“My 13-year-old son just came out to me, and I’m afraid for his well-being. He’s already struggled with being bullied because he’s one of the few black students at his high school. I don’t want him to be further stigmatized. Should we keep it a secret until college? I don’t want him to be hurt.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Aisha
Thanks so much for sending this question in—it’s so important to try to understand your kids as fully as you possibly can, and to make the effort to consider how their different identities all affect their life at the same time.
As a black bisexual university student who has dealt with being a minority in high school and in college, I definitely can understand what your fears are for your son. I struggled with balancing the assumptions I knew people were making about me as a black woman with the possibility of how they would think about me if they knew that I was queer, too. It is frightening trying to figure out how people will react to you or judge you just for being who you are. This is especially difficult to do when you are just 13 years old, which is a very sensitive age—I remember being uncomfortable in my skin, and even more uncomfortable in my sexuality at that age!
The stigma of being both black and LGBTQIA is difficult enough for adults to navigate, let alone teenagers. First off, there are many harmful assumptions and stereotypes out there about black boys. They are expected to be hypermasculine, while gay black men are assumed to behave in stereotypically hyperfeminine ways. Furthermore, as black people in a racist society, we are already taught to devalue ourselves, whether that be due to white standards of beauty or due to how little people believe we can achieve. Then, when a black person identifies as LGBTQ, identities that are also devalued—albeit in different ways—it is can be even more difficult for that queer-identifying black person to see their value. Many of your son’s friends have likely internalized these ideas about the value of black and/or LGBTQIA people, making it especially difficult for him!
Luckily, your son seems to have a great sense of who he is to be able to come out to you. That being said, before he comes out to others, it is important that your son becomes as comfortable with the intersectionality of his racial and sexual identities as he can. You can help him do this by showing him representations of his identity; if your son finds images of himself and other inspirational LGBTQIA black men—such as James Baldwin, Michael Sam, Frank Ocean, or Don Lemon—he may be able to see himself in a different light. You should encourage him to read books or watch movies that feature LGBTQ protagonists of color. This will help him to know that he is not alone, and that being black and queer is not something that will hold him back but rather something that can propel him forward in life.
It is ultimately up to your son if he wants to come out to his peers or not. He understands the environment he faces at school best. While it is understandable that you might want to keep it a “secret” in order to protect him from being hurt, suggesting this to your son may foster feelings of insecurity and shame, since he is so young. I suggest having a heart to heart with him about what coming out means for him, and weighing how it might affect his social life at school. Does he want to keep it a secret until college? Or does he want to be open with his peers? Perhaps it would be better for him to come out to his closest friends, and not to the entire school at once. Has there been history of violence toward students of color or LGBTQ-identifying students where you live? These are all definitely things to consider, since sometimes safety must come first. Consider talking to the principal or to your son’s teachers to get an idea of how they approach protecting LGBTQ students from bullying.
Most importantly, your son deserves to live authentically and without shame or secrecy. The most important factor to consider is what he wants and what he is most comfortable with. As his parent, make sure he knows that you are there for him with support and advice no matter what he decides. If, after weighing all of the possibilities with you, he decides that coming out to his school is what he wants to do, the only thing you can do is be there for him through it.
Aisha is a 17-year-old writer with roots in both the UK and Sierra Leone living in New York. She is involved in community service and human rights/social justice awareness clubs in her community, and writes for her high school newspaper. Aisha is planning on studying English, film, and languages at university, with which she plans to pursue a career in journalism, filmmaking, and activism. Follow her on Twitter @aisha_rrrr