7 Things I Wish I’d Known BEFORE My Kid Came Out
Nothing in my parental experience prepared me for the moment when my son came to me with tears running down his cheeks, and asked, “Why am I gay?” I had a mental script for lots of possible parenting situations. I knew just what I would say and do if my teenage daughter told me she was pregnant. I knew what I’d say and do if my son got expelled for smoking in the school bathroom. But this was a subject about which I’d stayed blissfully and purposefully ignorant. I was absolutely unprepared.
If I’d spent some time thinking about it, or educating myself, maybe the next two years wouldn’t have been so excruciating. Maybe I would have cried less and loved more. Maybe I would have embraced him fully in that tender moment instead of letting my fears and bigotry speak for me, sending the message that he was not OK--that he was broken. A flood of emotions and fears took over my life for a long time after my son came out. I had no answers and no resources to fall back on. I groped in the dark alone, isolated, and ashamed--ashamed that now everyone in my close-knit neighborhood would know I’d been a bad parent. I mean, I was really uneducated.
Reaching out into the darkness was one of the most frightening, most vulnerable things I’ve ever done, but I was desperate. I knew if I didn’t talk to someone I’d go crazy, or worse, damage my relationship with my son perhaps beyond repair. The learning curve was steep, the insights and lessons learned were painful, and the support we found was life-saving.
You know how when you go hiking, if there’s a stone in the middle of the trail, you holler back to the guy behind you so they don’t trip? Well, this is me hollering to you that there are some stones you might want to watch out for. Here are the things I’ve learned that I sure wish I’d known before. May they make your journey easier, and may they help you envelope your queer kid in love.
I wish I’d known how lonely, anxious, depressed, and isolated he felt all those years:
I wish I’d created an atmosphere where open dialogue was encouraged and rewarded. Most of my parenting to that point had been reactionary, so I think my kid was afraid to tell me, afraid to confide in me. This is the thing that hurts the most. He suffered alone. I wish I’d made home a safer place to be.
2. I wish I’d known about the high suicide ideation rates among LGBT individuals and I wish I’d known my child was at risk: LGBT youth who are highly rejected by their families (surprisingly this is an area where what you think matters more to your teen than what their peers think!), are eight times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The stats are sobering. Encircle has great resources that helped me figure out the essentials to help my son thrive. Written resource material, along with other great services including world-class therapy, friendship circles, and free arts-based programs can be found at http://encircletogether.org The Family Acceptance Project (FAP) is also a good place to start learning about accepting behaviors, and about how to be affirming. The stuff I learned from the FAP helped me save my kid’s life. More information on the FAP can be found at https://familyproject.sfsu.edu
3. I wish I’d been a better ally and advocate: Fear stopped me. You know that saying “We fear what we don’t understand”? If I could go back, I would learn everything I could about LGBT issues. A good friend said, “I used to let others define for me what it meant to be LGBT.” So did I. I should have reached out to LGBT folks, and I should have allowed them to teach me. I should have moved in closer and listened to their lived experience.
4. I wish I’d been more outspoken about what my heart was saying: It took me a long time to find my “voice.” It took someone close to our family saying something so insensitive and alarming that I couldn’t let it slide one more time. That first nerve-wracking experience gave me courage to stand up for my kid in every situation. It wasn’t always easy, but it empowered me, and it showed my kid that I would always stand up for him, and I would always choose him.
5. I wish I’d known there were other families out there like ours: The isolation was difficult. There were moments when the weight of everything was crushing. But we found other families with gay kids, online resources, and loving allies who supported and loved us.
6. I wish I’d known there was so much joy coming for us--that things were going to be OK. Better than OK. That is was going to be one of the greatest blessings of our lives, and I wish I’d known how happy he’d be to finally live authentically.
7. I wish I’d known that there are lots of people around us wanting to be supportive but not really knowing how to show it. Most people were awkwardly silent, and some even turned away. But there were a few really special humans who reached out and showed us incredible love. I’m confident they didn’t understand how hard things were for us in the beginning, and maybe they didn’t understand anything about LGBT stuff, but it didn’t stop them. And the gestures that might have seemed like the smallest meant the very most.
I learned so much when my son came out. Mostly, I learned that no matter my upbringing, beliefs, or preconceived ideas about things I honestly knew nothing about, loving my son was easy, and when I chose to love, everything else fell into place.