On a routine drive home last year, my 14-year-old daughter suddenly forever altered my world. “Mom,” she blurted, “I’m gay. I’m gay! There, I told you.”
I thought she was kidding, but it turned out she wasn’t.
I felt shocked. Though she’d never dated anyone, I would sometimes overhear her telling a friend that she wished she could meet “a hot guy.” Now, suddenly, she was insisting that she was a lesbian, and that she’d always felt that way.
I did my best to be supportive, to say the “right” things, but my mind was reeling. I’m a lifetime liberal who believes firmly in equal rights. I’d had wonderful gay friends in college. But hearing my daughter say she was gay felt different. That night, I curled up in bed and cried. All kinds of fears ran through my head. Will she be bullied over this? Or worse, a victim of violence someday? How can she be sure she’s gay when she’s only 14? And most unreasonable of all: I’ll never see her get married or have a baby! Of course I knew that, in our brave new world, marriage and motherhood were certainly still possible. However, they wouldn’t look like I’d unconsciously been expecting them to. And that felt devastating.
I wanted to give my daughter the positive, unconditional support she deserved. At the same time, I felt overwhelmed by sadness. On top of this, I was disappointed in myself for my negative reaction. My husband accepted our daughter’s news with a stoical shrug; why couldn’t I?
I did get to where I wanted to be emotionally, but it took months. One thing that helped tremendously was attending a support group meeting for parents and friends of lesbians and gays (PFLAG). I’m grateful to everyone there for their compassion, humor, and willingness to share their own journeys. Through them, I learned that while I was right not to burden my daughter with my fear and sadness, those feelings were natural. They needed to be expressed and accepted, not buried. Learning my daughter was gay forced me to let go of dreams and expectations I hadn’t even realized I had. I needed to let those go before I could accept the new reality.
Another thing that helped was sharing my daughter’s announcement with people close to us — with her permission, of course. At times, initiating such a conversation felt difficult, but the resulting support was worth the awkwardness.
Today, I feel proud and happy that my daughter felt she could be honest with me and others in her life. All children — all people — deserve the freedom to be their true selves, rather than trying to force themselves to be someone they’re not.
I know that, like any other teen, my daughter will eventually experience dating, first love, heartbreak, and recovery. Not long ago, I assumed her experiences would be similar to mine. Now I know that, even though we don’t have a roadmap, it will be OK. She will be OK.
If your child tells you they’re gay:
Realize that sharing this fact with you took great courage.
Reassure your child of your love and support. Hug them. They are still the same person you have always loved, and they need you.
Respect your child’s declaration. Yes, it might be “just a phase” — but you’ll shut down the lines of communication if you say that. Also respect your child’s timeline for telling others. They may not yet be ready to tell Grandma and Grandpa, for example.
Give yourself time. Whatever you believe about homosexuality, it will take time to fully accept your child’s news.
Confide in someone you trust. You deserve support, just like your child does.
Think positive! While things are far from perfect, Americans are much more tolerant now than they were a few generations ago. And things are getting better all the time — just look at the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that gay people have the right to legally marry.
Resources and Organizations for LGBT youth and their parents:
• Dohrenwend, Anne. Coming Around: Parenting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Kids. Far Hills, NJ: New Horizons Press, 2012. This compassionate guide from a licensed psychologist helps parents process their emotions and engage in productive, supportive discussions with their kids.
• Many high schools now have some version of a gay-straight alliance. This club’s purpose is to increase tolerance by providing opportunities for fun and friendship between gay and straight students. If your child’s high school lacks a gay-straight alliance, tips for starting one can be found at glsen.org/jumpstart.
• PFLAG stands for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.” Parents of transgendered youth are also warmly welcomed. PFLAG support groups meet regularly in the Boston area and several MetroWest towns, including Concord, Wellesley, and Framingham.
• OUT Metrowest is an organization that seeks to enrich the lives of gay and transgendered people. This organization sponsors the youth groups described below.
• BAGLY and WAGLY (in Boston and Wellesley) are groups just for gay and transgendered high schoolers. They offer education and friendship in a safe space.
• Meeting in Framingham and Newton, Nexus welcomes all LGBT middle-school students.
• Umbrella is Out MetroWest’s program specifically for transgender and non-gender- conforming high school students: