5 Things Not to Say if Your Child Comes Out

Man talking with his son at home
Man talking with his son at home

Most parents speculate about the future of their children, even when we know we shouldn't we picture graduation days and meeting first loves. Hopefully we keep most of our speculation to ourselves, building in them instead the confidence to be themselves and chase their own dreams. I have to emphasise it is only natural to daydream, to picture our children's future selves, and to fill that picture with the things that make us happy. The problem comes when we impose our picture, or see it as more than speculation, since that thwarts a child's attempts to discover who they are, and where their happiness lies.

This clash of parental speculation and a child's own experience often comes to a head when a someone comes out. In a flash the life a parent had envisaged for their child can crumble, and in an emotional response parents can place what was nothing more than a fantasy above the living breathing person in front of them. So how can we avoid some of the common pitfalls which often take seconds to say, and years to take back?

Is this because....?

You played with dolls, grew up in a single parent household, did not play football, took dance classes, had no father figure. The list is endless, reasons grasped out of outdated textbooks, stereotypes and pandering to the idea that somehow certain identities are lesser, or mistakes. We don't know what makes someone the gender or sexuality they are, most likely it's a complex interplay of genetic and social factors, and that applies to cisgender straight people too. We do know that it's not "caused" by some failure of parenting. It's the idea that certain identities are lesser, or mistakes that causes us to look for a reason to explain them. It's time to put the "if only's" away.

Are you sure?

Imagine your daughter brings home her fiance, he is polite, interesting, has good job prospects, and they seem deeply in love. Would you take her to one side and say "I think you ought to make sure, date women for a few years, or perhaps you are bi or pansexual, there are lots more genders out there." Would you add "By the way I notice you tend to present as a woman, usually wearing clothes coded female, to be sure you are a woman, why not spend some time presenting as different genders?"

If your child made the brave step of coming out, you can be sure they thought about this long and hard before hand. If you wouldn't ask a straight cis child if they are sure, why would you ask anyone else?

That's not really a thing!

It used to seem so simple. There were straight people (although of course no one called them straight, they didn't need a name other than normal) and there were homosexuals. How you viewed the second group varied, as deviants, ill, sinners, or even, shock horror, just like you and me. Then the world acknowledged there were lesbians, trans and bisexual people. In the past 10 years a host of new labels and identities have appeared, from asexual to non binary and it can seem quite daunting to even try to navigate them.

The first thing to remember is these might be new terms, but they are not new ideas. A myriad of different ways of describing gender and sexuality have always existed across the world. Newness itself should not cause you to dismiss someone though. Thirty years ago the words twitter, or website would have sounded alien. This doesn't mean you have to be an expert, in fact admitting you don't know what a term means, and asking your child to define it, can have a huge, positive impact. Who doesn't like to know more about something than their parents?

What will the family/church/neighbourhood say?

There is a term in person centered counselling called "locus of evaluation". It looks at where you get your sense of rightness, of acceptance from. Internally, based on your own moral framework, or externally, based on what others think of you. If we look at all the great figures of history, they had an internal locus of evaluation. Not basing your self worth on what others think is a message we hope to teach our children, we need to demonstrate it in our own lives.

I am just upset because I am worried about your future.

It would be wrong to ignore that LGBTQ people do have worse outcomes in a variety of ways, including mental health, suicide, smoking, and as victims of sexual violence. It can be frightening for a parent imagining that their child might have a life full of risks they never contemplated. However so many of these outcomes are the result of having no support, family rejection, having to go through life without the love and nurturing a family can provide. Of course some families are abusive, and may need to be cut out of a survivor's life, However if you care concerned about the future outcomes of your child the biggest influence you can have is by showing them unconditional love, support and acceptance.

From the moment a child draws their first breath they are independent human beings. They rely on us for many years, but as parents we need to understand they do not belong to us. If we can truly understand that, we make a huge step to being able to walk alongside them, wherever their journey takes them.