As parents, we do our best to support our children unconditionally, to love them no matter what. And we always hope we have given our children the tools to build upon that love with strength, for those moments when they need it most. Those moments that requires them to muster all the courage of a thousand lions.
Coming out of the closet is one of those moments.
Not all gay teens will come out to their parents. But for the ones who do, the words “I am gay” are first whispered to themselves, in the safety of their own rooms. Then, when ready, these words are said out loud. And finally, often with their hearts beating, their stomach in knots, these words are spoken to their parents. It is then, very often, teens have said they feel like they can breathe again. Some have been holding their breath for months and others, for years.
The realization of being gay is met with a number of very real, mature feelings. Denial, confusion, loss and fear can take over. A teen named Olivia explained to me simply, “I am not losing my life, just losing the life I thought I would have.”
Even for a teen who is able to accept they are gay, parental guidance is not only wanted, but needed through the ups and downs that follow. “This whole new world of possibilities, can feel both amazing and also a bit confusing and scary all at the same time,” says Katie, another teen who shared her experiences with me.
The scope of all that coming out entails goes beyond this blog post, but the following twelve points can be a springboard, a starting point, to open up a discussion or continue one that already has begun with your teen.
1). Give them acceptance from the start.
Listening to our teens with unconditional love and compassion is first and foremost. It is likely, the coming out discussion is one of the most courageous acts your teen will have done to date. Let them know you love them no matter what.
2). Don’t doubt your teen.
If your teen is coming out, it has taken them some time to muster the courage, and come to terms with the fact that they are gay. Questions such as “Are you sure?” or “Is this because (insert friend/acquaintance) is gay?” may make them feel frustrated and misunderstood.
3). Do not minimize.
Coming out and/or realizing you are gay, is a big deal. While we may want to minimize for our own comfort, this can feel like less than supportive. One teen I spoke with said, “Telling your teen that it could be a phase, is a big fat no-no.” Yes, teens are more susceptible to trends – hair, clothing styles, clothing, piercings – as they try and figure out who they are. Coming to terms with being gay is not a trend.
4). Keep the discussion going.
There are many feelings that arise on a daily basis for gay teens. Continue to talk with your teen about being gay, how it affects their life. There is life beyond the coming out moment.
5). Don’t make every issue your teen may face, related to being gay.
If they are feeling depressed, it may be about leaving home, a bad grade. Asking them what is going on, will give you the answer – or not. But, keep asking. Keep trying.
6). Look at them as a whole person.
Yes, they are gay. Yes, it is a big part of their life but it is not their whole life. They also are sarcastic, funny. They like Sprite, cats, SNL and Netflix.
7). Never “out” them to anyone else.
Even though your teen has come out to you, it does not mean they are ready to come out to Aunt Sally or your next-door neighbor. Allowing them to have control over who they tell is very important. Let them go at their own pace. Will they come out when they go to college? Will they come out on instagram? Will they only come out to their parents? These are all good questions, and answers that will differ for each teen, and ones that should be in the control of the teen.
8). Help your teen find resources.
There is a ton of information out there. And shared experiences and stories help us feel less alone. If they have not found resources already, help them to get involved in clubs, online groups, YouTube videos. I especially found this video/song about coming out, inspirational:
9). Find your new normal – together.
When change enters into life, we often get tipped one way, then the other. Eventually you and your teen will find the balance. Throwing a huge coming out party is one extreme, while ignoring it completely is the other. Take your teen’s lead, and find the balance.
10). Show them your support.
There are many ways to do this, from accompanying your teen to a gay pride parade, to buying a rainbow lanyard to posting photographs on social media.
11). Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
There is straight and there is gay, with many expressions in between. If you have questions, ask. This is new for you, too. If it’s easier, you may also bring it up in a less direct way – discuss transgender bathrooms, gay marriage and bisexuality in the news. Creating a non-judgmental atmosphere is the most important thing
12). Understand that same sex relationships may involve the same ups and downs as opposite sex relationships. Breaking up can be painful. Crushing can feel exciting. First dates can feel awkward.
No matter what, simply remembering that love trumps everything will help you and your teen. Love is love, plain and simple.