not to be crass, but anyone who can't handle the truth about your gay child doesn't matter unless you make them matter. One of the hardest human lessons to learn is that we can't be responsible for other people's journey. And if you can't fully accept your gay child, do what you can. If your child can't deal with that truth, then that's their issue to work through. Of course, that lesson took me over a decade to learn after I came out.
Being out isn't black or white. Not every gay person is out at work, church, to friends and family and the same holds true for Moms and Dads as they come to terms with their child's sexuality. There's no rule that says you're either 100% out about your child or 100% in. It just doesn't work that way. Do what you feel comfortable with.
- Don't isolate. Don't be ashamed to ask for help and support. PFLAG and HRC are great resources. Besides, how long can you hole up in the darkness of despair before you realize it's miserable and no fun?
Ask questions. In know, I know. Asking questions can be scary, but not any scarier than not having the answers. It's all about communication and dialogue. If we don't want to answer, we won't. Just know that sometimes the answers might not be what you want to hear. Of course we know how that works. We put up with that from you too. The more we both ask questions and talk, the sooner we can both get to a place of peace.
Any life change can be fraught with challenges and make you feel vulnerable. The important thing is to know yourself well enough to be in touch with how you feel about those challenges and make a decision that is authentic and true to you. If you can't find it in your heart to wrap your arms around your gay child and accept them, then that's the best you can do. If you can, then squeeze them tight and remember that, in the end, they are still your baby.
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