My son is gay. He officially came out to the family, and then to the world in a well-crafted Instagram post, just a month shy of his 17th birthday.
I had a hunch, mother’s intuition, whatever you want to call it. I had asked him about it. No, he said, I am not gay. But yet, he was. My attempt at pressuring him into revealing this most intimate thing could not and should not be on someone else’s timeline. He was not ready to tell me until he himself was ready.
I am so grateful to be able to say that so far, in the four years since he’s come out, my son has not experienced discrimination or negativity related to his sexuality. He is one of the lucky ones.
Parents may struggle with the news that their child is part of the LGBTQIA+ community
Some parents may struggle mightily with the news that their child is gay, bi, pan or any part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Even I, a liberal New Yorker born and bred, was taken aback at my son’s revelation.
I consider myself a tolerant and welcoming person and have always been a proponent for gay rights. Yet when my own son fell under the gay umbrella, it became personal. At the beginning, it was definitely an adjustment. Part of that adjustment was reframing the future I had imagined for my son.
Part of that adjustment meant reaching out to other parents with gay kids, who were a little step ahead of me in their journey. I visited a support group, and got in touch with people who I could talk to about having a gay child.
Part of that adjustment was looking inward to discover what made me most nervous or uncomfortable about having a gay child.
Processing the fact that your child is gay, especially if your religious upbringing has made this news feel wrong, can sometimes take time. There is no shame in seeking support.
What would I have liked my future self to tell the scared mama of a teenager who just came out?
What I’ve learned since my son came out
1. It will be OK
It may feel overwhelming right now. Maybe it comes as a complete shock that your child is gay, or maybe your sneaking suspicion that you hoped wasn’t true was actually true. It can be hard to process this news. Find a confidant. Know that this feeling of confusion, perhaps sadness and fear, whatever emotion you may be feeling, is a normal part of one’s journey as a parent of a gay child. If it takes you a little while to get on board that’s OK. That in no way reflects how much you love your child. You will get there in your own time.
2. An old dog can learn new tricks
Does your child now want to be referred to by a different pronoun? Perhaps a different name? For the older generation, this can feel strange and unnatural. You might think, do pronouns even matter? Imagine if someone misgendered you. I had this happen on the phone once and I most certainly did not like it.
Understanding and using different pronouns was a difficult change for me. But I did it with practice and patience, and by learning more about it. Now I tend to use a more inclusive “they” when I don’t specifically know their preferred pronouns, and I even have added a she/her to my work signature as an inclusive gesture.
3. Social media can be your friend
Indeed, social media can be a time suck and a rabbit hole of FOMO and unrealistic comparisons. It can seem like everyone is living their best life while you are stuck in the private turmoil of your child’s coming out.
But for parents of gay kids, there are countless opportunities on social media to see how normal and full and rich your child’s life can be. I follow a family called Team2Moms, where a married couple, Denise and Ebony, chronicle their life with their three young children.
Another account I follow is Equallywed which highlights same sex marriages and weddings. We want our children to find love and be happy and these are just two accounts which reinforce that being gay does not take away these possibilities for my child. Take some time to explore and fill your feed with relevant and healthy content.
4. Your child is so much more than their sexuality
When Joe first came out, I got a mini rainbow flag and presented him with a rainbow cookie. As the years passed, I truly embraced the rainbow as a supportive gay symbol. I bought myself a rainbow mug. A rainbow shirt. Sweatpants with a rainbow stripe. You get the picture. Recently my son, after seeing yet another rainbow item in my possession exclaimed “enough with the rainbows already!”
For me, the more rainbows I piled on, the more I felt outwardly like the proud supportive mom I aimed to be. But I was missing the point. I was too focused on one aspect of my son, his sexuality, when he is so much more than that.
When our children come out it can be easy to see them in a gay spotlight. But they are still everything else before you knew they were gay, and truly it is just a piece of them, as your sexuality is just a piece of you.
I am still a work in progress. Joe gives me the occasional eye roll and shaking of the head if I do something he deems offensive. I’m willing to listen and grow and am eager to know my son’s authentic self.
So wherever you are in your child’s coming out journey, I see you and I support you. Your new normal and your child’s future is bright.
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