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Coming Out To Your Kids Can Be Intimidating, But It Doesn't Have To Be

With few resources to help them, many LGBTQ2S+ parents make up the script as they go.
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It's the only house on the street with a custom-designed flag — the words "This Must Be The Place" are etched in black and its rainbow colours catch the sun.

The homeowners are Kate Peterson Koch and her partner. The Calgary couple have a 3.5-year-old daughter and an added incentive to create an accepting, inclusive home — although Peterson Koch says she is "very happily partnered with a cisgendered heterosexual male," she is queer and plans on coming out to her daughter eventually.

"For many years, I didn't even think that I would have kids, because I didn't see a place for myself. But there's no one way to have a family, and there's no one way to be a parent," Peterson Koch told HuffPost Canada.

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Many LGBTQ2S+ parents are making up the script as they go. For those whose sexual orientations and gender identities aren't obvious to their children, this may involve thinking about how to come out ... again.

"When ... there's a part of you that is invisible ... people can feel like their identity is lost. So there's a process of coming out ... It's something so common that isn't talked about that much," registered psychologist Melodie Sanford told HuffPost Canada.

There are few resources for parents on how to come out

Although there are many resources for children coming out to their parents, there are fewer for the opposite situation.

Nick McArthur is a father of five in Calgary. He recently made the physical transition from female to male. Trans parents, especially, feel the lack of supports, as their coming out process can yield changes for the whole family, he told HuffPost Canada.

"When I was getting ready to come out to my kids [as trans] I was really terrified — how would that affect them? Would they miss having me as their mom? I couldn't find any evidence (on) that," McArthur said.

Parents worry about the impact on their kids

Sanford works with many people looking for guidance on coming out to their kids. Parents often express the fear that "it's going to be hard on kids," she said, "but over the years I've found that it's the kids who have the best reactions."

Being able to present the information in a calm, grounded way that is developmentally appropriate is key, Sanford said. Even more important, however, is "the parent-child relationship — an emotional connection and an open dialogue," Sanford added.

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There is no guarantee that the process will go smoothly, regardless of preparation. Trans people face additional discrimination challenges already, and not being embraced by their own families can be particularly painful — especially after going through what can be a long journey to self-acceptance.

But McArthur lights up when telling his story. He and his spouse worked hard to create an intentional coming-out process in a loving home. They chose a hands-on evening of pizza-making to invite their children into a discussion of the transition, he said.

Two of the kids' most pressing questions were, "Will you grow a big beard that you can stroke when you're thinking about things?" and "Why did you wait so long?" McArthur said.

"Kids don't have these stories about what's right and what's wrong. They just love you."

It's a process — not just one conversation

Quite often "coming out" as an LGBTQS+ parent is not just one conversation, but rather a gradual process in a home that already values diversity.

Abbie Goldberg, a psychology professor and the director of women's and gender studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., told HuffPost Canada that often her research subjects "just wanted [their identity/orientation] to be normalized. Maybe there isn't ever a big moment."

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Many of the families Goldberg has worked with create homes based on appreciation of "a whole range of different sexual orientations and identities" — they want "their child to be accepting of other people" while knowing that they, too, will be accepted for their differences.

Kiersten Mohr of Calgary has two kids, ages 8 and 10, and told HuffPost she and her wife intentionally created a slow process based on acceptance and openness.

For the year before they even considered a conversation with the kids about her transition from male to female, they added age-appropriate books about gender diversity to the bookshelf. This allowed the kids to select them in their own time and ask questions when ready.

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"It worked out beautifully... When we finally started to talk about it... we almost had to explain to the kids why it was a big deal," Mohr said.

Coming out was a whole-family process that gave them a new strength, Mohr said.

"It's not something [the kids are] ashamed of, it's something they're proud of. And as a parent, they believe me when I tell them that they can be anything and whoever they want to be."

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