You might think that homophobia is a thing of the past, but it isn’t.
For every child coming out on YouTube and getting a cheque from Ellen Degeneres, there are hundreds more who remain ridiculed for being gay or who stay closeted in fear of repercussions.
And where ridicule isn’t enough, matters can escalate and get much worse. That’s why International Day Against Homophobia (May 17) is a good annual reminder that we can still do more.
So, when and if your child makes the brave decision to utter the words, “I’m gay,” there are some things you need to do, avoid and say. But the first thing you need to know is:
Don’t Freak Out
This is your kid’s biggest fear. Years of over-thinking have led your child to the conclusion that you will freak out. And not only that you’ll sink into a dark place, wondering where you went wrong, but that you’ll refuse to accept him or her, and that the state of your relationship will forever be tarnished. Your child knows this isn’t an easy thing to hear – it’s why it has probably been kept from you for so long. Instead of focusing on any kind of betrayal you’ve imagined in your head, don’t react. Listen. At that moment, you are just someone your child is telling, and what he or she is looking for is understanding. The moment you cry, get angry or threaten to kick your child out, is the moment he or she will perceive being gay as something to be ashamed of. When your kid asks you questions, that’s when it’s your turn.
It’s Not Your Place to Rationalize
Forget what you think you know about homosexuality. You must never say, “are you sure it isn’t just a phase?” Because it is not a phase. And as much as it is not a phase, it is just as much not a choice. Your child is letting you in on something they’re experiencing, so let him or her explain it to you. Don’t come up with solutions for something that isn’t a problem, because, again, it will suggest to your child that you a) weren’t ready to know and b) there’s something wrong with who they are.
Figure Your Own S–t Out
This isn’t about you. Coming out is so hard, and inserting yourself into this moment is not your place. If you can’t understand what is happening, do your research. Check out your local PFLAG chapter, because showing an interest in your kid’s life will go a long way. Coming out is a beginning, and not one where you should be doing any kind of interrogating. And once you’ve done your own learning, you’ll have ways to inform your child, rather than acting from a place of supercharged emotion.
Don’t Tell Your Child He or She Will Get AIDS
You can have “the talk” with your child, but for the love of all that is good, you are not permitted to advise your child against being gay because he or she will inevitably “get AIDS.” That’s not true (you don’t “get” AIDS, you contract HIV which becomes AIDS), and being gay is not a choice. And, seriously, heterosexual couples get HIV, too. In fact, in 2011, 16.9 per cent of all HIV cases in Canada were heterosexual people.
Don’t Try to Set Your Kid Up
Even if you fancy yourself a cool mom or dad, who is hip to the whole “gay thing,” it’s for the best that you don’t set your child up with a “cute gay you know” through some peripheral acquaintance. Your child has probably already gone on a date, and maybe he or she has even had sex. Your role is parent, not matchmaker. Much like how not every straight person is adequate for a straight person, gay people aren’t compelled to date a person just because they’re gay. Put on your mom or dad hat and say, “Hey, if you are going to have sex (and you probably are) and go on dates, it’s cool. We’ve all done it, but just use a condom if it gets serious. I want you to be safe and happy, that’s all.” You’ll probably get some groans and maybe an “oh, mom!” or two, but that’s just what it’s like raising a kid.
Know What You’re Doing
Finding out your kid’s gay isn’t something you can just swat away. It’s not a cave full of bats, or an annoying mosquito. This is your child. If you kick your child out (it happens), if you pretend nothing happened (it happens), or if you make your kid feel uncomfortable in their own skin (it so happens), you will do some damage. In most cases, relationships aren’t the same. So, before you act, know that your emotional outbursts have consequences, and prepare to accept that those consequences could be permanent.
Tell your child you’ll be there for when he or she wants to talk. Ensure them you will give them whatever space they need, but that you are happy. You need to know that you haven’t failed, and that your parenting style wasn’t the reason for this coming out. You should be happy, because your kid is finally accepting who they are and that’s an incredibly beautiful and wonderful thing. No, it doesn’t mean your kid is suddenly perfect (he or she will probably still get on your nerves a lot), but being there and nurturing your kid is the right and decent thing to do.
And now you know how to deal with your son or daughter when/if they decide to come out and take that great homosexual voyage on the high pink seas. Bon Voyage.