“I’m wondering if you have resources for adolescents? My 12 year-old son told me he is gay a few days ago. I am supportive and I love him no matter what but I’m over analyzing everything…was my response what he wanted, are my questions okay (we are comfortable talking but I don’t want to make it a big deal because he doesn’t seem to want that), and I have to remember that he is only 12 still.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Polly Kim
First of all, congratulations! It is a testament to your parenting skills that your son felt he could come out to you at such a young age. Puberty is the time when most gay kids start to figure out how they are different, but they are often scared to identify it to themselves and wait years to tell anyone else. Obviously you have built a loving open relationship with your son and he trusts you. You said it yourself—you are supportive and love him no matter what. Gay adults have told me that telling their parents is what they feared most when they realized they were gay, and that all they hoped for was that their parents would still love them.
Second, it is normal for a parent to worry if they are doing everything right. Most of the time at PFLAG meetings when we go around the circle sharing our stories, parents are doubting themselves and maybe regretting things they’ve said to their children. Don’t worry about being perfect, just try to be what your kid needs. The best way to find out what he needs is to ask him. You have already determined that he doesn’t want you to make a big deal of it, so that’s a good first step. Now ask how you can be supportive without being over the top and embarrassing.
When an LGBTQIA person comes out to a parent when they are older, the child usually already knows much more than the parent and can educate the parent about LGBTQIA issues. In your case, you and your son can learn together. There are many resources available online and at your local library. The PFLAG website, www.pflag.org, is a good place to start, with lots of information and links to other resources. PFLAG—Parents, Families, Friends, and Allies United with LGBTQ People to Move Equality Forward!—is a national organization with hundreds of local chapters that meet monthly to provide support, education, and advocacy. At your local chapter meeting you can meet other parents going through the same things as you and find out about activities for LGBTQIA youth in your area.
Reading books with characters who are LGBTQIA can help your son navigate adolescence. The librarian at the high school where I work was extremely helpful when I asked for LGBTQIA book suggestions. Your local librarian or your son’s middle school librarian will hopefully be helpful too. Lee Wind has a great blog called “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?” with lists and reviews of LGBTQIA books for youth at www.leewind.org. This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids is a great resource for you to read.
Some parents of kids who came out when they were in their 20’s regret that their children missed out on experiencing their teens years as their authentic selves. If your son comes out to his peers, he will be free of all that anxiety about hiding and lying, but he may face other problems. As a 12-year-old, he may be unaware about some forms of discrimination, but he has probably already heard taunts and knows what the climate at his school is like for someone who is gay or perceived as gay. If he experiences harassment or bullying, be sure to talk to his teachers and school counselor about how to help. If his school is not supportive, Lambda Legal can help.
Find out if your son’s school has a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) or similar club. If they don’t, find out if the high school has one and if those students might be able to come talk to the middle school. Your local LGBT Center may have a youth organization. In Los Angeles we have LifeWorks which has many activities for youth and a mentoring program. Brave Trails is a summer camp in the mountains of Southern California for LGBTQIA youth starting at age 12. If there aren’t many, or any, other openly gay kids at your son’s school, you may find yourself driving all over to help your son find friends and role models who are LGBTQIA, but it is worth it. My daughter and I became even closer when she came out and we started attending Pride parades, marriage equality rallies, and PFLAG meetings together; I drove her to dances and chaperoned GSA events; and we read YA novels about LGBTQIA characters. I have made so many new friends at PFLAG, and I think I have become a better person. Enjoy the journey with your son!
Polly Kim is the mother of 19-year-old twins, including a daughter who came out at age 15. Polly joined PFLAG Los Angeles soon after and is now a board member. She has been a science teacher for over 25 years, teaching high school biology, elementary school science, and high school science research.
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