Every parent wants to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child. But sadly, finding out that their son or daughter is gay is rarely “part of the plan.” When a teen comes out, their parents are generally taken by surprise, no matter how obvious it may have seemed. They may feel overwhelmed or confused, asking , “How can a child that we have raised become something so alien to us?” Accepting an LGBT identity dramatically changes the interaction between child and parent- suddenly, the child is the teacher, the one who has come to an understanding of a deep and complex idea without any prior knowledge from the parent. And the parent is suddenly the student, trying to understand the new needs of their child. Sadly, there are still households where coming out as LGBT is not acceptable religiously or morally, and worse yet, there are parents who are simply unwilling to learn about LGBT people and accept the role of student to their child. This switching of roles does not, however, ALWAYS shatter a family dynamic. In fact, in many ways, I feel that my coming out has brought my family closer. And there are ways to make coming out and subsequent interactions easier and more beneficial for all family members.
Initially when I came out, my mother was worried, and with good reason. The world was, and still is, often a hostile place for LGBT people. I had a lot of Catholic friends whom she (and I) worried would reject me. Although she accepted my orientation (and has a generally positive view of LGBT people in general), she urged me to stay closeted and never brought the subject up again. At my request, she told my father, whose reaction was similar, but perhaps even more worried about the societal problems I would face become of sexuality. Although I was initially relieved that my parents hadn’t been angry or upset, I knew in my heart that complacent acceptance was not what I was looking for from my parents. I wanted them to better understand my sexuality- beyond just “Bianca likes girls and boys.” They still clung the hope that I would “fall on the straight side of the equation” when I found a permanent partner.
So this is where my deep and abiding love of dialogue comes from: a lot of long, painful, sometimes tearful car rideswith my father, desperately trying to explain why I wouldn’t “grow out of being bi” and why his hopes for my marrying a man were hurtful, even though he only wanted the easiest life for me (one without the societal pressures of a lesbian relationship). I can’t say we’re in a perfect place regarding that, but after 10+ months with my most amazing and supportive girlfriend, he is beginning to see that a relationship with a woman can be equally healthy and wonderful. We’ve had several exchanges, but the most touching of which was an email I received telling me how happy he was to see me enjoying my time with Beth.
My parents have come a long way- my mum reads this blog as often as she can, which makes me infinitely happy, and my dad has reached out to Beth and her family in every way he is able to show his support. Point being, there’s room for everyone, even the most accepting of parents, to learn more about you and your sexuality, if you’re willing to put yourself out there.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, I know many teens that are still closeted at home because of their family’s strong religious beliefs or simple blatant prejudice. I don’t have much in the way of advice for you, sadly. At the end of the day, you have to decide if sharing your true self with your parents and family members is worth the hurt and anger you may encounter. I truly believe that any parent worth the air they breathe would still love their LGBT child, even if they are hurt, angry, confused, or conflicted. But I have been proven wrong on this point. And that’s a horrible reality to know. For those of you living in situations where you fear the backlash of your family, from the deepest part of my heart, I apologize for your pain. I invite you to search out people and organizations in your area who can help support you in your struggle. It isn’t a fair one, but it need not be one you face alone.
PFLAG, as I have mentioned before, has chapters across the country and is the best support group I know for LGBT teens who need the love and acceptance of their parents’ generation- they can be a family in their own respect.
There are a lot of local organizations as well- Pittsburgh has a Gay and Lesbian Community Center on Grant Street and they hold youth nights every Friday night. DC has everything from a Gay Jewish Shabbat service (Bet Mishpachah) to a Brazilian GLBT group. ((The magazine Metro Weekly has an AMAZING listing of all the groups in DC)) And there are places like this in every city. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you.
I have always believed that family is who you let closest to you. My girlfriend, my best friend George, my crazy neighbor Sarah, my 11th grade high school English teacher- these people are my family, even though they don’t share my blood. They are there to support me, to listen to me, to share in my pain and my triumphs. They are also the people who have accepted me unconditionally for the person I am and have embraced my sexuality as a part of my integral whole. I hope that each and every one of you finds as good a family.