Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Congratulations - It's a Gay!
"Mom? Dad? There's something I have to tell you. I'm gay."
For the second time this year, a friend told me that their young adult child had just come out to them. I was asked for advice, even. As much as I am willing to share (over share?), I first emphasize that I am not a parent, so I don't know if I can offer proper advice.
That never stops me, though.
If your daughter or son tells you that she/he is gay, here are a few pointers based on when I had come out to my own parents:
1.) Don't try to place any blame, especially on yourself. It is not your fault, nor is it your child's fault. It is a waste of time, mulling over the last eighteen years or more, trying to figure out what you could have done differently. To me, that would be equivalent to trying to determine why your child ended up in a heterosexual marriage and produced biological children.
2.) Don't ask, "How could this happen to me, in my family?" This is not about you - this is about your child. Ironic as it may seem, this is not something to take personally. How could this happen to you? Because it is not a terrible, horrible thing - the earth will continue to rotate. It is a normal situation, more common that you may originally think. Plus, it's damaging to displace any perceived negativity onto your child's self esteem.
3.) Do be willing to listen. Gay or straight, most adult children are squeamish about talking to their parents about sex in general, let alone their sexuality. As I had said to my friend this weekend, try to see your child's coming out as a means of opening the lines of communication. If you can tell your parents you're gay, you should be able to talk about almost anything!
4.) Avoid the despairing and initial gut reaction of, "But you'll never have any children of your own." There are also straight people who are not able to have children of their own. And just as despairing is the fact that there are too many children in this world who will never have any parents of their own. This can be an opportunity, not a limitation.
5.) Do continue to accept your child. If demonstrating acceptance is not part of your normal family routine, then what better time to start practicing?
I also advised my friend to focus on the resources that are available today, both for young adults who are newly out of the closet and for their parents, such as looking online for the nearest PFLAG chapter. I wish I had had such information available - and so privately - in the pre-Internet days when I was struggling internally with my sexuality.
I also asked my friend if it would be appropriate to offer my congratulations. As Ellen DeGeneres memorably asked in her sitcom, "Why can't we say, 'Good for you!' when someone comes out? Why shouldn't our reaction be, 'Good for you - you're gay!'"