When your child comes out to you there is a firestorm of worry and emotion. You hope it’s not true, you hope it’s just teen confusion about sexual identity, you hope it will work out, that your spouse will understand, that your family will accept it, that you can find some path through.
But for me the dominant emotion was fear. Fear for all the bad things she was going to face because of this. That fear came true.
One of my biggest challenges in supporting my daughter has been the attitude of other individuals – and then the shock when I recognized attitudes which I have held myself. Knowing and loving a gay person is a heart shaping experience. But for me the head had to be shaped too and my journey was one revelation after another about thoughts and beliefs I never questioned before.
When another mom asked if I was concerned about may daughter being a camp counselor, were the other little girls safe, I could have slugged her.
I knew this child – but that mom knew her belief that homosexuals were a danger to children. I was sick that I might have thought that at one time. Until I realized that is a PEDOPHILE, not homosexual. A child abuser – a crime committed overwhelmingly by heterosexuals. But you still hear this slur on gays.
My co-worker commented he thought homosexuality was a choice and I could have slugged him – except maybe I thought that once, too.
He thought she’d grow out of it or that it was teen rebellion. It wasn’t. It stuns me that people can even say this – like being gay is a fun hobby or a big adventure. No one chooses to face lifelong prejudice. I have heard her and so many of her friends say “if only I were straight…” It would be easier, I could have more friends, I could get a better job, I could be ordinary.
One time a friend patted my hand and said, “It’s a mental illness, you should see a counselor.” I could have slugged her.
Heaven knows we were in counseling, but not to “fix” my daughter. We were in counseling to help her cope with her locker being graffitied, her car paint keyed, Coke poured on her backpack, and her friends dropping her like a hot rock. In high school the bullying was so bad I literally feared for my daughter’s life. We finally moved to a different school. When she graduated from high school, my celebration was not for graduation, it was that she was still alive.
In fairness to my friend, homosexuality was at one time categorized as a mental illness. But in 1973, 46 years ago, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association issued a joint statement that “gender differences are normal expressions of human relationships”. They also issued an apology for the harm they had caused.
A relative told me homosexuality could be cured, there was some group. Yes, there was. Exodus International. In 2013, it shut down after 37 years of failure. The president, making the announcement at a press conference, issued an apology for “Years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole… we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom.” Thirty-seven years. How much pain was in those 37 years?
I had a friend ask “Why are there so many gays now? There weren’t before.” I think I have an answer. In fact, Brene Brown explains it in her TED Talk on vulnerability: they want to be authentic.
The difference today is young people don’t want to live a lie. They are less likely to try to “pass” than in my generation. They look with dismay at older gays who married, had children, then suddenly “became gay” and shattered other lives. The weight of faking it, of constantly lying to people you most love, is what drives them to come out. But that’s not without cost.
Every step toward honesty and connection carries with it the risk of attack and rejection. As a parent, you pray for love and acceptance for your child. Sometimes it comes, but often not. Standing with them in the inevitable pain, learning to just be there and love them, realizing that you can’t fix it, is a crucible.
Loving and parenting a gay child has been the most difficult and rewarding experience of my life. I am so grateful for this child that made me think of people in different terms. So grateful she taught me to look at the whole person more than any single characteristic. I’m even grateful to the other people who made me check my own prejudices and beliefs.
As I’ve supported her I’ve had to really think. I’ve had to learn to love differently, more unreservedly, more unconditionally.
But above all I’ve come to admire this young woman who so bravely takes the hits and still moves on, who remains the person she is – kind, loving, hard-working, striving to be a good person, hoping to make a difference in the world. It’s an honor to love her.
Founder, Strong Family Alliance