The year: 1999, Prince's song replays in my head each month as we approach Y2K... as it probably plagued most people. I was preparing to give birth to my determined daughter, who would join her two brothers. It's safe to say as I geared up to deliver, I did not extrapolate into the future to consider whether my kids would be gay, much less what percentage of my kids would be gay. I envisioned instead, my sweet family, our portraits and memories playing out over the years, having no idea what the future held and truthfully, not caring because I was in love with the present.
Rewind further to 1991, and my high school offering a support group to gay teens, which was to remain an underground secret. As a feature editor for the newspaper, I arranged through the school nurse to meet with and interview one of their members confidentially. On the date of the interview, I waited in a small office for the mysterious interviewee to arrive. Then she walked through the door...a real lesbian. I had never met one. A lovely person all-around, I remember.
And so goes the extent of my LGBTQ experience for the next twenty years and change, unless you count a sprinkling in of a gay relatives. People who were an acceptable outlier to my conservative circle.
Until my son came out. I was mildly surprised at the emotion his announcement incited, and the stereotypes animating in my head so much like the mouse transforming into a bear when your back is turned. I fought myself, I decided, because there was no preparation for me as his parent. So I watched Modern Family to understand the dynamics of a same-sex relationship, but knew obviously I should dig deeper. In these burgeoning times, there were few places to go. Instead of reaching out, I burrowed inward.
My initial mandate of: "Whatever, but I don't want deets on what you do physically..." proved inadequate because it halted healthy conversation and slammed the door on answers to questions I might've been able to answer as a resourceful adult. Now I know, raising any child means transparency if you want to provide an avenue for opening up. My boy has asked me questions my alter-ego, mother-of-a-cherubic-5-year-old would never have dreamed. I had to be prepared to answer them.
You should, too. Because we are the first generation of parents-parenting-teens discovering the LGBTQ agenda is actually advancing, that our environment is changing rapidly and we need to be able to survive in whatever iteration happens to be in existence. We need to ensure our messages and actions echo back love and support to our children. It doesn't have to be complicated even when we don't personally understand our child's feelings of attraction.
Theirs is a personal orientation, and because it is, it has absolutely nothing to do with us.
In fact, if not handled correctly, a child's coming out can lead to disastrous circumstances that they will continue to contend with for possible decades. So in this progressive age, parents must prepare to have the conversation about orientation and be willing to back up their love with reinforcing actions. We educate our children to make choices, to be instrumental in their own lives, and in this sense, if we are parenting mindfully, we should stay out of it as our kids traverse onto side roads we might not have chosen for them. We maybe wring our hands a bit and yes, watch as they make mistakes. Still we know not to intervene. We work to accept their realities we will never fully grasp. It doesn't mean we should attempt to control our kids, because they will grow up to be autonomous people. People, who like everyone else should be afforded the right to live their genuine lives. Meaning in matters of religion, political affiliations, etc.
It was a good thing I'd done all this serious soul searching because 2 years later, my daughter made her announcement.
Instead of struggling with feelings of unpreparedness, or as if I would let her down because I couldn't teach her about being a lesbian, just as I couldn't teach my son how to live as a gay young man, I also realized I certainly couldn't teach my oldest straight boy how to act in situations concerning the opposite sex. Nor would I want to. In fact, my references and experiences were going to have very little to do with guiding my children. What would take the place of those perceptions? Love, a willingness to learn about their interests, an ability to become a trusted guide and confidante and zero judgment for questions, thoughts and confusions streaming out of my children's mouths.
It's silly to write: I didn't expect to have two gay children. What a ridiculous sentence. What(?) I thought because we had one gay child, we had met some random ratio? And I am telling you this, mom and dad, because you should know it, too. Your angelic monkey playing on the carpet in front of you, your middle-school twins coming up the walk...we are living in the tipping point of the LGBTQ evolution and need to anticipate raising gay children.
What can you do if you are flummoxed? Calm down and remember, you are not in charge of wrangling your child's feelings. Can you change your opinion of the people you find attractive, suddenly insist they are not enticing to you? If you think your child can control this, give yourself a test. Picture the person to whom you are the most sexually drawn. Okay, do you have a nice vibrant image in your mind? Can you see their features clearly? Perfect. Now force yourself to regard them as unappealing sexually. It's what some children are going through, and IMO, it is where parents are taking a wrong turn. Getting too involved. Creating too much work for themselves. Listen, you don't have to do any heavy lifting. All that's required is opening your heart and your arms in acceptance. Stop fighting so hard against what no one can help and reassure your child you understand the feeling of magnetism they have to another human being, that you will help them as they get into (and out of) relationships.
When coming to terms with your child's orientation, if you are floundering, find your own support group. Remember the concept of circle-within-a-circle-within-a-circle. The person needing the support is at the center; their support group revolves around them in the second circle. The support the people in that second group need comes from outside, ideally in the third circle. This healthy depiction resembles a target sign. Do not voice your confusion about your child's orientation to your child. Find answers for yourself (in the third circle) because holding you up as you attempt to make sense of natural progression and a modern world is not your child's job. Think of it...your child soothing your rattled mind which is in that state because of something your child cannot help. So how are they supposed to make you feel better? By lying? By offering reassurances that you don't need to worry? But they can't do that because they've just announced the opposite. Which has you fretting. Doesn't make much sense and it carries the burden of shame for your child when they strive to be loved for who they are as you are asking them to make you feel better...by identifying as someone they are not. Whoa, the cycle and the breeding ground for self-hatred.
What are your responsibilities then? Discussing the fact that oral sex still transmits disease and it does count as a sexual relation (Bill Clinton!) Pointing out various options as a substitute for the act of intercourse, explaining what dental dams are and where they might be sold. Reassuring your kid you are not too embarrassed to buy them condoms, while at the same time underlining the value that it is always advisable to wait until each person intending intimacy has established a trustworthy and healthy relationship with the other before engaging, that sex requires emotional maturity. To inform them that whatever their life holds, you are there and you would never, ever restrain them from exploring what feels like the right way to learn about love.
Because every person loves differently, receives love differently and desires a unique love to spark their individual heart.
Then understand, after all that, your child may change their mind and choose an entirely new sexual direction. Not just to vex you...lol...but because they are genuinely searching and confused...until one day, when their search is over. And you are still standing by...loving them with a bursting heart.
The door has been opened now, and people are walking in to try on identities, what feels the most comfortable and authentic amid a growing acceptance. This process, as long as it is positive and safe, has nothing to do with you. Because when people are not pressured to be/do/go they find their way while fostering a profound sense of celebratory self-discovery. Even...and especially kids-coming-of-age. When you allow the endorsement for your child to explore who they are and you continue to love them no matter who that person might turn out to be, you nurture your child's self-love, which ripples on throughout the rest of their lives.
Original article appeared at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.
Photo credit: Flickr/Ashley Linh Trann ♥