When Your Child Comes Out to You.
Marianne Avery from Greater Chicago PFLAG Chapter
“I have good news and bad news. The bad news is.. I’m gay. The good news is.. I’m H.I.V. negative.”
With these words, our thirty-year-old son, David, launched us into the stream of thousands of other parents who had heard them before us. “Oh”, we responded, as if he had just told us what he had eaten at his last meal. The conversation must have continued but, for the life of me, I have no memory of it. However, as he left that night, I do remember the incredible rush of compassion and love that I felt for him as we hugged. “I love you”. These were words I hadn’t heard myself say to him for much too long. He and his dad hugged for the first time since the far-distant days of bedtime ritual. Our journey had begun.
Fortunately, time doesn’t stop following the ‘gay proclamation’.
Little by little, rational thinking returns and life resumes. But, it will
never be the same. For some, ties to their lifelong, religious communities
are stronger than their power to reason and they reject this new personage
which has been thrust upon them, certain that they are being punished for
some past misdemeanor.
People who have lived their lives in a tightly-bound traditional world are
devastated and often carry to their graves the disclaimer of kinship: “I
have no daughter”. “I have no son.” Strict indoctrination into Bible
reading and prayer are urged on the gay person as a sure remedy. Also,
there are those who travel into the realm of psychological treatment,
convinced that it is only the obstinate nature of their child that
prevents them from being ‘cured’.
reject this irrational condemnation and break old congregational ties,
traveling from church to church, seeking acceptance for themselves as
parents of a gay child.
Regardless of which bent a parent’s reaction takes, all are impacted by
the same two factors: fear and guilt. Not fear for the loss of a job or
apartment, but fear for the loss of life. From my experience, this never
is something we humans are so good at. Was it my genes, my ‘tight
ship’ parenting, the potty training? Two of my friends and I, are
facetiously convinced that the fireplugs in front of our homes were the
Parents with several children
walk the tightrope of maintaining a balance of affection. Awaking emotions
toward the newly-out gay child is surely engendered by the realization
that this child has been suffering alone.. This ‘special’ status could
induce a damaging rivalry. The parent feels a deep sense of responsibility
for the acceptance of the gay child by his/her siblings. Of course, the
‘child’ we speak of here is, in reality, a mature adult, as are the
brothers and sisters, which make the problem’s solution more than a
simple ‘time out’.
When adult children and parents neglect the details, a situation may arise
where parents stay ‘closeted’ due to uncertainty as to the child’s
wishes. They live a double life, having to choose carefully whom they will
draw into their closet, possibly precluding them from supporting others.
relief is there for folks who, unbeknownst to them, will one day be thrust
into the traumatic ‘outing’ process? Several PFLAG friends have
offered their thoughts. … A note would have helped. “I’m gay. Please
read this material and we can discuss it next time I’m home. I would
have appreciated some positive facts on what ‘gay’ is all about. …
Nothing would have helped. She knew at age 9. We reacted by putting her
off, afraid of labeling her before puberty. In retrospect, that was wrong.
… Our first child’s ‘outing’ was made by us. Finding sexually
explicit pictures of men, in folders hidden in our computer was the first
clue. He hadn’t quite gotten up the nerve to tell us, but knew for sure
that he would always have our love. Our second child’s ‘outing’ was
a shock. She flat-out stated that she wasn’t interested in dating men
and thought she would try women. That was that!
To my question, “What life experiences do you think affected your
reaction?”, they responded that benign exposure to gay relatives or
neighbors definitely influenced them, even though there was no factual
knowledge available. Also, families who were naturally open and
non-judgmental definitely impacted them. Even a strict church upbringing
was overcome by persistent study.
It is a fact that those who have been through the fire become the fiercest advocates for change. PFLAG has loosed thousands of them into the world. Sadly, the parent who remains distant will continue to suffer grief and never know life on the other side of ‘out’. My husband and I have found a whole new world of warm, wonderful people; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and straight! New experiences, new insights and concepts have engaged us. We’ve come to the realization that we love our David, not only because he is our son, but because there is absolutely nothing wrong with who he is.