Sunday, October 4, 2009

Careful What You Wish For...

We all know the things said about parents who don't care about their children or what happens to them. After all, parents are supposed to care about their children. When parents learn that their children are gay or transgender, they are quite right to be concerned and even worried - but how should parents react to being told by their teenage child that they are gay or transgender?

International groups like Focus on the Family advise parents to not give affirmation to these children, to not let them think for a moment that it is in any way "okay to be gay". They are in effect giving clear instructions on how to alienate parent and child, and how to destroy the self-esteem of their children.

This alone should indicate the level of Focus on the Family's concern for the actual well-being of "the family".

If you really want to know how you SHOULD react as a parent, ask any gay or trans person how they would've liked their parents to react when they came out. Go a step further and ask them how THEIR parents reacted. After all, they've been there - and as anyone should know, scars left by such matters can take a lifetime to fade.

The difference between right and wrong ways to react lies in the motivation for the concern and worry. Are they concerned because their children are "choosing" a "lifestyle" they do not agree with? Are they worried because the rest of the world around them will lay blame on their shoulders for having a gay child? Are they afraid their parenting skills will be called into question? Or will they be concerned and worried for the safety and well-being of their children? After all, this world is full of prejudice and bigotry which is directed at anyone who is perceived to be different to the accepted norms of a largely narrow-minded society.

Worrying about your children is something that comes with the territory of being a parent. It is an old saying that "When your children are small, your troubles are small. When your children are big..."

Many people in that big bad world out there can and do set out to do harm to anyone who differs from their own definition of "normal" or "right" or what is acceptable and what isn't. Obviously, any parent who would not be concerned by the potential harm awaiting their gay or transgender child, or who would want such treatment directed at their child, has issues best handled by professionals.

Coming out is always a tricky situation, no matter how old you are. Some people come out while still at school. Some wait till their own children are all grown up and leave home. Oddly enough this waiting and remaining inside the closet is what causes the misconception that "straight people" somehow mysteriously "turn gay". What others often don't know is that these people have always had to deal with their issues privately, until they reached a point where they feel safe or comfortable in coming out, or could no longer accept having to live a lie about who they are. Oddly enough, when children finally pluck up the courage to tell their parents that they are gay or trans, the reaction is typically traumatic for both parties, to say the least.

"What will people say? What am I supposed to tell them? How can I look them in the eye again?"

Many parents will express initial distress and disappointment at the news and realization. This usually passes with time - and relations between parents and children normalize. Sad and tragic however are the cases where parents are disappointed in their children being gay and worried about their own public image and reputation being affected once the news gets out. Some are more concerned about their own issues than the situation their children find themselves in. Dating is more difficult and risky for gay people, let alone teenagers who navigate a treacherous world of bullying, peer-pressure and other intimidating social factors which can drive young people to extremes.

Some people have told me their experiences of when they came out. Some had issues with their parents, some didn't. Some were accepted and embraced, some weren't. Some parents knew long before their children ever came out to them, but never mentioned it. Some didn't have a clue and put up melodramatic performances and guilt trips, wailing "what did I do to deserve this?", "where did I go wrong?" and "Why are you doing this to ME?".

Sorry to disappoint you, parents - but when your kids come out as gay, bi or transgender, it is not about you.

They are not doing this to get back at you for gating them or for not buying them a bicycle last Christmas. They are not telling you this to be spiteful, or selfish, or because they are just going through "a phase". This is not about being promiscuous, depraved or "deviant". They are not "evil" or "possessed by the devil". Being gay or transgender is a biological issue, not some religious matter that can be "prayed away" or changed through snake-oil "therapies" and "treatments". Being gay or transgender isn't a choice - or a "lifestyle", it is a state of being. Your child has, after much soul-searching and internalized torture, come to the realization that he or she is gay or transgender - and has decided to take the risk by confiding in you. They have accepted themselves - now it is up to you.

How you decide to handle this will determine the course of the rest of your relationship as parent and child.

Will you honor their trust? Or will you betray it by rejecting them, belittling them or trying to change them to suit yourself? Will you demonstrate your unconditional love by holding them close to you, tell them you love them, no matter what? Or will you say to them "I don't want a gay/trans child"?

The fact of the matter is, buddy - whether you like it or not - you got one.

You need to face the fact that if you don't want a child who is gay or trans - or a child who isn't as "perfect" as you think the neighbors kids are, and if you reject your child hard enough, you will likely lose the one you have.

Rejecting your gay or transgender child won't make them straight. It will only make them go away.

Kids also need to remember that it is most likely that their parents are completely heterosexual, know little or nothing about gay or trans people and probably have no clue about what being gay or transgender means. It is very, very likely they never expected this shot of truth which to them probably seems to come right out of the blue. They will need some time to assimilate this new information and to deal with it. Do not expect them to roll with it and embrace you right away. Give them time to think about it before making any snap judgments or taking actions which may drive a wedge between you.

You should bear in mind that this isn't ALL you are, but just one facet of the whole that makes you their child and an individual. Another important thing to remember is that this is nobodies "fault" and that you are not looking for an argument or somewhere to place "blame" for your sexuality or gender identity. They conceived you and gave birth to you and have raised and (hopefully) loved you right up till this moment - although being gay or transgender is natural and biological, it isn't their personal doing that you happen to be gay or trans - and if they are worthy of being your parents they will continue to do so.

Regardless of how you choose to tell them, or how they react - the truth is that you have accepted yourself as being gay and the right thing for them to do is to accept you as well. The important thing they need to realize is that you love them - and trust them enough - to be honest with them about this most personal part of who you are.

In the end, they should realize that you are who you are, you cannot change that - and neither can they or anyone else.

If they are deeply religious, this will be harder for them. They need to understand that if they do not accept you, they may lose you as their child. Naturally, this makes it all the more complicated and difficult for them to wrap their heads around. If for any reason you fear that they might over-react and try to send you away to an "ex-gay" facility where they teach you to lie about who you are and to deny it and "pray away the gay" - which doesn't work and only leads to misery and spiritual damage - then perhaps it is best to keep it quiet until you are older, when you have adult status and can refuse such abuse. Such things are really not "for you own good" - but for THEIR benefit, so that they do not have to face the truth - that they have a gay or trans child.

Some children are threatened with loss of privileges such as money, cell phones, cars or even eviction from home if they do not "toe-the-line" and "act straight". I don't think parents who do such things consider for a moment the kind of emotional damage they are doing to their children - or thinking beyond their own feelings about the situation - which will not change or go away simply because of their denial.

Parents, may you realize that your child needs your love and support - especially in these times - and not your rejection and condemnation for something which is as natural to them as their eye color. May you find the capacity and unconditional love within you to look past your own issues and to say to them "I may not have asked for a gay/transgender child - but I'm sure glad I got YOU."

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