Moms Talk: Coming Out

Parents discuss how to help children or their friends when they come out, and where parents can find resources or support themselves

Moms Talk is part of a new Vienna Patch initiative to reach out to moms and families in Vienna.

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in as we start the conversation today with a topic from Moms Council member Carol Lewis: how to deal with your child coming out.

From Carol, co-facilitator of the Western Fairfax PFLAG support group and the organizer of Fairfax LGBTQ Youth (FLY):

Have you wondered if your child is gay or are you dealing with your child’s coming out? 

Perhaps my story will help. 

I suspected my son was gay when he was 4 years old; he played with dolls, loved to dress up and generally displayed stereotypical “feminine” behavior.  (Not every boy who does these things is necessarily gay, but it is, I think, an alert to the possibility.)  I knew if he was gay, I’d accept that and I’d love him no matter what, but I hoped he wasn’t gay. 

When he was 10, he told me he might be gay.  I said “If you are, you are, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and I’m going to love you no matter what,” hoping all the while he wasn’t gay.  I heard about, but didn’t call, thinking that I would be loving and accepting, but hoping he wasn’t gay.  I watched him grow up thinking “maybe he really isn’t gay, but if he is, it’s ok.” Not in denial, exactly, but hoping it wasn’t so, fearful of what might happen to him in a world that is not always accepting.

When he came out at 22, I said “That’s not the life I would have chosen for you, but if you are, you are, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and I’m going to love you no matter what.”  And he said “You’ve said that before and it breaks my heart!”  After being so sure that I would be accepting, I had hurt my child when the moment finally came.  The objectionable word in my statement was “chosen”: that I would have chosen a life different from the one he would lead in which he had no choice.  The right words in my statement were “I’m going to love you no matter what” but it was awhile before my son could hear that.

I went online and did what I should have done before: I found PFLAG.  I read the stories from other parents.  I cried.  I went to a meeting.  I discovered that I was not alone. I met mothers and fathers just like me who understood how I felt, who had been there, done that, said dumb things, and who would help me come to the complete  acceptance that I thought I had.

If you suspect your child might be gay, I urge you to go to PFLAG.  Do what I didn’t do – prepare yourself! There are support groups throughout the Washington Metropolitan area. Most parents wait for their child to come out to them, rather than ask, but either way parents at PFLAG meetings will share their experiences as to what to say – and what not to say - and when to say it.  Coming out is a journey, not an event, and PFLAG is sensitive to each person’s stage in the acceptance process.  Once your child comes out, you begin your own process of coming out to your friends and relatives.  Your child has had lots of time to deal with this, you are just beginning. PFLAG helps hold families and friends together.  It certainly helped me heal the rift with my son. PFLAG will help you start the conversation or engage in it when your child does.

 When a child comes out to a parent, the child’s feeling is likely to be “Whew!”  The parent’s feeling is likely to be “Gasp!”  All your child really wants to know “Will you still love me?”  All your child wants you to know is that he or she is still your child, that he or she hasn’t changed, and that his or her sexuality is but one small part of the total person that they are.  And your child wants you to know that their sexuality is not a choice: he or she is now, always was, and always will be, gay. 

Our society has become more accepting in the seven years since my son came out and certainly much more accepting over the past 30 years or so, when my friends were coming out.  We are making strides,  but on the dark side, we witnessed suicides of young gay children because of bullying and harassment.  The “It Gets Better” campaign has helped reassure those on the brink of suicide that they will one day be grown-ups and in charge of their own lives.  But I heard some young people say, in response to “It Gets Better” that we – parents, adults, fellow students – need to “make it better – now”.

Some tips to "make it better" and encourage conversation, whether or not your child is gay:

  • Watching GLEE together is a great way to open and maintain dialogue with your child, about what it’s like to be gay, about how friends react either with acceptance or hostility, about how parents struggle for acceptance even when they love their child dearly. 
  • Encourage an atmosphere of acceptance of gays in your home and community: refuse to listen to gay jokes, speak out against homophobic slurs or gay-bashing. 
  • Work with the schools to eliminate bullying of all kids, gay or straight. 
  • Suggest your child (gay or straight) become involved in the school’s GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance), or start one if one does not exist.  These are all things we as parents can do to “make it better now.”

LGBTQ youth need to be allowed to be who they are, openly, safely, and freely – just like everyone else.

More resources:

Often gay children are shunned and isolated and in need of social outlets where they can openly be gay – dances, parties, proms, etc.  Metro DC PFLAG provides support for gay youth but the groups serve a social function as well.  Recently FLY (Fairfax LGBTQ Youth) held a dance to celebrate its first anniversary, and partnered with a workshop sponsored by GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, an organization of GSA’s).  Here are some in the area:

FLY (Fairfax LGBTQ Youth)

  • First Tuesday (7:30 to 9:00 pm) and third Sunday (3 to 4:30 p.m.) of each month concurrent with Western Fairfax adult PFLAG, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, 2709 Hunter Mill Road, Oakton.  Contact wf.pflag@gmail.com

LOL (Loudoun Out Loud)

  • Fourth Sunday of each month (4 to 6 pm) concurrent with an adult PFLAG group, Unitarian Universalist of Sterling, 22135 Davis Drive, Sterling.  Contact loudounoutloud@gmail.com or 703-328-6518.
MAL March 09, 2011 at 10:13 PM
Carol thank you so much for sharing your personal story.
Carol Lewis March 09, 2011 at 10:18 PM
I just watched a recording of last night's "Glee", in which Kurt's father talks to him about intimacy. Those episodes between Kurt and his father always bring me to tears. The advice he gave Kurt is good advice for any teen but all the more compelling for gay kids since, as Kurt says, there is no sex ed for them.
Carol Lewis March 09, 2011 at 10:19 PM
Lauren, this was the workshop FLY partnered with for the dance. It's a great organization.
Carol Lewis March 09, 2011 at 10:20 PM
You're so welcome. You are quite right that it is often hard just to be human! I've been impressed with the gay youth who come to FLY and all they struggle with and their strong desire to just be who you are. Someone said "Just be yourself....no one else can." Good advice for us all.
MAL March 09, 2011 at 10:46 PM
My heart goes out to these young people. It's difficult enough being a teen; the hormones, the self doubt, the drama! Having to deal with being labeled as different is devestating! I admire the work your groups are doing, it's sad they have to exist.


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