Our children come out to us in various ways. Some of them declare their LGBTQ identity the same way they tell you what they ate for breakfast. It’s just a fact. This is how my oldest daughter announced she was bisexual. Some children, however, come out to us in more subtle and cautious ways. My transgender son came out to me in a note that he left on my pillow. He didn’t say he was transgender per se, he (she then) merely asked to start taking testosterone. That note launched my husband and me into a few months of denial before we finally sat down with our child to address the topic head-on.
There is no one path that our children take before they come out, and no one “right” thing to do after they come out. This list is what some parents of LGBTQ youth have found helpful.
The reality is that most of us parents grew up in a very binary, heterosexual culture, and most of us were handed a baby that was either wrapped in a pink or blue blanket and we automatically assumed they would one day marry someone of the opposite sex. It is a shock for many of us to have our child tell us something different from what we assumed from the day we first held them in our arms. The best thing you can do for yourself in that state of shock is to take a bit of time and create some space between what you’ve been told and your next step. When my son came out, I was full of fear for his future and doubt that I could trust an eleven-year-old to know who they truly were. Fear and doubt can cause decisions and reactions we might regret, it’s much safer to take some time to clear our heads. Which leads to the next step.
Google will soon become your best friend. Of course, be wary of the sources from which you gather your information. There are a lot of new terms and labels to familiarize yourself with like pansexual and gender fluid in addition to the standard Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender terms. There are also questions about legal issues like name changes, and medical issues like sexually transmitted infections and hormone replacements. There are statistics you will want to know about such as the number of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ and the staggering number of suicide attempts among transgender teens. I know these statistics can cause us more stress, but they are an important part of the whole picture to keep our kids safe. Which leads to the next step.
Be compassionate with your child and be compassionate with yourself. It took a monumental amount of bravery for your child to come out to you and be their authentic self. How many of us can say that about ourselves as adults? Even though it seemed easy for my bisexual daughter to tell us who she was, it is not easy for her to have people say she’s just confused or saying it for attention. Our kids have a world of judgment to face and being their safe place to land is a genuine gift for them. And, this is not easy on you as a parent! I know. I live it. There is a steep learning curve and there are so many opportunities to mess up. I’ve used the wrong pronouns. I’ve dismissed something that I thought was minor that turned out to be a big deal to my kid. I’ve had to go through a bonafide grieving process for the daughter I gave birth to, and that’s okay. I am compassionate with myself, but most importantly, I don’t dump my feelings on my child. Which leads to the next step.
Your kid needs you, and you need adult support. Some of your existing friends will be amazing and will listen and empathize, and some will be a source of more stress and non-stop almost voyeuristic questions—choose who you confide in wisely. There may come a time where you need to speak to a counselor just to help you past the most stressful parts and there are excellent psychologists who can help you and support you so that you can be an advocate for your child. I found major benefits in meeting other parents of LGBTQ children and there are many organizations that offer this support such as PFLAG, Calgary Sexual Health, Skipping Stone Foundation and our very own Airdrie Pride Society.
On January 20th, 2018, we will be launching our monthly Parenting with Pride meetings at Community Links 125 Main Street NW, upstairs in unit 211 between 2:00pm and 4:00pm. You can come and find friendly faces who have walked a similar path, and find the support you need in your new reality.
Tammy Plunkett is the newest member of Airdrie Pride Society. She is an author and writing coach who moved to Airdrie with her family from Ottawa two years ago. She is the proud mother of two young adults who identify as a pansexual cisgender woman and a bisexual cisgender woman, and two pre-teens one being a transgender boy and the other a questioning boy.