By: Lubica Vysna, volunteer in the Neigbourhood Mothers project
How to better understand what is going on with your LGBT* child?
*The initialism LGBT is intended to emphasize a diversity of sexuality and gender identity-based cultures. It may refer to anyone who is non-heterosexual or non-cisgender, instead of exclusively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (Source: Wikipedia).
Parenting is a difficult process. As long as I have been thinking about it, we all probably want to be much closer with our children than our parents were with us. We read books about how to be a better parent and we often question our parental skills. But still, as much as we try, we are never ready for everything that might happen during the journey with our kids.
I have worked for several years as a social worker in the counseling center for LGBT people and their close ones in Bratislava, Slovakia. From my experience, many adults feel awkward to speak about sexuality and sex-related issues with their children. But, the world has changed and I hope, that our kids should talk about who they are more openly than the generations before.
So… Dear reader, how would your response, when your kid comes to you and says: “Mom, I’m gay.” Do you know what kinds of feelings your child had been coping with before he/she came to you? Do you know what coming out means? If you are not sure, please read this blog further.
Coming out is a long term process, that can accompany people for their whole life. We recognize internal and external coming out. The internal coming out is a process, during which a person can better know, identify, and accept himself/herself as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person. External coming out it’s a term referring to an action when a person talks about his/her sexual orientation and/or transgender identity to the others.
Teenagers in the age of 12-13 usually realize their sexual orientation, but everything depends on the person’s capabilities and from the environment, he/she lives in. Trans-gendered kids can be in touch with their identity from early childhood, even from their 3-5 years of age.
In most cases, the first reaction of parents on homosexual orientation of their kids is shock. Especially for those parents, who had no clue, their kid might have a different sexual orientation or gender identity. The shock lasts from few minutes to few days. In the ideal situation, the parent then proceeds with this information and tries to be supportive.
Otherwise, parents might be reserved towards their children. They would keep distance, reject, or isolate the child. This is very difficult for a kid, but it gives some time for parents to reach an emotional balance. Parents have to work with their prejudices, homophobic stereotypes. They usually feel alone or refuse to believe their kid is gay. They might see it as a temporary phase. In the worst scenario, parents pretend they have never spoken about it and ignore their child’s identity.
Parents very often feel anger: towards themselves or other people, f.e. to other parent or some potential enemy, like media, Pride week… They think all those visible LGBT activities or people make their child gay.
Self-blaming is very typical too. Parents blame themselves for not recognizing the sexual orientation or gender identity of their child sooner when they might have changed it. They question themselves what they might have done differently to have a “normal” child. And they might be so focused on themselves, they can’t pay attention to the child’s needs. All this time child or young person is on his own. With his/her heavy feelings, doubts, fears. And he/she waits if there are still good enough for their parents to love them.
Parents might come to some decision afterward and try to be rational. They either support their child, accept their LGBT identity, and work on their trustworthy relationship. Or they might not be ready to go any further. Parents need more time to deal with this new situation. In many families, it might last several years to accept their kids. In many other families, it never happens and parents and children might be in permanent war status. Parents can’t and won’t accept their children with LGBT identity. There might be even verbal or physical violence and a very negative atmosphere inside of the family.
Parents might need help to cope with the identity of their children. They should get support to understand what is happening. After the coming out process of the child, parents are going through the parallel coming out process as well. Parents have to be aware, a kid is waiting for their response and hoping for support. It took time, till even LGBT positive and supportive parents stop to see their children’s identity as a family secret and are ready to speak about their children, children’s partners, and their family life openly and with pride.
What might help parents to better cope with kid’s LGBT identity?
- Your child is the same as before – nothing has changed. He or she is still your child. Only you can see him/her in a different light.
- It’s not just a phase – sexual orientation and gender identity are permanent. Avoid telling your child, that he/she is too young to be sure. If they speak about their LGBT identity, there are sure about who they are. Don’t question them.
- It’s a process – for both sides. Your child is going through the coming out process, and you as a parent as well. It will take some time for your child to fully enhance the LGBT identity, but he/she might not be alone. You can walk through this process with him/her.
- It’s not your fault – you couldn’t do anything differently. It just happens. Some people are gay. You are not alone. There are many families with LGBT children and you might look for them and ask for support. You can’t change your child, but you can work on your attitudes, expectations, prejudices…
- LGBT identity is not sickness – it’s a vital and positive alternation. There is no treatment for LGBT people, that would change their sexual orientation or gender identity. On the contrary, every attempt to change LGBT identity has an enormous impact on a child’s emotional or physical conditions.
- Appreciate your child for being honest with you – it’s not easy for your kid to speak about his LGBT identity. Even if you are not sure what to think about it, or how to react, you can still say something like: “Thank you for sharing this with me. I understand it was difficult and I’m happy, that you believe me enough for being honest.”
- Take your time – if you don’t feel ready to proceed with communication about your kid’s identity, take your time. You can always say: “Look, I’m not sure about my feelings. I haven’t expected this. I need some time to think about it and then I would love to talk to you again. Is it OK for you?” After that, you have to say how much time you need and don’t let your child wait too long because he/she is nervous and afraid too. Two days period should be enough for you to be more prepared for the mutual conversation.
- Make your child sure is loved – express your feelings for her/him, assure him that he/she is a beloved child. Do the same things to feel him/her loved as before. If you take your time out for thinking about your kid’s identity, I would encourage you to say: “Even if fell now overwhelmed by my feelings and need time think about it, I just wanted to tell you, that I still love you. You can be sure about it. You are my beloved child and this won’t be changed.” Your kid desperately needs to hear that.
- Continue providing your kid with basic needs – in many families, parents keep their distance from the child after they learn about the child’s LGBT identity. They might even kick him/her out of the home and let him/her be on his/her own. If you are still shocked, if you can’t talk with your child about his/her identity, if you can’t accept it at this moment, continue in providing him food, wash his/her clothes, let them stay in your house… All those activities are essential for your child to survive.
- Look for resources and ask for help – if you are familiarized with the staged of coming out process on the previous pages, you understand how difficult it is for your kids to be who he/she is. If you deal with your thoughts, emotions, homophobia, it’s good to seek for help. There are lots of information available for parents and lots of people willing to support you. Don’t close to yourself and use those resources.
- Mind your language – in every language, there are plenty of words referring to LGBT people. Some of them are empowering, but the majority of them are rude and have a negative connotation. Be aware of this. Use the language of your child. Ask him/her what are the proper words and learn to understand them.
- Support your child to express his/her gender according to his/her wish. Transgender kids and youngsters struggle if parents don’t see their gender identity. Ask your kid how she/he wants to be seen? In what gender and by what name he/she wants to be called? Let him/her dress and have a styling according to his/her will.
- Take care of the security – there are still a lot of hate crimes committed on LGBT people. Talk about it openly with your child. Aware him/her about the online environment and give him/her tips on how to date more safely.
- Be a positive role model – you should be aware, that the way how you talk about LGBT related issues and/or how you cope with the coming out process of your child will have a great impact on him/her. Your child might either understand family or adults, in general, are trustworthy and it is good to speak with them about my emotions, or he/she would think and experience the opposite. Children might see you as a person that helps them when they need it, or they might stay on their own and broken. It’s your choice.