Learning that one’s child is homosexual, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual can be a tremendous shock to a parent. In fact, many youths anticipate that their coming out will distress their parents and will have a negative impact on their relationship with the parents. Hence most youths avoid disclosure, seeking to spare themselves and parents the upset. However, these same youths then deal with feelings of inferiority and shame, the likes of which can undermine academic and vocational performance. In view of these situations and feelings, some youths seek to leave home early by schooling away or simply by living in a distant community. Others may become despondent and turn to drugs or alcohol to “self-medicate.” Staying in then becomes self-destructive.
Most parents are well-intentioned, and in the end want their children to be happy, functional and productive. In view of healthy parental intentions, parents must come to understand that a child’s sexual orientation or coming out has less to do with the child’s happiness, functionality or productiveness than does parental acceptance of their gender preference and/or sexual orientation. All children draw their sense of strength, well-being and ability to take on the world on the basis of the care, love and acceptance experienced from their parents. As parents adapt to their child’s gender preference or sexual orientation, the child internalizes their support and thus are better equipped to manage the task of living in the greater world.
Children who are coming out to their parents, however, must understand that well intentioned parents may view cross gender issues or same sex orientation as a huge challenge that could undermine their child’s well-being. While on the one hand the gender or sexual issues may be upsetting, the son or daughter must understand that parents initial reactions is in response to the realization of challenges and barriers their child will face in non-traditional gender or sexual orientations. Interestingly enough, in a good many situations, some parents may have already suspected that their child had a cross gender or same sex preference. When the child finally expresses him or herself, both child and parents may find relief.
If you are a youth thinking about coming out to your parents and you are having difficulty doing so, consider asking support from another trusted adult. This could be a teacher, counsellor, clergy or other adult whom your parents view as reasonable. It may be helpful to have that person present to discuss this matter and your fears. If you are the parent on the receiving end of such information, remember, your child actually needs you now more than ever. While you may initially take issue, remember that it took tremendous courage on your child’s part to broach the subject with you. Your support will be essential to how your child then goes on to manage him or herself with others. If as a parent you do not handle the initial meeting well, you can always return to discuss matters further. It is never too late to let a child know you love them.
Lastly, parents must be informed that they cannot talk their child out of their gender preference or sexual orientation. This will remain who they are. The only question that will remain is whether parent-child relationships will remain intact. The well-intentioned parent will see that they do.
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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW is a Canadian Social Worker in private practice and a Social Work Helper Contributor. From his 65 episodes of the hit show Newlywed/Nearly Dead, to over 300 columns as the parenting expert of a major metropolitan newspaper, to more than 250 media appearances, to his book, Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.