Briefly describe how your child first came out to you and your initial reactions.
Shortly after my son’s 14th birthday, he came out to my wife and son while I was away on business. When I returned, my wife asked me to go put him to bed, which was already an “odd” circumstance because that was usually their time to be together. I went in to his room and within minutes he just boldly and plainly said “Dad, I just wanted you to know I’m gay.” He didn’t say “might be” – it was with such authority that only months later did I come to understand how much pride I should have him knowing WHO he was. Initially, I made it about me – thoughts of things I would “lose” – or thoughts of things I though HE would lose. And again, it wouldn’t be for months that I would come to realize these were never things I should have mapped out for him – it was his life to live, but somehow, at that moment, he wasn’t living the life I had imagined. I made sure he knew I loved him and that this wouldn’t change that one bit. But deep down inside, I struggled with “how” to be a good parent with this information. And yes, it took awhile.
What concerns did you experience over the first weeks or months? How did you deal with them?
Initially, I was just lost. Wasn’t sure what to think or feel. Again, as I made it all about me. It wasn’t until later that someone accused me (jokingly to some extent) of being a “raging heterosexual.” His point? It wasn’t my job to understand – that I would likely never understand. And that in order to move forward in my relationship with my son, best I de-genderize everything – my son will experience love, hate, loss, sadness, joy, anger and everything else in between – so why does it matter with what gender? I can still talk to him about those emotions and feelings. It wasn’t an overnight transition. And I am still growing and learning. I don’t think I did things 100% right, but I know that I never made him feel ashamed or unloved, so to that end, it felt like I did ok.
Has your child come out to other family members over time?
Yes. After our immediate family, he told my wife’s father and he was amazing. Accepting. Loving. Perfect. Months later (7 months to be exact), he told my parents. It was awkward. They “distanced” themselves from him in weird ways – after he was 3, they were never touchy feely super close, but now it just seemed very transactional. They still love him very much – but they choose to not try and understand, so it just creates this distance that is hard to describe. I don’t try and make it better, as they are who they are and changing now isn’t likely. But, again, they don’t make him feel ashamed and that is all I really care about. His maternal grandmother – well, let’s just say it’s something you talk about in private and while she pretends to be “ok” with it, it’s not exactly the grandson she always imagined. Then again, we aren’t the family she always imagined either – we have strong differing political opinions and different creative tastes. She is loving towards him and I think he sees behind it, but he doesn’t allow it to bother him.
What is the hardest thing about knowing their LGBTQ identity?
Honestly, the only hard part that remains is the not wanting to live in fear that someone out in the world wants to hurt the LGBTQ community which makes me fear for his safety. But, I can’t be absorbed by that fear. He is smart and he puts himself in smart places where nothing would likely happen. And he is aware and equipped with what to do if he ever feels endangered.
What are some challenges have you faced concerning your LGBTQ child? How did you deal with these?
Hardest part is likely dealing with peers who make statements that are not acceptable to me and how to deliver that message – especially if they are people you consider a friend – but my barometer for what is “ok” has changed and I don’t want to be a part of conversations that use slurs, so it’s getting that point across without losing relationships that can be tough.
What is the best thing about knowing your child's LGBTQ identity?
Simple. He’s happy. He’s more than happy. He’s himself. And makes no apologies for it.
Knowing what you know today, would you want your child to “stay in the closet”? Why?
NO. NO. and NO. In short, change begets change. We are already seeing the growing numbers of kids who are coming out at earlier and earlier ages – and a society, while not perfect, is becoming more and more accepting of different sexualities. Come out, own it, and show the world there is no reason to hide and know that they will be surrounded by advocates and support.
What would you say to other parents learning the LGBTQ identity of their child?
Hang in there? Remember that if it doesn’t all make sense in the beginning, that doesn’t make you a bad parent. It’s what you do from that point that defines you. If you are willing to take steps to learn then that means you have the unconditional love for your child and that is all THEY want to know. You don’t need to be perfect. Just be understanding and available to them. As I said above, de-gender the conversations about life and you will learn that their paths will be very similar to your own – the high and low emotions of their relationships are rarely different than yours if you remove that part of it.
What would you say to youth coming out to their families?
In a word? Congratulations. Because if they are coming out, that means they are brave enough to claim their identity. I can only imagine how scared it can be, so I would just let them know that I applaud them and that if they need ANY help, there are organizations, hotlines, and other means of getting support. They should never – not for one minute – feel alone.
100K-500K, 20-29, 20-29, 20s - 30s, 30-39, 40-49, 500K-1 million, Arkansas, Father, Featured, Florida, Gay, Lesbian, Mother, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Older Teen (16-19), Older Teen (16-19), Oregon, Over 1 million, Pennsylvania, Pre-Teen (12 & under), Rural, Texas, Transgender, Under 100K, United States of America, Written, Young Teen (12-15), Young Teen (12-150