by Sarah Simon
“You’re freakin’ spectacular, and if anybody tries to hurt you or tell you otherwise, I’ll give them a tracheotomy with a Bic pen…” Is what I would tell my LGBTQ (or cis/heterosexual) child every day of their life, but especially in the days leading up to their departure for college. If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume that you’ve done your due as a parent of an LGBTQ youth—you’ve been understanding, accepting, and loving. You’ve read every article, book, and blog post about creating a safe space and being respectful of and open to your child’s experiences, and put actual hexes on those who have sneered at, whispered about, or plain old bullied your bundle of joy.
But being the Lori Duron of a parent I know you are, you may be wondering how you can still provide that system of support for your child as they begin the schlep into adulthood. Unfortunately, in this day and age, even though “it gets better” is sometimes true, being LGBTQ in the workforce, college, or anywhere else is no Sunday funday. When heading off to college, your child will need you, still—albeit in a different way than before. Lucky for you, yours truly, an LGBTQ student, has compiled a list of ways you can prepare your child for college, leaving you both feeling confident, at peace, and ready to take on this new chapter in your lives.
1. Research the pants off the school
If you are in the wild midst of the college research/application process, look into the environment in which your child will be living. Look for broad things like the percentage of LGBTQ students, or clubs that focus on queer issues, but look at small things, too—was there a drag show on the campus calendar? Was there a write-up of the drag show in the college newspaper? What was the tone of the article? Put your supah fierce sleuthing tiara on and figure out how your child will meld into the fabric of the campus.
If your kid already picked a school, that’s great! You can still do this research, and if you find that the campus is lacking in resources, talk to your kid about it, and look to the larger community surrounding the school to see what’s what.
2. Be supportive when your child comes to you with new self-discoveries
I think we can all agree that college is a time for exploration. Your child will have all kinds of eye-opening experiences that might lead them in new and exciting directions. For example, maybe your once bisexual/sexually fluid daughter is realizing that the pendulum is swinging in only one direction at this point—and that direction is gay. Maybe your child calls you up wanting to talk about changing the pronouns you’ve previously used in referring to them. No matter the case, if your child comes to you expressing any kind of changes in their personhood, being supportive and open can only help them along, and perpetuate a healthy relationship.
3. Plan for Safety
Get yourselves down to your local sporting goods store and grab some Mace, whistles, screamers, brass knuckles, or, as my parents would suggest, maybe a full suit of armor? I hate that this is a legitimate concern. Usually, only cisgender girls get sent off to school with this self-defense smorgasbord (cue feminist rage), but I’m not going to pretend that, at large, members of the LGBTQ community aren’t at risk in some way. Look, this is terrifying, I get it, and I don’t want to freak you out. Odds are, everything will be completely fine—your child is smart, the campus most likely has a blue light system, and the world isn’t all bad. But, still, I’d rather be prepared for anything and everything, wouldn’t you? Self-defense is always a good trick to have up your sleeve. Literally.
4. Let your child make their own choices
Chances are, your child’s gender identity/sexual orientation affects the way they want to present themselves, in some capacity. Plus, what teenager doesn’t want to revamp their image before college, be it through choosing dorm room decorations or through new clothing? Often times, in high school, LGBTQ teenagers don’t feel comfortable being completely who they are because of annoying bullies (who are the WORST). This is your child’s chance to come into themselves and start off on a foot that is true to who they are. Maybe your daughter has been eyeing up a more androgynous haircut on Tumblr? Chop, chop, chop it off! Perhaps your non-binary child would love a pink, bedazzled garbage can for their dorm room? Throw it in the cart, sweet thang! No matter what it is that you are shopping for, give your child the freedom to make the choices that reflect who they are and who they will become, rather than who they’ve had to be in the past.
5. Make like Idina and “Let it Go”
High school was probably rough. Maybe your child was bullied, oppressed, shut down, ignored, lonely…or maybe they thrived and piqued, in which case—great! Either way, there was probably at least one incident in which your child felt out of place due to others’ intolerance of their gender identity/expression or sexual orientation. Talk to your child. Remind them that college is a time for new beginnings—don’t allow them to go in with their defenses up. It’s a double-edged sword—in some ways, the world will always be harsh and challenging for LGBTQ individuals, but on the other hand, college is a place where most everybody can find a group of likeminded, and/or accepting people. When you talk to your child, encourage them not to forget their past struggles, but also not to let those struggles define the future connections they might make. In short, advise them to go in with caution, but also an open heart and an open mind. Guru, out.
6. Have the sex talk..again
Because of this silly, heteronormative society we live in, most of the statistics about college students and sex and STI’s and whatnot are focused around heterosexual couplings. I’ve seen many an LGBTQ friend run into an issue because they thought the rules didn’t apply to them. NOPE. WRONG. They do apply. Cycle in with your child, and in the least awkward way possible (if possible,) make sure they’re taking precautions. Not just condom wearing/birth control popping precautions. I won’t go into the sexy details…I’ll leave that for you to research (with a bottle of wine in hand.) But in all seriousness, it couldn’t hurt. Saddle up and get it done.
7. Do something fun with your child, on their turf
You could be the most amazing and supportive parent in the world who accepts their LGBTQ child, but that does not necessarily mean that you are comfortable with their identity, or that you understand it all the time. And that’s completely and totally fine. This is a journey for everyone and you’re doing great. However, as we all know, this is probably the last time your child will be living in the house full-time, and you’re going to want to make some last-minute memories before it’s over. If there is something related to their gender identity/expression or sexual orientation that your child has wanted to do, but secretly makes you bristle, try to find it in yourself to make it happen. Maybe you can read some of that bell hooks your budding feminist is always going on about and then discuss it together. Or watch that fierce “Lip-synch For Your Life” on RuPaul’s Drag Race that they love so much. The point is, in any healthy relationship, people stretch for each other. Go out of your way to make fun memories centered around what is important to your child. It will help you feel closer to this aspect of their lives, and it will show your child that you not only love them, but that you also like them. Most parents would go to the mattresses and fight for their child’s safety and happiness, but not every parent would make an effort to become part of who they are, not just a supporter of it.
8. Remember that your child exists outside of being LGBTQ
On the other hand, (I know, I know, I’m a whirlwind of contradictions…sorry), realize that you don’t have an LGBTQ child. You have a child who is LGBTQ. See the difference? Queerness is only one aspect of your child’s life…sure, it can influence a lot (the way they are treated, their safety, the way they present themselves, their friends, their hobbies), but your child is more interesting than just their queerness. With that said, make some memories on neutral turf, as well! Make pancakes together on a Sunday morning, go on a hike, go to the movies, play mini golf…literally whatever. As important as it is to embrace all of your child’s LGBTQ-ness, it is equally as important to simply embrace all of your child. (Pro tip: the night before I went off to college, my mom and I watched Toy Story 3—the one where Andy goes to college—and sobbed on the couch together and ate junk food. I highly recommend it).
9. Take care of yourself
Sending your child to college is challenging for any parent. They’re your baby, after all! On top of the usual feelings empty-nesters have, you also have to experience extra fears of safety, acceptance, and security for your LGBTQ child. Will your trans* child be able to get summer internships as easily as cisgender students, or will they be discriminated against? When your daughter walks down the street at night after a party, will people give her an extra hard time for holding her girlfriend’s hand? These are realities that parents of LGBTQ individuals have to deal with, and they are hard. To keep your sanity, use resources like My Kid Is Gay, books, friends, or whatever it is you need to do to continue being a fountain of support, wisdom, and everything nice.
10. JUST LOVE THE LIVING BEANS OUT OF THEM
Puh-lease. As if this wasn’t already clear and you didn’t see this cheesy Nicholas Sparks ending coming from a mile away. But seriously, folks! This is literally the single most important thing you can do. Ever. When raising anybody. Love your kid. And they will love you back and everything will be great. Just love your child unconditionally—that’s the best advice I can give, because I think that’s all any child really wants from their parents.
Sarah Simon has been writing for My Kid Is Gay for two years. She is an ENFJ/ Sagittarius who usually can be found with body glitter on her face and English Bulldogs on her mind. Sarah is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied Queer Theory and Psychology. She is currently a candidate for her MA in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence. In between pots of very strong coffee, Sarah makes rad mix tapes for her friends, cooks fun vegetarian food, and cackles at the thought of destroying the patriarchy. Follow her on Instagram @glitterpawzz and on Twitter @misssaraheliz
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