“My son just came out yesterday. I support him. The rest of our family can be judgemental about gays and lesbians. When he is ready to tell the rest of the family, what can I do to help him if they disown him? I love him and I am glad he trusted me enough to tell me. I will support him anyway but the rest of the family is different.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Alyse Knorr
First of all, thank you so much for loving and supporting your son during this significant time in his life. You have no idea what this means to him—especially if, as you mention, the rest of the family may not be ready to act the same. You’re obviously an amazing parent if you’re already seeking out resources just one day after your son came out! Bravo for you.
The most important thing for you to do in the coming weeks, months, and years is to continue to support your son in this way. You may not be able to control how your family members act, but you can control what you do. So for starters, offer your son resources that can help him through the rest of his coming out process—there are tons of amazing books, websites, films, etc. that he may be interested in. You can also support him by driving him to Gay-Straight Alliance meetings at school, celebrating Pride month with him, or helping him pick out new clothes (if that’s something he wants to do—some folks like to manifest their new identity with updates to their style).
Let your son know that you’re there for him no matter what, and that you love him and celebrate him because of (not despite!) who he is. Praise his courage in deciding to come out, and reassure him that you’re on his side even if other members of your family aren’t as thrilled. I can’t emphasize this enough—you really can’t ever say this too many times to him, or too directly. Don’t take for granted that he already knows you feel this way. Tell him, and tell him again and again!
It’s up to your son when and how to come out to the rest of the family, so make sure you honor his coming out process by giving him the space to make these decisions. Trust him to do what’s best for him. It took me several years to feel ready to come out to my extended family, and I appreciated that my parents respected that. Let your son know that you’re there to help him as he decides what to do next, but that you also want to let him take the lead. If you’re willing, then you can offer to tell some of the family for him—my mother told my extended family for me, and this was enormously helpful. But make sure you only do this if your son wants you to.
As far as your family’s reactions are concerned, they might end up responding better than you think, especially given some time. You never really know for sure how a person will react until you see it—I’ve noticed that sometimes people who are judgmental of the LGBTQIA community at large end up feeling very different once someone they already know and love comes out. If your family does end up reacting badly, then it will mean a lot to your son if you stand up for him—even when he isn’t there to see it happen.
With that in mind, to help you better communicate with your family members about your son, read up on how to talk to homophobic people. Prepare yourself and practice answering questions or responding to statements that you think might come up, so you’ll feel more confident speaking up if they do. If your family has religious objections to being LGBTQ, then read up about queer-friendly interpretations of the Bible, and about the experiences of queer Christians (we do exist—I’m one of them!) A few good resources to check out related to queer Christianity include Strong Family Alliance, Queer Theology, and Living Out. Remember that each family member will differ in the right way to talk with them about this.
Keep in mind that you have a lot of power to set the tone for how people will react. For instance, if you tell Aunt Emily, “I’m so excited to meet Blake’s boyfriend this weekend! He’s been so happy ever since they met,” you’re modeling for Aunt Emily that she should be as thrilled as you are. On the other hand, if you tell Aunt Emily, “I know you won’t like to hear this, but Blake’s boyfriend is coming into town this weekend, and I hope you can learn to accept that,” you’re creating the space for her to be unhappy about it and to express that discontent.
Finally, make sure to take care of yourself—you may need someone to talk to if these are close family members and you’re going to end up feeling like a mediator. This can be a long process, but remember that it does get better. To give yourself some extra support, consider joining a PFLAG group and/or confiding in a close friend. Keep reading up here at My Kid Is Gay and sign up for our coming out care package for parents. Never stop seeking out resources for you and your son!
Finally, when all this gets hard and you get frustrated or tired, just remember that what you’re doing for your son really, really matters. It has meant so much to me that my mother is willing to talk to our family members on my behalf so that I don’t have to answer as many awkward questions or deal with negative reactions. She has demonstrated to them how to be a proud, loving ally, and I consider myself so lucky to have had her in my corner. I’m sure your son feels the same about you.
Alyse Knorr is the author of Super Mario Bros. 3 (Boss Fight Books 2016) and of the poetry collections Copper Mother (Switchback Books 2016), and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books 2013). She also authored the chapbooks Epithalamia (Horse Less Press 2015) and Alternates (dancing girl press 2014). Her work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, Caketrain, and The Southern Poetry Anthology: Georgia, among others. She received her MFA from George Mason University. Alyse is a co-founding editor of Gazing Grain Press and teaches English at Regis University.