When a teen makes the decision to come out to family and friends, it is often with a very high degree of anxiety and trepidation over the potential reaction. As a parent it is easy to feel lost after your teen opens up to you, so how can you make the experience a positive one?
Let’s put this one to bed straight away. When someone comes out to parents it’s sometimes after a long and painful internal struggle. As parents you may have particular views and expectations about your son or daughter. Various conversations about “when you get married,” or “when you have children,” tend to be loaded with the assumption that the opposite sex is involved. Okay, you may be liberal parents, but even so it’s easy for your kids to understand that your liberalism appears to apply to other people’s kids. When it comes down to it your own kids don’t want to disappoint you, or cause friction, or lose you because of their own honesty.
Coming out needs to be treated with respect. No, they won’t “get over it”, it really isn’t “just a phase” and yes, by now they “are sure”, really! This isn’t a bad hair cut, or something that will straighten out after you’ve been on a nice long vacation, and neither can they undertake a biblical conversion. They’ve come out to you because you are trusted, loved you and they need and want to be honest. So, honor that trust.
New Ways of Thinking
Sorry parents, this may affect you, but it’s not really about you. You first need to understand why they came out to you. They probably came out to you because they need a shoulder to lean on, or they just felt tired of hiding the truth. Whatever the reason, you need to figure it out. If they came to you because they need help, offer them help. If they came to you for the latter reason, then be understanding and act like a mature adult.
Let them know it is alright to be who they are. Nothing hurts more than being a disappointment to your parents. If you don’t let them know that it is alright, explicitly, than there is a very real chance that they will think they are a failure, even though they aren’t.
Understand their sexual identity. While you may think you know all about their identity, you’ll be surprised about how much you don’t know. Did you know that gender can differ from sex? Gender has to do with your identity, while sex is the gender you were assigned at birth. Did you know that homosexuality occurs in nature? Homosexuality has been observed in over 450 animals, while homophobia has only been observed in humans. If you are having a difficult accepting your teenager’s identity, understanding their identity is the first step to acceptance. Here’s an analogy. Let’s say you come home to see someone drilling into the side of your house. Flustered, you start yelling at them to stop. When they do, you give them an earful, not allowing them to give their side of the story. What you don’t know is that they are drilling a wire into a box at the side of your house and upgrading your internet cable for free. When we have more information, we are naturally more able to be accepting.
Understand that their identity isn’t hurting anyone, because it isn’t. It’s their right to decide how to live their life, and being gay or transgender or really having any other sexual identity is not going to kill anyone. I don’t mean to be harsh, but the sooner you understand this, the easier you will find it to be accepting.
Don’t treat them any differently. Treating them differently would mean that you see them differently, which shouldn’t be the case. All they did was let you know something that you hadn’t previously known about them. They haven’t changed. If you treat you LGBT teenager differently, it might send a message that your relationship has been negatively impacted, and they won’t like that.
Have a mature conversation. Some people find it easy to get things straightened out by having a conversation after your teenager comes out, just to ask any questions. Generally, questions you might want to ask are, “When did you find out?” and, “Do you have a partner?”. You should respect their answers, as well as their right to privacy. If there are questions they don’t want to answer, don’t push.
Allow them to participate in the LGBT community. Understand that it will be healthy for them to associate with people who they can relate to. Being a part of a community of like-minded people who share an interest in hobbies or past times can be helpful for a lot of people. Sexuality is no different. Having a minority sexual identity can be confusing, and it is easy to feel alone and unsupported. Being an active member of the LGBT community can solve both of these issues. Having people to share your experiences and worries, and receive unbiased feedback in return, can be helpful on so many levels.
Don’t talk about their sexual identity behind their back. No matter how liberal you think your friends are, blabbing to them about you teenager’s sexual identity is betraying their trust. Likewise, If you are freaked out or think negatively about your teenager’s identity, and are going to your friends with the primary goal of venting, you need to either find a different outlet, or learn to be more accepting. It is extremely hurtful to find that your parent or parents have broken your trust. Even if you think your teenager will never find out, what if they did? Is it really worth risking your relationship because you need someone to vent to? Remember, teenagers are very resourceful and observant, just like adults. They aren’t kids anymore.
Don’t get worried. Some people fear that being a part of the LGBT community is a slippery slope to dangerous behavior. No. LGBT people have the same amount of sexual partners as heterosexual men and women. Drug use is not more prevalent in LGBT teens than in heterosexual teens.
Why did they complicate our relationship?
Most likely, they didn’t want to complicate your relationship. Instead, they were most likely seeking to improve your relationship with them by coming out. That, and they wanted your support. Actually, in a lot of cases, they NEED your support. By giving them your support, you will better your relationship and make their life easier.
Why did they keep this from me for so long?
Practically the polar opposite of the previous question, this too is quite common. The reason they didn’t want to tell you their sexual identity is because, yes you guessed it, they didn’t want to complicate your relationship. Often, I hear LGBT teens tell me it is just easier to keep their sexual identity private. They are probably afraid of parental rejection and wish to simply keep that part of their life to themselves. They weren’t trying to be dishonest, they were just scared.
Did I do something wrong?
In short, no. Being LGBT isn’t a fault. The only reason some people view it as such is because of religion and the fact LGBT people lie in the minority. Both of these can be ignored (look at the next section for an explanation). How can you have done something wrong if nothing bad happened?
Guest article by Colin