LGBTQ. GLBTQIA? LGBTQQIP2SAA???!! Trying to get a handle on the range of sexual and gender identities for some parents, caregivers, and supports is no 5th Grade Spelling Bee. With progressive social action comes radical redefinition of what it means to be “Loud & Proud” in the 21st century. If you have ever felt lost, overwhelmed, or simply unsure of how to support a child, teen, or adult coming out, you are knot alone.
On Coming Out: A Personal, Parental Response
When I first came out, my mother feared for my safety; for her, growing up in the 1970s meant men who had sex with other men could be openly assaulted and harassed on the streets. My father? He emphasized the importance of my sexual health and wellbeing:
“Make sure you wear a condom...and don’t just sleep with anyone”.
I can only imagine how the visceral scars of the HIV/AIDS crisis, wounds that invariably impacted heterosexual men outside of the viral epicentre, informed his perspective.
Research on parent's response to LGBTQ+ youth offers several clear and consistent messages:
- Defensive, reactive, or rejecting responses impair family connection and contact
- Culture* and upbringing, as opposed to a particular teen's sexual and gender orientation, play a key role in predicting the direction of response.
- The more positive and warmth the response, the greater impact on your teen's sense of healthy self-esteem, perception of social support, and general wellbeing (including both physical and mental health).
- Positive responses help buffer teen's from the all too common, and increasingly alarming, implications of rejection: depression, risky substance use, and suicidal ideation.
*Culture in this particular instance includes all of the elements - status, country of origin, region, family practices, religion/spirituality, values - that make you, YOU. Understanding how the people around you spoke and speak about coming out can help you with the type of reaction that can best support your teen.
Strike a Chord: Common Themes for Coming Out
Since those early days of negotiating my sexuality, I have had the opportunity to nuance the conversation with my parents to a place of celebration and sharing, though it has been a journey. In my work with teens and families, similar fears and uncertainties show up in the room. Have you ever felt or wondered:
I think my teen is gay - how do I even bring this up?
Did I do something to cause this? Is this my fault?
Who can I tell? What will everyone think?
Will they be safe in the world?
I feel afraid, unsure, and I just don’t know what to say
Know that these questions, feelings, and reactions apply beyond the caregiver-teen relationship. Anyone who has the honour - and I select that word intentionally - of receiving the courage and trust it takes to come out is placed in a vulnerable position. The “coming-out” process implicates more than just the person sharing. You will likely experience your own internal reactions as you begin thinking about who to tell, when, and how. If these themes strike a chord somewhere inside, know you are part of a collective community that understands coming out never truly ends; though, it does start to feel easier.
I encourage you to read on in the Knotty Knews #3 - the Model CARER is YOU for a quick guide on how best to support someone choosing to come out to you!
Have you ever supported someone coming out? How did the conversation go, from your perspective? Is there anything else you would like to learn or know about?