“My daughter came out to me recently, but she asked me not to tell anyone in our extended family. I’m very supportive of her and I’m sure they will be too, but I could use someone to talk to. What is an appropriate way to move forward with my daughter so that she can maintain privacy and I can lean on my family for support?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Kirsten & Lucy
First of all, it’s super great that you are supportive of your daughter—that is truly the most important thing right now. She needs to know that you are in her corner in what is undoubtedly an emotionally charged time for her. For most kids, coming out to their parents is incredibly difficult. As much as kids—particularly teens—may act like they don’t care what their parents think (I mean, parents are so lame), they DO care. Deeply. Unfortunately, for every heartwarming story about a parent responding lovingly to their child’s coming out, there are at least as many stories of families responding with fear and intolerance. So for your daughter to take the leap to be open with you about her sexuality is awesome (and I mean that in the true sense of the word, not in a shallow “OMG that’s awesome!” kind of way). This leap of faith must be handled with the utmost care and respect. And in your case, she’s asked you not to talk about it with your extended family.
But then there are your feelings, and your natural desire to share them with the people who matter most. This is no doubt an emotionally charged time for you, too. You may have imagined a different future for your child, and you may be wrestling with how that future may have changed. And you’re no doubt worried for your daughter. While things are getting better for LGBT kids and adults every day, it’s certainly not always easy. But while I understand the desire to reach out to family for support to help you process what’s happening in your life, I firmly believe you need to honor your daughter’s wishes for privacy.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get support! You’re here on the The Parents Project, so you’ve already found a great community of caring people. There are other online resources that can offer helpful advice and a hopeful vision for the future, many of which are conveniently compiled here: www.theparentsproject.com/resources. If you’re seeking a real, live person to talk to, I’d recommend that you check out your local chapter of PFLAG (www.PFLAG.org). PFLAG offers a national network of support groups where people who have faced situations much like yours offer a safe space to talk about what you’re going through.
Bide your time with your daughter—as she gets more comfortable with her identity as a gay kid, and feels your continued love and support, she’ll likely be more open to sharing her sexual orientation with others. And when she’s ready, ask for her input in how the news should be shared. Does she want to tell family and friends herself, or would she rather you take the lead? It will probably depend on the person and the situation. Bear in mind that coming out is almost always a gradual process—it’s impossible to tell everyone all at once. We can only hope that your daughter experiences acceptance and affirmation as she broadens the network of people who know she’s gay. Stick with her through this process and offer as much help and guidance as she is willing to accept, and be there for her should she hit any bumps in the road with people who are uncomfortable, intolerant, or just plain mean.
I am sure that it took insane amounts of trust for your daughter to confess such a huge thing to you, and she then requested that you not reveal it to anyone. I would recommend that you maintain that trust above all else. Your daughter obviously trusts you implicitly, especially if you are the first and only person she has come out to. She trusts you and gave you this boundary because of her own personal reasons. Maybe she knows other family members won’t be as accepting. Perhaps she feels that her friends might not feel the same way about her if they know she isn’t straight. Her school might not have resources (such as a GSA) or places where she feels safe being totally herself. Her privacy, safety, and comfort should be your number one priority, because she might not have other positive support systems in her life at the moment. She may be feeling nervous, anxious, or afraid of what might happen if she comes out to others. Depending on where you live, she may feel genuinely unsafe being herself. Trust that your daughter has made this decision based on rational thinking and reasoning, just as she has trusted you with her coming out.
I recently had an experience with a friend who came out to her mom during a heated moment and then felt legitimately worried that she would lose her home, stability, or safety if her father found out. I have another friend whose mother completely ignores her trans* identity and refuses to let her hang out with her friends because she is worried about the influence we might have or have had on her gender identity or sexual orientation. As comfortable as I am with my sexuality, sometimes I still feel uneasy when meeting new people, and especially their parents, for fear that I will alienate them due to my outwardly obvious gayness.
Obviously this is not your situation, seeing as your daughter came out to you purposely and with trust, and you are supportive, but my point is that she may still feel unease while in other settings. The comfort she feels in being honest with you may not apply to other people in her life.
Additionally, coming out is a process, not a one-time event. I came out to my parents first and then gradually began to tell other family members and close friends until it gradually became common knowledge that I am not straight. Perhaps coming out to you is a first step for your daughter, and she is going to come out to others soon and wanted to test the waters with you. Coming out is different for everyone, and no method or process is worse or better than any other. Everyone is different.
However, I also understand that it is a hard burden to bear on your own. Luckily, there are tons of resources out there for parents such as yourself. I recently attended a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting locally, and it seems to have really helped those in attendance. There are also great resources online and elsewhere that you can go to for help. If all else fails, talk to your daughter. Not only may your daughter be able to help you process, but she may be open to telling others. That is by no means a guarantee, but it’s worth a shot. You have my utmost respect for not only being supportive of your daughter, but also for reaching out to such a current and pertinent resource for help. I wish there were more parents like you in the world, because I know quite a few kids who could use more supportive and informed parents.
I’m Kirsten. I’ve been married to Richard for 20 years (!) and in addition to Lucy, we have 2 dogs and 4 ¾ cats (one of them only has 3 legs!). I work full-time at a non-profit social services agency. I’m basically addicted to Instagram and I love to read, bake, and make art. I’m dying to get a new tattoo. Suggestions? Find me on Instagram or Twitter @kjerstieb.
I’m Lucy, I’m 15, I’m queer, and I have a real passion for making sure that dogs know they are loved. I post stuff on instagram @yung_olson
Photo by Neal Santos
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