I was all excited yesterday when I found a site with a section titled “Supporting your child who is coming out”. Bingo. I’m not the most tactful person on the planet and I’m pretty sure I could do better with helping Jeremy. I figured I could use some advice and tips from people who have already gone through this.
I clicked on the link and… my heart sank. This wasn’t what I was looking for. Instead of advice on how to support Jeremy, it started off assuring me that it’s okay to wonder why he’s telling me this. That thought hadn’t crossed my mind at all. I knew why he was telling me this, I’m his mother and he trusts me. I scrolled a bit further and read the titles about how it was okay to grieve and to wonder if he’s sure or just simply confused then I closed the page. I’m sure there are all sorts of parents who find this link and are relieved. I’m just not one of them.
What I want to know is how to support Jeremy so that he knows I have his back no matter who he falls in love with. How to assure him that the rest of his family will still love him, without putting that worrisome thought into his head that they might not. How to connect with other parents without outing him, which kind of cancels out joining PFLAG. This is ironic because I already know two people who belong to the local group.
So, since I didn’t find any, I’m offering my own advice. Yeah, it’s kind of like the blind leading the blind but I’m giving it my best shot.
1. Let your kid come out when they’re ready.
Okay, I stink at this one but I need to be honest here, I like to know things. I read books twice, the first time to find out what happens at the end and the second time to pick up on everything I missed while speed reading through the first time. My managers at work come to me to ask who’s working that day and when everyone starts and finishes. Yeah, I actually go through the schedule and check all this. Last time I took the kids on a vacation, I had everything booked ten months in advance. I don’t like surprises. I’ve suspected Jeremy wasn’t straight since he was about two years old. It’s probably my greatest accomplishment that I waited until he came out this summer before chasing him around the room threatening to tickle him if he didn’t clarify his interests. Even so, I should have waited longer.
2. Be your kid’s biggest ally.
I remember telling someone casually years ago that I would never have to make a big announcement to my kids, telling them that I love them no matter what and will continue loving them no matter who they marry. They already knew this. Well maybe they do. Maybe, like me, you hug your kids regularly and tell them you love them. But reinforcement never hurts. I honestly felt it wouldn’t make a difference and then I said those words to Jeremy. I could almost see him relax.
I flat out told Jeremy that I unfriended every single person who supported Duck Dynasty on Facebook and let him know that I’ve made so many pro-LGBT posts that I’m getting same sex wedding ads. He relaxed even further. He also thought the marriage ads were hilarious.
3. Don’t expect consistency.
I watched as a young friend of mine came out, then claimed to be straight, only to come back out again. This repeated multiple times over several years. Now I’m watching Jeremy do the same thing. I know, I’m going by two examples and I’m sure there are plenty of youths who come out and stay out, but I’m equally as sure Jeremy and my friend are not the only ones who have installed revolving doors on their closets. You can be as supportive as you can but there’s a whole big world out there and our kids are getting a lot of those messages. Don’t be surprised if they want to go into hiding every once in a while.
4. Watch what you say.
I know my relative didn’t mean anything offensive when he drooped his wrist and lisped something about being a good father when him and his son were working on that Rainbow Loom. He has no idea about Jeremy. He has no idea about his son for that matter, who hasn’t reached puberty and hasn’t started talking about crushes yet. And I’m sure most people don’t mean to be offensive when they joke about someone not fitting societal norms of any type. If we want our kids to know we’re their allies, we need to let them know we don’t consider them to be the punchline to a joke.
5. Follow your child’s lead.
I started out using neutral terms when referring to dating and relationships while talking to my kids. My own children are close in age and I ended up talking to them together, especially when they were younger. Emma made it clear she’d prefer I refer to boys when talking to her about relationships, while Jeremy prefers gender neutral terms. Go with what makes them comfortable and, if you’re unsure, neutral is a safe choice.
6. Don’t make sexual orientation/gender identity the biggest part of a person.
A friend of mine said he doesn’t want the most interesting thing about him to be where he puts his penis. Blunt but true. No one has ever introduced me as that straight woman, so why should someone be introduced as LGBT?
Note, I’m not saying to hide it entirely, just don’t make it the most important part of a person. For example, I wrote last month about how Jeremy discovered two of the singers in the group Pentatonix are gay. I’d already read about the group and knew this, but it wasn’t relevant to the conversation, which was about their singing skills. It became more relevant when they brought it up in a video. I also shared a video with Jeremy this morning that involved Kelly Ripa and Neil Patrick Harris inhaling a chemical that made their voices deep. I didn’t point out that Neil Patrick Harris is gay, although I did explain the lotion in the basket reference. There was a picture this fall of Neil and his husband dressed up for Halloween with their two children and I showed that to Jeremy several months ago as a “hey, cute picture” shot. Finally, I talked to Jeremy about Ali Choudhry today. This is when being gay was the most important part of the conversation.
Also, when did it become a normal conversation starter to ask if someone’s teenager has a boyfriend or girlfriend yet? I am so tired of this question. I’ve had friends, coworkers, and random strangers in the elevator ask me if Jeremy has a girlfriend yet. It’s no one’s business at best and incredibly uncomfortable at worst.
If anyone has any advice on what to say or do when your child is coming out, I would love to hear it.