October 11 is National Coming Out Day. Young people across the country are thinking about coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT*). Many have high hopes that coming out will give them relief. Maybe they've been hiding a secret for a long time and hunger for the freedom to be themselves with the people they love. Sadly, the one thing they may fear the most is rejection from their parents or caregivers. We can change this.
If your child is thinking about coming out, you probably don't know about it. You might suspect that your child is LGBT*, or you may not have the slightest idea. Either way, it's a good idea to be prepared for any possibility. Below are ways that parents and caregivers can make the days before and after coming out much easier for their children.
If Your Child Hasn't Come Out
If your child is planning to come out, they may be watching for clues to guess how accepting and open you might be. Consider the following tips:
1. Don't assume. Many parents assume our children will love and marry someone of the opposite sex. Most of us also assume that we know our children's gender from the minute they are born, if not before. On the other hand, some of us may think we know our child is gay or transgender even though they haven't said anything about it. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Respect your child's need to discover and disclose their own identity when they are ready.
2. Recognize and address your concerns and fears. Many parents and caregivers have fears about having a gay or transgender child. It can make a difference to realize they're not alone and to get your questions answered. If it's hard for you to accept the idea that your child might be gay or transgender, here are resources that may help.
3. Show that you are open and accepting. If your child hears you use offensive language or say negative things about gay or transgender people, they will assume that it's not safe to come out to you. Use respectful language when talking about people who are LGBT*. Watch TV programs that have LGBT* characters. Find ways to show acceptance without putting your child on the spot.
4. Be approachable and available. Make time and space for your child to be able to talk to you privately. Give them openings to talk about whatever is on their mind.
5. Show unconditional love in your actions and words. Tell your child that you love them for who they are and that nothing can change that. Show your love by treating your child with care and respect. This can help give your child the confidence to confide in you.
Your child just came out. Now what?
You may be relieved that they finally told you, frantic with fear that they will never live a happy life, or somewhere in between. Now what? Your acceptance is the one thing that can make the biggest difference in their health and well being.
1. Show unconditional love in your actions and words. Remind yourself how much you love your child. Tell your child that you love them and that nothing can change that. This may be the thing your child most needs to hear. Even if you are uncomfortable with the news, show affection and avoid saying things that are hurtful.
2. Believe your child. They have probably thought long and hard about this, maybe even agonized over it, before coming out to you. Asking questions like "Are you sure?", "How do you know?", "Is this a phase?" won't make your child feel accepted. They may feel that you are hoping that their identity will go away.
3. Acknowledge the courage it took. Coming out to you may have been the bravest thing your child has ever done. Even if it's hard to hear, let your child know that you appreciate their openness and honesty.
4. Recognize and address your own concerns and fears. If you aren't thrilled with the news, you don't have to fake it. It's okay to let your child know that it is hard for you. Your child probably went through a process to accept their identity and you may need this too. Ask your child to be patient with you. Meantime, get the information and support you need.
5. Don't out your child to others. Your child came out to you, but that doesn't mean they are ready to be out with everyone. Respect their privacy. Ask permission before discussing it with others. If you need someone to talk to, find a way that you can do this without violating their trust.
As with any tips, take what makes sense to you and use your own judgment. Do your best, be forgiving of yourself, and always remember how much you love your child.
*and people of many other sexual orientations and gender identities
For more resources and educational workshops, check out Out Proud Families
Thanks to Danny Moreno for the photo!
For more on my story as a mom, see my Proud Mom Videos.